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/102316.cfm  

In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus addressed a parable to "those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.”  The parable begins:  “two men who went up to the temple to pray:  one was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.”  The Pharisee with head unbowed prayed in this fashion:  ‘I give you thanks, O God, that I am not like the rest of men --- grasping, crooked, adulterous --- or even like this tax collector.   I fast twice a week.  I pay tithes on all I possess.’”    The tax collector, though, “kept his distance, not even daring to raise his eyes to heaven.  All he did was beat his breast and say, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’”  

The difference between these two people in terms of their prayer is striking.   The Pharisee was not so much praying as he was giving a report on his “supposed” goodness.  The tax collector, though, had a clear since of his own sinfulness and his need for God’s mercy.   His prayer was honest and heartfelt.  

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Sirach.   It shares the theme of our Gospel in regard to prayer.   It is clear that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds, it does not rest till it reaches its goal.”   

In our second reading for this weekend, we continue to read from the second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy.   In it Paul writes very personally about feeling abandoned by those who whose support he had anticipated.   He also is clear, though, about his trust in God: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom.  To Him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.” 


Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. I don’t think any of us would deliberately pay as the Pharisee did in our Gospel for this weekend.  (Few of us are that grandiose.)   I also don’t think that many of us pray as the tax collector did.  (Few of us are that honest.)   How do you approach God in prayer?
  2. How do you know when God has heard your prayer?
  3. Even though he felt abandoned, Paul was sure of God’s presence and grace.  Have you ever experienced God’s grace at a time when you have felt abandoned or betrayed.?    

On the weekend that Mother Teresa was canonized by Pope Francis, I was listening to report on the radio it while I was getting ready to come to Church. As part of the report, an individual, who was critical of Mother Teresa being named a saint, was interviewed. In his comments he criticized Mother Teresa for what he termed her overly dogmatic views regarding abortion and other church teachings. As I listened I was incredulous that this individual would criticize Mother Teresa’s canonization because she believed in and adhered to our church’s teachings. It seems to me that in addition to living a virtuous and holy life, another important part of being named a saint in the Catholic Church is believing in our Church’s teachings. Since canonization is a specifically Catholic act, it would make no sense at all for our Church to canonize someone who didn’t believe in our Church’s teaching.

I believe that the timing of Mother Teresa’s canonization was fortuitous and probably not accidental. I say this because 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 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. Certainly this was something Mother Teresa did through the witness of her life.

Now in seeking to give witness to our belief in the sanctity of life I believe there are certain things about which we need to absolutely clear and unyielding. Six things come to mind.

  1. We need to be clear that there are not different categories or gradations of life—some that are more deserving of our respect than others. We need to be as respectful of the unborn life in the womb, as we are of the life that is being supported by machines. All life is sacred. There are not different levels of respect that we accord to the different stages or manifestations of life.
  2. Our respect for life is not based on what we are, or what we have, or what we are able to accomplish. Rather, our respect for life is rooted in our belief that we are made in the image and likeness of our God. The sacred image we bear exists from the moment of our conception. It cannot diminish with age. Created in the image and likeness of our God, and infused with a soul that seeks to know and love God, all human life is sacred and is to be respected.
  3. Our respect for life does not allow us to be disrespectful toward those with whom we disagree or those who do not share our beliefs. Rather our respect for life calls us to treat with dignity even those who actively oppose our beliefs. We cannot claim to respect life if we disparage those who don’t share our beliefs. And most certainly we cannot claim to be pro-life if we use inappropriate or inflammatory language, or worse, engage in acts of violence. The Bishops of the United States stated this clearly in a document they issued several years ago entitled: “Living the Gospel of Life.” In that document they said: “Our witness to respect for life shines most brightly when we demand respect for each other and every human life, including the lives of those who fail to show that respect for others.”
  4. Our respect for life calls us to seek dialogue and communication with those with whom we disagree. I am convinced that we are far more apt to convince people of the rightness of our beliefs through our words and actions than we are to coerce them to accept those beliefs. Through communication that is open, honest, and respectful, I believe we can engage people in dialogue, and they will come to see the wisdom of our words and understand the rightness of our position.
  5. Our respect for life does not allow us to sit in judgment on those individuals who have had, or who have participated in an abortion, or people who have shown disregard for life in any way, particularly in end of life decisions. As people who are pro-life, one of the things we must always remember is that judgment is God’s work, not ours. Where we have made judgments about others, we need to offer our profound and deepest apologies.
  6. Finally our respect for life calls us to invite and welcome back to our communities those who feel estranged from our Church or from God because they have made choices that were not respectful of life. Our task—our challenge—as Christians is not to make judgments about the worthiness of others to be at Church, but to do our best to make sure we are worthy to be there. To those who feel estranged from our Church or from God because they have made choices that were not respectful of life, we need to say clearly that we want and need them to come home—without exception or distinction, without reserve or hesitation, we need to invite them to come home. God’s love and grace await them.

