Fr. Bauer's Blog

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052117.cfm 
  
“Do you love me?”   That Tevye’s question to Golde in Fiddler on the Roof.   I suspect most of us have asked (or thought of asking) this question at some point in our lives.    In our Gospel today, though, Jesus didn’t pose this question.   He was more direct.  At the beginning of this Gospel he said:   “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  And toward the end of the Gospel he said:  “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”   

In Fiddler on the Roof Golde replied to Tevye’s question by saying:  “For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him.  Fought him.  Starved with him.  Twenty-five years my bed is his.  If that’s not love, what is?”    For Golde love was shown in actions, not words.   Jesus asks this same thing of those who would be his followers.   We show we are his disciples by keeping his commandments.   And Jesus commandments are clear.  We are called to love God with our whole heart and soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.   For Jesus, love is a verb, not a noun.   It is an action more than an emotion.  

Our first reading this weekend is again taken from the Acts of the Apostles.    In it Philip proclaimed Jesus Christ to the city of Samaria.   After they had accepted the word of God, Peter and John were sent to them to pray for them that they might “receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them.”   The gift of the Spirit signifies unity with the apostles and the other early Christian communities.  

Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Peter.  In it Peter challenges us to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you, for a reason for your hope.”    

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1. What are some concrete and specific ways we can show our love for God and our neighbor?   
2.  In what concrete and specific ways have you experienced God’s love?
3.  If someone were to ask you, what reason would you give for your hope?  

A few weeks ago the Gospel reading at daily Mass was John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In John’s version we are told that Jesus fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. We are told further that after everyone had their fill, Jesus told his disciples: “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted. So they collected them and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.” (Jn. 6:12b-13) 

The story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish is the only miracle story that is found in all four Gospels. And while the details differ slightly in each account, there is at least one element that is common to all of them. In each Gospel, after the crowd had been fed, there were fragments left over that filled several wicker baskets. For some reason this detail caught my attention, so I spent some time reflecting on it. As part of my reflection, two things occurred to me. 1) When God is involved there is always an abundance; and 2) When God is involved nothing is insignificant or lost. I think both of these are important. 

Often in our world today and especially in our culture, people live with an attitude of scarcity. We wonder whether there will be enough of “whatever” to go around, and so we cling tightly to our “stuff” because we fear there won’t be enough or that we might run out. This can lead us to hold tightly to certain things because we worry they might become a scarce commodity, and if we let go of them, there might not be enough if/when we need whatever it might be. 

In regard to God’s love and grace, though, there is always an abundance. We never have to worry that there won’t be enough, or that someone else will get our share. God’s love and grace are not limited commodities. Since God is love and God is also infinite, it stands to reason that there is an infinite amount of God’s love and grace to go around. With God there is always an abundance. We need never fear that there is a limited supply of God’s grace and love. 

As importantly, though, when God is involved nothing is ever lost or too small to be of significance. We know this because God has told 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. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name;” (Is 49:15-16) These words remind us that God’s love is so abundant that no one is ever beyond the reach of that love, or too insignificant or unimportant to be loved. God loves us even if/when we don’t love God. No one and nothing is ever lost to God. 

Too often, either consciously or unconsciously, we can believe that we are too insignificant to be known and loved by God. Jesus’ concern, though, that the fragments of barley loaves and fish be gathered up, reminds us that nothing escapes God’s notice and no one is ever lost to God. Such is God’s love. It is abundant beyond belief, and because of this, no one is ever beyond the reach of that love. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051417.cfm 

I have a friend who, whenever he has a bad day, always has tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for supper.   He told me that ever since he was a little boy,   tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich has been his “go to” comfort food when he is stressed out or worried about something.   I suspect we all have certain “comfort foods” in our lives --- food that comforts us when we encounter difficult or trying days.   In addition to comfort food, though, I also believe there are certain scripture passages that provide comfort whenever we read them.  I think our Gospel for this Sunday is a case in point.   In that Gospel, Jesus reminds us that “We are not to let our hearts be troubled……….. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”   And that he “will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”  Jesus also tells us that he is “the way, and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”   

The above words of Jesus fill me (and I suspect most of us) with great comfort whenever I read them.   They remind me Jesus loves us so much that he wants to be with us always --- not just in this life --- but also in the life to come.   He is the way that leads to the Father and in his Father’s house there are dwelling places for all of us.  

