Fr. Bauer's Blog

Judge Not

The column below was submitted as a letter to the editor for the Catholic Spirit. It was written in response to two letters to the editor that appeared in the August 10 edition of the Catholic Spirit.  

I hate waiting in lines. Unless there is just a single line for people who want to check in/out; get gas; pay for their groceries, or whatever, I always choose the wrong line. I inevitably end up behind someone who is sure they have the exact change—if only they can find it; or someone who can’t find their credit card; or someone who doesn’t quite understand why they can’t use a coupon that expired three weeks ago. 

Given my abhorrence to waiting in lines, you can perhaps appreciate how surprised I was to read the letters to the editor in the August 10th Catholic Spirit. (The newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.) The issue they were writing about concerned an Illinois Bishop’s decision to prohibit Catholics in same-sex marriages from receiving communion or having their funeral in a Catholic Church. One of the writers was clear that God “does not have a place in heaven for those who decide his rules are outdated and don’t fit the current whims of individuals.” Another suggested that: “Those who claim they are loving others by allowing forbidden practices may just be loving them into hell.” As I read these comments I couldn’t help but think that these writers had found a way to expedite the judgement line at the end of world. 

This is pure genius. I am surprised that no one thought of this before. By narrowing down the issues that Jesus articulated in Matthew 25:31-46 to a single question: “Did you question/wonder about/believe in same sex marriage?”—in effect, by doing some pre-judging in this world—it will save God time at the end of the world. In fact, the line at the judgement at the end of the world should move along quite swiftly. We won’t have to worry about whether or not we fed the hungry; gave drink to the thirsty; welcomed the stranger; clothed the naked; comforted the ill; or visited the imprisoned. Of course, though, if we narrow down the criteria for judgement to a single issue/question, it does make it difficult to explain why Jesus told that parable in the first place. 

We need to be clear. The idea that we can save God time at the end of the world by doing some pre-judging here is complete nonsense.  God searches our hearts, our minds, and our souls; and God—and God alone—is the only One who is qualified to do any judging. And while I can’t say for sure, I suspect God is not all that appreciative of those who think it is right and proper to save time at the end of the world by doing some pre-judging here.   

As for me, I am grateful that judgement belongs to God alone, and that it is something God doesn’t need any help with—however well intended. I am also hopeful that at the end of the world God will grade on a curve.  I say this because the older I get, the more I realize how much in need of God’s mercy I am. 

For the readings for this Sunday click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090317.cfm 

No crown without a cross.”   A former parishioner used these words whenever she encountered a difficulty in her life.    It was her way of saying that life wasn’t always going to be easy, but by staying true to Christ, she believed that heaven would await her.   In our Gospel for this weekend, Jesus told his disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.”  Peter responded:  “God forbid, Lord!   No such thing shall ever happen to you.”   Jesus, though, reminded Peter that “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”   Jesus then went on to tell his disciples that “Whoever wished to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”    No one could accuse Jesus of false advertizing.   He is clear.  The cross --- in one form or another --- is a part of the life of every Christian.   

Our First reading this weekend shares the theme of the Gospel.    In it Jeremiah, the prophet, laments that he has been “duped” by the Lord.   Because he has prophesied in the name of the Lord, he is mocked and the object of laughter.   He vows:  “I will not mention him, I will speak his name no more.  But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”    Clearly being a prophet has caused Jeremiah pain and ridicule --- this is his cross --- but he cannot turn away from his prophetic calling.   Instead he submits to the will of God knowing that ultimately God will vindicate him. 

In our second reading this weekend from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, Paul urges the people:  “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of god, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. What cross(es) have you been called to carry?
  2. What has helped you to carry your cross(es)?  
  3. Like Jeremiah, have you ever felt that you have been “duped” by God?    

For this Sundays readings click on the link below or copy and  paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082717.cfm    

I would guess that at some point in each of our lives, someone has asked us for our “honest” opinion about something.   What would you do, if you were me?   Do you think I’m wrong?   What’s the worst that could happen?   Something akin to this happened in our Gospel for this weekend.  In that Gospel Jesus asked his disciples:  “Who do people say that the Son of May is?"    His disciples must have been proud to be able to fill in him on the local gossip:  “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”   Jesus, though, wasn’t satisfied with knowing what others thought of him.  His next question was:  “But who do you say that I am?”  In reply Simon Peter said:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Jesus then told Peter:  “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”  

Jesus was clear with his disciples.   He didn’t want them simply to know about him.   He wanted his disciples to know him.   This same thing is true for us.  Jesus wants us to know him, not just to know about him.   And the way we come to know Jesus is by spending time with him in prayer.   

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   In the passage we read this weekend, “Shebna, master of the palace,” is demoted for something he had done, and in his place Eliakim is promoted:  “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder.”    The emphasis in this passage is that, just as Peter was proclaimed “rock,” so too it is by God’s authority that Eliakim is given a position of responsibility and authority. 