Human life is indeed a precious gift from a loving God. Our task as followers of Jesus is to show our reverence and respect 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 we do it well—like St. Teresa of Kolkata—we truly live up to our call 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. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/101616.cfm 

In our Gospel this Sunday we read the parable of the unjust judge.  This parable is unique to Luke.   It is introduced with the words:  “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always.”   He then tells the story of a widow who continually comes to an unjust judge demanding her rights.    Eventually the judge thought:  “While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.”    

Our first reading for this Sunday is taken from the Book of Exodus.   It tells the story of a battle between the forces of Amalek and those of Israel.   During the battle: “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.”   So “Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so this hands remained steady till sunset.”  

The Gospel and the first reading together remind us of two essential elements of prayer:  1. persistence; and 2. the support of others.   At times it is easy to become discouraged in prayer.   The support of others, though, can help us persevere in prayer. 

In our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy.   In it Paul urges Timothy to “proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”    


Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Has there been a time when you have been discouraged in prayer?  What helped you to persist? 
  2. When have others been helpful to you in your spiritual life?
  3. Are you persistent in prayer whether it is convenient or inconvenient?   

Many years ago just after I was ordained I had a funeral for a young man who had died of cancer leaving behind a wife and small daughter. On one of my visits to the hospital as he was dying, his wife said to me: “Father, I must not be saying the right prayers or maybe I’m not praying enough because God isn’t answering my prayers.” I assured her that it wasn’t her prayers that were wrong, but rather it was our limited vision as to how God might be responding to her prayer. Sometimes God responds to our prayers in ways that are not evident or obvious, and/or not in the way we had hoped. 

I have trouble with the notion that when our most sincere and heartfelt prayers go unanswered or seem to fall on “deaf ears,” that we are praying wrong or that we aren’t praying enough. I also reject the idea that God is capricious in the way God responds to prayer—answering some, but not others. Now certainly it is our firm and abiding belief that our God is all loving and all powerful. Given this, when our best and most fervent prayers go unanswered we are left wondering why. 

There is no simple or satisfying answer to the question of unanswered prayers. I believe, though, that when we are talking about God and our relationship with God, there will always be an element of mystery involved. For as God has reminded us through the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways, My ways," declares the LORD.” (Is. 55.8) The ways and work of our God are not always—or even often—comprehensible to the human mind. And while this can be frustrating, when you stop and think about it, this is the way it should be. God is divine and as such is beyond our words, our images, our imaginings and yes, our comprehension. 

Now while God is beyond our comprehension, God is not beyond our experience. We experience God’s love and grace-filled presence in a multitude of ways in our lives. And because of this, while we may not understand the ways and work of God, we do believe that God abides with us and we are always held firm in the embrace of our God’s love. 

While I wish it were not so, unanswered prayers are a mystery that I have learned to live with. I take comfort, though, in the fact that God has loved our world into existence, and that God continues to abide with us and shower us with God’s grace. I have also learned that in regard to God, “mystery” will always be an element of my relationship with God. And it is a mystery that will never be resolved or answered in this world. 

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100916.cfm   

Our Gospel this weekend is the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers.  We are told that he when entered a village, “ten lepers met him.  They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!’”   Jesus told them: “Go show yourselves to the priests.”  While they were on their way to the priests “one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.  He was a Samaritan.”   Jesus inquired as to where the other nine were:  “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”  Jesus then told the leper: “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.”    

There are three things to note in this story.  First, the reason the lepers stood at a distance from Jesus was because at that time it was not known how leprosy was transmitted.  Given this, lepers were required to live apart from and in fact have no contact with other people.  Second, there was great animosity between Samaritans and Jews.  It was significant then that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan.  Finally, notice Jesus’ final words: “your faith has saved you.”  The leper not only received a physical healing, but also the gift of salvation.  

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the second Book of Kings. It is the story of the healing of Naaman the leper.  The important thing to note about Naaman’s healing was that he was a non-Jew, yet was cured of his leprosy through the intercession of the prophet Elisha.  This reading, in conjunction with the cure of the Samaritan leper in the Gospel, reminds us that God’s love and care are inclusive,  and extend to everyone --- no exceptions, no limitations, and no qualifications.   