Our first reading this weekend reminds us that roles and responsibilities began to develop in the early church, so that the word of God could “continue to spread.”

Our second reading this weekend is once again taken from the first letter of Saint Peter.  In it Peter reminds his audience that because of Jesus Christ they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own.” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Have you ever had a troubled heart?   What/who gave you comfort?    
  2. Are there certain passages from scripture that are “comfort” passages for you? 
  3. What things do you do so that the word of God can continue to spread? 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050717.cfm  

I would guess that for most of us the words “sheep” and “shepherds,” evoke idyllic images of meadows, flowing waters and pleasant tranquility.   The reality is, though, that sheep are not the cleanest of animals and they certainly aren’t very intelligent.  And, at the time of Jesus, shepherds were not well paid and shepherding definitely was not an important job.   In fact, shepherds were often looked on with suspicion, and were not accorded a great deal of respect.  Despite this, in the Old Testament, the images of sheep and shepherds were often used to describe God’s relationship with his people.   Jesus too, often used this image to describe his relationship to his disciples.  This is certainly true this weekend as we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Easter.   Each year in our three year cycle of readings, we always read from the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel on this weekend, and we always hear of sheep and shepherds.  

In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus reminds us of four important things.  1.  The sheep “hear the voice of the shepherd.”   2.  The “shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”   3.  The shepherd “walks ahead of them and the sheep follow him.”  4. “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”  

In our first reading this Sunday, we continue to read from Peter’s speech on the first Pentecost.  In the section we read today, Peter challenges his hearers to “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins;   and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is made to you and to your children.”   The last sentence is important.   It reminds us that God’s promise of salvation is universal and timeless.

For our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the First Letter of Peter.  In the section we read today, Peter reminds us that Jesus is our model in any sufferings. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In today’s world, do the images of sheep and shepherds still work to help us understand our relationship with God?  
  2. What helps you to hear the voice of the shepherd?
  3. Why do some people better seem to bear “suffering” better 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/043017.cfm 

Our Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of the season of Easter is the familiar and beautiful story of two of Jesus’ disciples encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus.   We are told that these disciples were on their way to Emmaus “conversing about all the things that had occurred.   And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”  As they walked along, Jesus “interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” As they approached the village Jesus gave the impression that he was going further, but they urged him: “Stay with us……”  Jesus then ate with them and as he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.”    They then said to each other:  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us.”  Later, they recounted to the other disciples what had happened, and “how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”   

I believe the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus is really the story of every Christian.  There are times as we journey through life when we are completely oblivious to Christ’s presence with us.  Then we read or hear a scripture passage, or we come to the table of the Lord, and we discover anew Christ’s abiding presence and realize that he had been with us all along, though we failed to recognize his presence.  

Our first reading this Sunday is again taken from the Acts of the Apostles.   It describes the early Christian community.   “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Peter.  Most likely this letter was written to Christians who were experiencing some unspecified trials. It reminded them that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection: “although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. Has there been a time when --- in retrospect --- you realize Christ had been with you, even though you didn’t recognize it at the time?
  2. We believe that the Eucharist is the preeminent way that Christ is present to us.  We also believe, though, that he is present when we read the scriptures.  Additionally, we know that he is present where two or three are gathered in his name?  Where else have you experienced Christ abiding presence? 
  3. We know that the life of the early Christian community, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, didn’t last very long.  Why do you think that is?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042317.cfm 

Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, which is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday.   Each year on the Second Sunday of Easter we read the story of Thomas ----- and his doubt.   Now to be honest, I have always felt a great deal of sympathy for Thomas and have become somewhat of an apologist for him.   Very specifically, I think Thomas got a bad deal in being stuck with the epithet “doubting” Thomas.    I say this for three reasons.   First, I think Thomas’ doubt really centered on the credibility of the other disciples.  Stop and think about it.  The other disciples couldn’t have been very effective witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection if they couldn’t convince Thomas --- whom they had been with for three years --- that Jesus had truly been raised from the dead.  Second, I wonder if the other disciples might not have asked for the same proof Thomas did if Jesus hadn’t shown them “his hands and his side” when he first appeared to them.   Finally, notice that it was Thomas who was the first disciple to put it all together and to give words to Easter faith:  “My Lord and my God!”   Given these things,  while Thomas may not have been a model of faith, I think it is a bit harsh that for centuries he has had to bear the nickname: “doubting” Thomas.   

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.  Our first reading will be taken from the Acts of the Apostles throughout the Easter season.   It is a description (perhaps a bit idealized) of the life of the earliest Christian community.   The early disciples were dedicated to prayer, study and community living.   They also “devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking break in their homes.”   These last few words are an obvious reference to the Eucharist. 

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Peter.   In it Peter reminds his audience that because of Jesus Christ, they have an inheritance in heaven which is kept for them “although now for a little while you may have to suffer though various trials………..."

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 
1. What would you say to someone who had doubts about the resurrection? 
2. Why is it hard for us to live as the early Christians did in the first reading? 
3. While I wholeheartedly believe that because of Jesus we have an inheritance in heaven, I don’t know that this is always comforting to someone who is suffering trials now.   Is this an issue for you?   

The experience of death and resurrection is universal. It occurs in every person and every community. Sometimes the “deaths” we experience are real and actual. More often, though, the “deaths” we experience aren’t actual deaths; rather they are death-like experiences, e.g. the loss of a job; the end of a relationship; the experience of physical limitations; the loss of a sense of security or belonging. In either case, though, they are painful, difficult to bear, and often take time to move through.

Sometimes the deaths we experience just happen. They aren’t our fault. We still need to acknowledge them, though, mourn them, and then begin anew. On the other hand, sometimes the deaths we experience are our fault. We screw up and a mess ensues. In that case, we need to acknowledge our fault, repent, dust ourselves off, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and try to fix what we messed up. 

What happens, though, when we don’t think we have it in us to try to begin anew after a death-like experience? What do we do when we can’t easily fix things or make them better? In these cases, we need to honestly acknowledge our situation, accept the fact that there will be times when there is no good explanation as to why something happened, and move forward in faith. 

How, though, do we move forward in faith after an experience that feels like death? Well, I believe we start with prayer. In and through our prayer we can experience God’s presence and love. In and through our prayer we can discover that we are not alone, that God is with us. And in and through our prayer we can open ourselves to God’s healing and strengthening grace. Now in saying this, we need to be clear that prayer may not change the situation, but it can and does change us. It can help us see things from a different perspective or in a new way. 

Once we have experienced God’s grace then we need to

  1. lament
  2. hang on (coping & hoping)
  3. and continue to believe that a new dawn will come eventually—even when or even though it may not be the dawn we were planning on. 

The Feast of Easter calls us to remember that our God is always offering us new life and hope in the midst of the sadness, sorrows, hurts, disappointments, trials, and pains we experience—the actual deaths, as well as the “little deaths” of this life. This new life enables us to continue when the way seems dark and uncertain. It allows us to live with the loss of our dreams. It gives us the ability to accept our human frailties and weaknesses and those of others. And it helps us to believe that after each death, the dawning of a new and glorious morning will occur. In essence this is the Paschal Mystery—that because of Jesus Christ—out of death comes new life and new hope. This is the message; this is the hope of Easter.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041617.cfm 

As a child, Easter meant only one thing:  the end of Lent and a return to eating candy and other sweets.  (Giving up sweets was the Lenten activity of “forced” choice in our family.)   As I grown older, and especially now as an adult, I have come to appreciate Easter --- not just as the end of Lent --- but as much more.  It is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, his promise to abide with us always and his offer of eternal life to believers.   