Again this weekend, our second reading is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   In it Paul reminds us:  "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”   

 Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Who do you say that Jesus is? 
  2. The giving of keys was mentioned in both the First Reading today and the Gospel.   I suspect this was a sign of authority.   Has anyone ever entrusted you with their keys?   How did you feel about that? 
  3. More often than I care to admit I have discovered anew that God’s judgments are inscrutable and God’s ways unsearchable.  Has this also happened to you?    

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082017.cfm  

Our Gospel this weekend presents us with what --- at least initially --- looks like an unflattering picture of Jesus.   We are told that a Canaanite woman came to Jesus and called out:  “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”   We are told, though, that Jesus “did not say a word in answer to her.”    Jesus’ disciples want him to send her away.  Jesus told them, though:  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”   But the woman “came and did Jesus homage, saying Lord, help me.”  Jesus tried to brush her off with the rather abrupt response that: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”   In reply the woman said: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”   Jesus responded to her by telling her:  “O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”     

What are we to make of this strange conversation?   First, it must be noted that historically Jews had little to do with Canaanites.   Jesus’ response, then, would have been in line with the spirit of the times.  Second, while eventually Jesus commissioned and sent his disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations, initially he thought their mission should begin with the Jews.  Thirdly, though, and perhaps most importantly, Jesus, as he does elsewhere in the Gospels, responded to the woman’s obvious faith.   It is the woman’s faith that is the most important element in this Gospel. 

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   It shares the theme of the Gospel.  In it Isaiah prophesizes:  “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord ………. All who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer………. for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”    

For our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. 
In this section, Paul, while identifying himself as the “apostle to the Gentiles,” also preaches to his fellow Jews and reminds them that “the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:    

  1. When you have prayed about something, have you ever felt that initially your prayer was rebuffed?    
  2. Has your faith ever drawn you to deeper prayer? 
  3. If God wants God’s house to be a house of prayer for all peoples, why do some want to limit access?    
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081317.cfm  
 
Having once been in a boat when a storm suddenly came up, you can perhaps understand why, whenever I’m on a boat, I always make sure there are enough life jackets to go around and that one is  within arm’s reach.  Given this experience, I also have a great deal of sympathy for the disciples in our Gospel this weekend.   We are told that after Jesus had fed the people, he “made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side.”   Unfortunately a storm came up and the boat “was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it.”  Suddenly Jesus came walking toward them, but “when the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.  ‘It is a ghost,’ they said, and they cried out in fear.”  Jesus identified himself and told them not to be afraid.  Peter, though, said: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus said “Come.”   Unfortunately, no sooner had Peter started walking on the water than he began to sink like a stone.  He cried out to Jesus who “stretched out his hand and caught Peter.”   After they had got into the boat the wind died down.   The disciples then did Jesus homage saying: “Truly, you are the Son of God.”   
 
Not being a very strong swimmer, I can understand the disciples’ panic in the face of the storm at sea.   It is interesting, though, that their fear continued even when they saw Jesus walking toward them on the water.  And ultimately it was only when Jesus got in the boat with them that the storm ceased and their fear ended.  This suggests to me that perhaps if we invited Jesus into our lives more often we would be less fearful and bolder in our efforts at living our faith.
 
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the first Book of Kings.   In it Elijah is on Mount Horeb and God said to him; “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.”  Elijah did not find God in the strong wind, or an earthquake, or in fire, but rather in a “tiny whispering sound.”   Along with the Gospel, this story reminds us that God is sometimes found in places we wouldn’t expect. 
 
Our second reading this weekend is again taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans.  In it Paul laments over those who refuse to accept the Gospel. 
 
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
  1. In the Gospel and in the first reading for this weekend God is found in unexpected places.  Where have you found God’s unexpected presence in your life? 
  2. Has there been a time when you were afraid or fearful, and then suddenly realized God’s presence? 
  3. Paul lamented that some people had refused to accept the Gospel.  What would you say to someone who had rejected the Gospel?  
 
 

A few weeks ago I spent my day off with another priest. For lunch we bought some sandwiches and beverages, and found a park where we had an informal picnic. A few yards away from us, two small children were having a great time playing on the grass, laughing, and enjoying each other. I assumed they were related or that their parents were friends. At one point, though, their mothers came to collect them, and when they arrived at the spot where the boys were playing, they introduced themselves to each another. I was surprised that they didn’t know each other, and that the boys weren’t friends or relatives. It then occurred to me that such is the innocence of youth. When we are young, we don’t have a lot of preconceived ideas about others. We don’t have to know much about them to interact with them and enjoy their company. 