Our second reading this weekend is once again taken from the second letter of Saint Paul to Timothy.  In the section we read this weekend, Paul reminds Timothy (and us) that despite any hardship we encounter, we can be sure that:  “If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Occasionally, some one (unfortunately, often a religious figure) will make some statement about God’s love being restricted to a chosen few.  In light of this weekend’s Gospel, how would you respond to them? 
  2. Faith can be a very powerful force in our lives.  What helps us to keep growing in our faith? 
  3. What do you think it means to “live with Christ” after we have died?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100216.cfm 

Our Gospel this Sunday comes in two sections.   In the first section the disciples ask Jesus to “Increase our Faith.”  Jesus told them:  “If you have faith the size of a mustard see, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”   In the second section of the Gospel Jesus, used the imagery of a servant and master to remind us that:  “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;  we have done what we were obligated to do.’”   Both of these sections deserve comment.   

For those who have never seen a mustard seed, it is indeed a very small seed.   Several years ago at another parish we gave out mustard seeds at the beginning of summer and invited parishioners to plant them and bring them back at the end of summer to see how big they had grown.   The seeds were so small that volunteers who taped them to 3 X 5 index cards complained that they nearly went blind doing so.   At the end of the summer, though, the seeds had grown into large plants.   Jesus used the image of the mustard seed to remind us that if we had faith even the size of a very small mustard seed, great things could happen.   

Jesus was also clear that God is not obligated to do things for us, or to give us heaven.  God has established us in this world out of love for us, and God has given us charge over it.   Our task, our obligation is to respond in love to God and do what God has commanded.  If we do this, then God will respond to us in love, not out of obligation.   Being a faithful disciple does not obligate God to do things for us.   God does all that God does out of love for us.   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Habakkuk.  In it the prophet laments God’s silence in the face of violence, ruin, misery, strife and discord.  God responded clearly and forthrightly.  “For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint, if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”   This reminds us that God is working even when we are not aware of it.   We are called to wait patiently and in trust.  This is part of what faith is all about. 

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy.   In it Paul reminds Timothy (and us) that we are called to persevere in faith in the face of adversity “with the strength that comes from God.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. What does having faith mean to you?
  2. How do you persevere in faith in the face of adversity or hardship? 
  3. What would you say to someone who feels God is silent in the face of their prayer? 

I wish God would be clear about what He wants me to do. These words were spoken by a friend of mine a few months ago when I was talking with him about a decision he needed to make. He went on to say that he had been praying and praying for guidance and direction and nothing was happening.  He was feeling more than a bit frustrated. I knew there wasn’t anything I could say that would be very helpful, so instead I gave him a prayer by the late Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin entitled "Patient Trust." It begins with the words: Above all, trust in the slow work of God. I have used this prayer in my own life at times too numerous to mention.  It has helped me to continue to move forward when clarity has been lacking, and I am feeling frustrated and confused.

I think clarity is something all of us have longed for at one time or another. It would be great if God gave us a clear set of expectations and directions for what we are to do in specific situations, instead of the generic: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Now certainly we also have the 10 commandments, but they tell us more what we aren’t supposed to do, rather then what we are supposed to do. Many times, though, and in various circumstances, the direction we should take or the decision we should make isn’t at all evident and we are left feeling confused, and praying for clarity.

Now, clearly knowing what we should do in specific situations would be much easier if we were faced with a choice between a bad thing and a good thing. Too often, however, our choices are between doing this good thing, or that good thing, or another good thing. In these instances clarity from God would certainly be welcome and would make our lives much easier. Why then, doesn’t God give us the clarity we often long for, especially when we are praying for this clarity with great sincerity?

I believe the reason God doesn’t give clear and specific direction to us despite our sincere and heartfelt prayers has to do with our free will. One of God’s great gifts to us is our free will. This gift allows us to make our own decisions and to set our own course in life. If we didn’t have free will, if God simply told us what to do, we would be automatons.

Our free will, though, allows us to make are own decisions both good and bad. Free will is one of the things that defines us as humans and sets us apart from the other creatures on our planet.

Does the above mean that we are left rudderless and on our own in regard to any guidance and direction from God as to how we are to live? Absolutely not. God is always offering us God’s grace. God does this, though, in subtle and gentle ways so as not to overwhelm us and negate our free will. And so, when we pray for clarity and guidance we need to trust that God’s hand is guiding us. Certainly it is not always easy to trust in the slow work of God. I am convinced, though, that it is the way that will ultimately bring us the clarity we seek. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092516.cfm

The Story of Lazarus and the rich man in this Sunday’s Gospel is very well known.   Lazarus was a poor man “covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.  Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.”   When he died “he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.”    The rich man likewise died and “from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far-off and Lazarus at this side.   And he cried out ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.  Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue for I am suffering in torment in these flames.’  Abraham replied ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad, …………Moreover between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to  go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’”   The rich man tried to convince Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them, but Abraham replied:  “They have Moses and the prophets.  Let them listen to them.”  