At the Mass of the Easter Vigil and at the Masses on Easter morning we always read one of the accounts of the finding of the empty tomb.   In this regard, it is important to note that while all four Gospels, tell the story of the finding of the empty tomb and recount various resurrection appearances of Jesus, there are no accounts of the actual resurrection in any of the Gospels.  The reason for this is that the resurrection is a divine event.  It is not something that can be taken in by our human senses or consciousness.  It is something believers experience only at the time of death when we come to know fully the promise and gift of eternal life.   

The readings listed above are for the Mass on Easter Sunday morning.   The first reading is a part of a speech by Peter.  It is a brief synopsis of Jesus’ ministry and his ultimate death and resurrection.  Peter reminds the people that:  “He (Jesus) commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.”    The second reading reminds us that: “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”   Finally, the Gospel contains the account of the finding of the empty tomb by Mary of Magdala.   We are told that: “she ran and went to   Simon Peter and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and told them………...”  They in turn ran to tomb and found it empty just as Mary had said.   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. What helps you to believe in or hinders your belief in the resurrection?
  2. Where do you see evidence of Christ’s resurrection in the world --- in your community --- in your life?  
  3. Why do some people have difficulty believing in the resurrection and the promise of eternal 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/040917.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate Palm Sunday, and the beginning of Holy Week.   Each year on Palm Sunday we read one of the accounts of Jesus’ passion from the synoptic (Matthew, Mark, or Luke) Gospels.  We read John’s account of the Passion on Good Friday.  Since we are in the A cycle of our three year cycle of readings, this Sunday we read Matthew’s account of the Passion.   

While all the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus’ passion and death, each one does so from their own perspective.  In his passion narrative Matthew includes details about Judas that aren’t included in Mark or Luke.  Specifically, he mentions the exact payment Judas received for betraying Jesus, and Judas’ attempt to return that payment.  Also, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus refers to Judas as “friend” when Judas approaches to betray him. Additionally, at the Last Supper Matthew includes Jesus’ words that his blood will be shed “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Also, since Matthew was written primarily for a Jewish audience, he includes Jesus’ statement that these events were unfolding so that the “Scriptures be fulfilled.”   His Jewish audience probably would have understood this as a reference to the “servant of the Lord” mentioned in the prophet Isaiah, and the “righteous one” mentioned in the book of Wisdom.  Another variant in Matthew’s passion narrative is that the chief priests and Pharisees ask that a guard be posted at Jesus’ tomb so that Jesus’ followers won’t be able to steal the body and claim that Jesus rose from the dead.  

Perhaps the most significant element that is unique to Matthew, though, occurs when Pilot asked the crowd about the fate of Jesus.  Specifically Matthew adds the verse that Jesus’ blood “should be upon us and on our children” (Mt. 27.25).   Unfortunately through the centuries this verse (and others) have been used to suggest that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.   This idea was definitively rejected by the Second Vatican Council in its document: “Nostra Aetate,” and more recently by Pope Benedict XVI in his book:  “Jesus of Nazareth – Part II.”


The important and essential thing about Matthew’s passion narrative is that he saw Jesus’ suffering as the fulfillment of the scriptures and that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God.   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  It is a part of the “Servant Songs.”  The servant does the will of God, despite any suffering or hardship, and ultimately is vindicated by God.  

Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians.  It is a hymn of praise to Christ who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Because of this, God greatly exalted him………”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. As you read or listen to the passion, what stands out for you?  
  2. In what way does Jesus’ passion challenge you? 
  3. Why is it so hard for us to believe that because of Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven?  Or perhaps the question really is: why is it so hard for us to accept this forgiveness?  

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. 

Pages