As we move along the road of life, though, at some point things change. We move from a childlike openness to people we don’t know, to being suspicious of them and/or their motives. On the one hand, there is some merit to this. If we naively assume that everyone is good and kind and nice, we are going to be disappointed, and even hurt. On the other hand, though, when we lose an openness to others, we can fail to see them as God sees them—as a beloved son or daughter. 

It seems to me that we need to strike a balance between these two approaches. More importantly, in trying to find this balance we need to be willing to err on the side of love. In our world today there is much that can cause us to be suspicious and even anxious. And sometimes without even realizing it, and without it becoming a conscious choice, these feelings can move into animosity and hatred. At these times, we need to remember that in the parable of the last judgement, (Mt. 25:31-46) Jesus taught us that He is to be found in every encounter we have with the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the needy, the stranger, and the forgotten. We may not recognize him, but he is there. 

Recognizing the presence of Christ in others is a challenge. In my own life I fail at it more often than I succeed. We need to remember, though, that God created us in God’s image and likeness, and because of this, we are all beloved sons and daughters of God—no exceptions, no exclusions, no omissions. If we allow ourselves to be guided by our better angels and if we are open to God’s grace, I believe we are more apt to recognize the presence of Christ in one another. And if we are able to do this with others, maybe, just maybe, others might recognize the presence of Christ in us.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
 
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.  This Feast, which falls on August 6th, supplants the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time.    Matthew, Mark and Luke all include the account of the Transfiguration in their Gospels.  The main outline of the story is the same in all three of these Gospels.  In each account, Jesus and three of his apostles, Peter, James and John, go to a mountain (the Mount of the Transfiguration.)   On the mountain, Jesus is transfigured before their eyes, his face changed and his clothes became dazzlingly white.  Then Moses and the prophet Elijah appeared next to him and he conversed with them.  Jesus is then called “Son” by a voice in the sky, assumed to be God the Father, as at the Baptism of Jesus.   In Matthew and Mark’s account, Jesus then told his disciples not to tell anyone about the experience “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  
 
For Peter, James and John, the Transfiguration was a glimpse of the glory that awaited them.   And while the experience of the Transfiguration was unique to them, I believe we all have had or will have “transfiguring moments” in our lives.   These are brief, fleeting moments of God’s grace where we get a glimpse of something “more” or something “beyond” ourselves.   These moments do not occur at our initiative, and are not under our control.   They are gifts from God, and like Peter, while we might want to prolong or stay in these moments, we cannot.  Rather, they are meant to give us hope for the journey and confidence that despite any pain and hardship we might experience in the present --- if we remain steadfast in our faith --- ultimately we will share in the glory of God.    
 
Our first reading for this Feast of the Transfiguration, is taken from the Book of the Prophet Daniel.  We don’t often read from this book.   It is Apocalyptic literature which uses highly stylized and symbolic language to make the point that despite any troubles in the present moment, ultimately there will be a time of vindication.  
 
Our second reading for this Feast is taken from the second Letter of Saint Peter.  In the section we read today Peter reminds us:  “………. we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”    
 
Questions for Reflection and/or Discussion:
 
  1. When have you experienced a “transfiguring moment” in your life?
  2. What do you remember most from this experience?  
  3. Apocalyptic literature is not meant to be taken literally. It is special type of literature that uses exaggerated, symbolic language to make a particular point. Have you ever read this kind of literature other than in the Bible?   

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/073017.cfm    

Many years ago, after my mother died, we met as a family to share some of her personal items.  There were no disagreements until we came to the crockery bowl in which my mother used to make bread.   We all wanted it.   Now certainly it wasn’t because the bowl had any monetary value.  Rather, we all wanted it, because of its sentimental value.  It reminded us not just of my mother’s bread baking skills, but also of her love for us.  After discussing it, we decided that my sister --- the only one who lived in our home town of Anoka --- would get the bowl.   To this day, though, I still cast a jealous eye on it whenever I visit my sister.  

I would guess there are things in each of our lives that are very important to us.  These things could have great monetary value, or they could be important simply because of what they represent.   In either case, they are valuable to us and it is important that we have them.   Our Gospel for this weekend contains two parables that both speak about things that have value --- a treasure buried in a field and a pearl of great price.   In both cases the individuals who discovered them sold all they had to possess them. Now, as with all parables, this one is not meant to be taken literally.  Rather, it reminds us that some things are worth possessing regardless of the cost.    This is particularly true with regard to the Kingdom of God.   The parable invites us to do all that we can to take hold of that kingdom when it is offered to us.     

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the first Book of Kings.  In it God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said:  “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”   Solomon did not ask for a long life or riches, or the life of his enemies.  Instead he asked for an “understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”    In asking for wisdom Solomon clearly knew what was important and necessary.   