I think there are three things this Gospel tells us.   1. It wasn’t that the rich man refused Lazarus’ request for assistance.  Rather, even though he knew Lazarus by name, he didn’t notice Lazarus’ need.   2.  The rich man thought only of himself.  It never occurred to him to share his wealth with those who were less fortunate.  3.  The rich man was in the netherworld, because of the choices he made in this life.  In a similar way our choices in this life determine where we will spend eternal life.  There are no “do overs” or second chances once we have died.  

Our first reading this Sunday shares the theme of the Gospel.  Speaking in God’s name the prophet Amos excoriates those who were indifferent to the needy.  “Woe to the complacent in Zion! …………… Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.”  

We continue to read from the first Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy for our second reading this Sunday.   In the section we read this weekend, Paul encourages Timothy to “Compete well for the faith.”  


Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Have you come to realize after the fact that you failed to notice someone in need?  
  2. Have you ever regretted some of the choices you have made that were selfish or self serving?   
  3. How does one compete well for the faith?

   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091816.cfm  

In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus tells the parable of the steward who was reported to his master “for squandering his property.”   The master’s decision to dismiss the steward for his mismanagement would not have been surprising to the original hearers of parable.  Being a steward was an important and prestigious position.  An individual who failed to properly discharge the duties of this position deserved to be fired.   The steward’s response to his impending termination was very interesting.   He knew he was in a tough spot, so he “called in his master’s debtors one by one,” and reduced the amount they each owed his master.   The parable ends with the enigmatic statement:  “And the master commended the dishonest steward for acting prudently.”    

What are we to make of this parable?   Was Jesus praising or endorsing the steward’s acts?  I don’t think so.  Rather, Jesus was commending the steward’s ingenuity, his resourcefulness in responding to a very difficult situation.   The steward acted decisively and cleverly to assure a future for himself.   The point of the parable, then, is that if the steward, who couldn’t have been all the smart to begin with (after all he squandered his master’s property) could act decisively and resolutely to ensure his earthly future, shouldn’t we as followers of Jesus act just as decisively and just as resolutely to ensure our eternal future.   

The first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Amos.    In this reading the Lord ominously promises never to forget those “who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!” 


The second reading this Sunday is taken from the first Letter of St. Paul to Timothy.   In this reading Paul reminds Timothy (and us) that prayer is to be an integral part of our lives: “in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. While I understand that this Sunday’s parable is encouraging us to be decisive and resolute in ensuring our eternal future, I’m not sure how to do this on a day to day basis.   How do you see this played out in your life
  2. I am a bit unnerved at the message of the first reading that God will not forget those who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.   This doesn’t seem to square with our belief that God is love.   How do you reconcile these two ideas? 
  3. Do you believe you have an obligation to pray for others --- even people you don’t know, or worse that you don’t like?

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091116.cfm 

It seems to be part of the human experience that at times we misplace or lose things.  And losing something can be an annoying, and sometimes even a traumatic experience.    In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus tells two familiar parables about people who have lost things --- a shepherd who has lost one of his sheep and a woman who has lost a coin.   In the first case the shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep, and goes in the search of the one that has wondered away.   In the second case, the woman lights a lamp and sweeps the house in a diligent search for her lost coin.   And in both cases once the lost has been found a celebration ensues.  

What are we to make of these parables?   If we are honest, we need to admit that on the surface it makes no sense at all to leave ninety-nine perfectly good sheep and go in search of one that wondered away.   It also seems odd to expend so much time and energy looking for one lost coin.   The thing we need to remember about parables, though, is that they are meant to tell us something about God or something about our relationship with God.   From this perspective these parables remind us that we are so important to God that if we wonder or stray, God doesn’t simply wait for us to come back.  Rather God comes looking for us.  God seeks us out.  And when we allow ourselves to be found by God, it is cause for celebration.   

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Exodus.  It is the story of the Israelites turning away from God and worshiping a golden calf.   God says to Moses:  “Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.”   In response, Moses acknowledged that the Israelites had strayed, but reminded God of the promise God had made to Abraham. As a result, “…… the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy.  In the section we read this Sunday, Paul, while acknowledging his sinfulness, also recalls God’s salvific will.  “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”     

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Can you recall a time when you were lost?  What do you remember about the experience? 
  2. If you can remember what it was like to be lost, and then read these parables from that perspective, does that make a difference in regard to how you understand these parables?  
  3. When have you found something that had been lost?   What do you remember about the experience? What does that tell you about God finding us when we are lost?  

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