Our second reading this weekend is again taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans.   In it Paul reminds us that “all things work for good for those who love God.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In your life, is there a “pearl of great price”
  2. Have you ever pursued something and then were disappointed when you got it?   
  3. If God appeared to you and said “ask something of me and I will give it to you,” what would you ask for? 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072317.cfm  

Beginning last week and for the next two weeks our Gospels will consist of parables.   Parables were simply stories that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God.  We use stories all the time to help us understand each other.   We say that “someone has a heart of gold” or “they would give you the shirt of their back.”   We don’t mean these things literally.  Instead they give us a picture of the individual.  In a similar way, parables were not meant to be taken literally, nor were they meant to be deconstructed, and the individual parts analyzed.   Rather they were to be taken as a whole.  The challenge for listeners/readers was to discern what the story said about God or about our relationship with God.    

Our parable this weekend is the story of a man who sowed good seed in his field and while he was asleep an enemy came and “sowed weeds all through the wheat.”   “When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.”  The man’s servants asked: “Do you want us to go and pull them up.”   The man knew, though, that if they pulled up the weeds they might uproot the wheat along with them.   So he wisely told his servants: “Let them grow together until harvest.”    The point of the parable is clear.   God is in charge.  Good and evil will co-exist until the time of judgment at the end of the world,   and judgment belongs to God alone.        

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of Wisdom.    It shares the theme of the Gospel, reminding us that God, though the “master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you.”

In our second reading this weekend we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   In the section we read today we are reminded that “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. If judgment belongs to God alone, why do so many of us feel the need to judge others?
  2. Why do you think Jesus used parables to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God?   
  3. Have you ever felt the Spirit coming to the aid of your weakness?   

This summer marks the 10th anniversary of my appointment as pastor and rector of The Basilica of Saint Mary. And while I know I will never surpass Msgr. Reardon’s record of 42 years as pastor/rector of The Basilica, from my perspective 10 years is still a significant amount of time. 

Much has happened these past 10 years. On the Archdiocesan level we have had three Archbishops. The sexually inappropriate behavior of many priests has been embarrassingly public, and our Church has had to candidly acknowledge our failings and errors of judgement. On the positive side, however, we have put in place safeguards to ensure that the mistakes of the past won’t be repeated. And while the Archdiocesan bankruptcy continues to be an issue, our hope and our prayer is that it will be resolved in the near future. Additionally, Archbishop Hebda is providing leadership that is practical, consultative, and pastoral. 

In regard to our parish, during the past 10 years our parish has grown and remains stable at almost 6,500 households. Our membership reflects the diversity of both our city and our state. And although we no longer have an associate pastor, we are blessed by the services of Fr. Joe Gillespie as well as several retired priests who help us on weekends and during the week. Further, we have experienced remarkably little turnover in our senior staff these past 10 years. In fact, the majority of our senior staff have been at The Basilica longer than I have. Additionally, our parish has been blessed by the many, many people who have occupied leadership positions these past 10 years. They represent the best of The Basilica. These past 10 years, we have also continued to maintain, repair, and renovate the various buildings on our parish campus. We have also worked to build our savings, in case a financial emergency occurs. Additionally, with the help of a set percentage of the rental income from our school building, we continue to balance our budget every year.

During these past 10 years, the ministries, services, and programs at The Basilica have continued to grow, evolve, and develop. In a few instances, though, we have had to terminate some things that weren’t prospering, or were not doing what they had been designed to do. Additionally, we are always looking to improve what we do, as well as try to discern what new programs, ministries, and services are needed in our community. Perhaps most importantly, we continue to see the number of people volunteering to share their talents and abilities with our parish grow. 

On a personal level, as I look back on these past 10 years, I must admit that being pastor of The Basilica is very different from being pastor of my two previous parishes. And in all honesty, these past 10 years have not been without their challenges, pain, and disappointments. Yet, more often by far, have been the times when I have been impressed by people’s generosity of spirit and humbled by their faith. More often by far have been the times when I’ve been witness to great hope in the face of a difficult situation, and great love in the face of indifference and even hate. And more often by far I have seen people live out their spirituality and faith in ways I can only hope to one day emulate. At these times, and many others, I have to admit that being pastor at The Basilica was not always what I had anticipated, but it has been more rewarding than I could have possibility imagined. 

So, for weal or woe, whether it was by God’s design or the oversight of the Holy Spirit, I have been pastor of The Basilica these past 10 years. It was with great self-confidence and a sense of brash fearlessness that I undertook this responsibility 10 years ago. Now with the hindsight of 10 years, I realize that a little less self-confidence and a little more reliance on God might have been in order. 

I am not sure what the future will hold for me or The Basilica, but I do believe in and have come to rely on God’s providence and grace. And I hold close and take great comfort in the words our God spoke centuries ago through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the Lord.” (Jer. 29:11-14) Holding firm to this promise, I believe our future is bright.

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