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/040316.cfm

Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, which is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday.  Although our first and second readings for this Sunday follow our three year cycle of readings, the Gospel is always Jn. 20: 19-31 --- the story of Thomas.  

I have always felt a great deal of sympathy for poor Thomas.   He didn’t believe the other disciples when they told him that Jesus had been raised from the dead and had appeared to them.  As a result, forever after he was known as “doubting” Thomas.   Now I don’t know that I can completely restore Thomas’ reputation, but I’d like to offer two thoughts in his defense.   First, it seems to me that the other disciples couldn’t have been very effective witnesses if they couldn’t convince Thomas that they had encountered the risen Lord.  Certainly the idea of someone rising from the dead was unprecedented, but the disciples couldn’t have been very persuasive if they couldn’t convince Thomas --- a man who had been in their company for three years --- that Jesus had been raised from the dead.   Second, I don’t know that doubt is such a bad thing.   In fact, I think doubt is an ingredient of faith.  I say this because you can’t have doubt if you don’t have (at least some) faith.   More importantly, though, out of Thomas’ doubt came the first statement of Easter faith:  “My Lord and my God.”  

Our first reading today is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.  It recounts the beginnings of the apostles’ ministry, which was a continuation of Jesus’ mission and ministry.  In this reading we are told “Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women were added to them.”  

Our second reading today is taken from the Book of Revelation.   We will be reading from this book for the next five weeks.  It is important to remember that the Book of Revelation is “apocalyptic” literature.  It is not meant to be taken literally.  Rather, apocalyptic literature is filled with vivid imagery and symbolic language.   It was written during a time of trial or distress and it was meant to encourage and offer hope in the face of trials and suffering.  It also reminded people to remain firm in their faith.   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Do you think doubt is a bad thing?
  2. Have you ever tried to convince someone of something only to have them doubt you?  Did they ever come to believe you?  
  3. If you encountered someone who read the Book of Revelation literally, what would you say to them?  

For many years now at the conclusion of Lent on Good Friday, we have held a Tenebrae Service. We have also invited one of the Rabbis from Temple Israel to join us for this service. The reason for this is that in the history of our Church, Christians have been especially cruel to Jews, often blaming them for the death of Jesus. If not actively encouraging this erroneous belief, the Catholic Church often kept silent in the face of it. This attitude continued until the church Fathers of the Second Vatican Council produced a document called Nostra Aetate (in our age), which dealt with the relationship between Catholics and other religions. One of the most important statements in the document is the declaration that “the Jews” are not to be blamed for the death of Jesus. On the contrary, Christians are to respect Jews as their elders in the faith. They are one ones with whom God entered into the Abrahamic Covenant in which we share. 

Given the above, we invite a rabbi from Temple Israel to speak to us on this most sacred day in our Christian liturgical calendar so that we might emphasize that Jews and Christians both claim Abraham as our father in the faith and both of us enjoy a covenant with God. We differ greatly in our faith, but we are profoundly united in that we all worship the Creator of the Universe. 

At the Tenebrae service each year we also take up a collection. The proceeds from this collection help fund the interfaith efforts and activities of the Downtown Clergy and Congregations.       

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032716.cfm  

This weekend we celebrate the great Feast of Easter.   Along with Christmas and Pentecost, Easter is one of the three great feasts of our Church year.   There are various readings that are used for Easter.  The readings cited above are those that are used on Easter Sunday morning.   The Gospel is taken from the Gospel of John.    On Saturday night at the Easter Vigil we have a series of readings from the Old Testament that tell the story of our salvation history.  There are also readings that can be used for Masses on Easter Sunday afternoon.   

While the secular world places greater emphasis on Christmas, from our Christmas perspective Easter is the greater feast.   The reason for this is that without Christ’s death and resurrection, his birth would not have the import for us that it does.   Further, it was Christ’s death and resurrection that allowed us to understand and appreciate the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost.    While there are several stories of Christ’s resurrection appearances, it is important to note that there are no witnesses to the actual resurrection itself.   Instead, the resurrection stories tell us what happened after Jesus was raised from the dead and how this impacted the people who experienced the risen Lord, Jesus.  

Our Gospel reading for Mass on Easter morning recounts Mary Magdala’s discovery that the stone had been “removed from the tomb,” and her running to inform Simon Peter and John of this.   Peter and John then discover the empty tomb. 

Our first reading for Mass on Easter morning is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.    It is the account of Peter’s address to the household of Cornelius, a new convert.   In a few brief sentences Peter summarizes Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and the commissioning of his disciples to “preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.”  

Our second reading today is taken from the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.  Paul uses the analogy of yeast to remind us that we need to celebrate Easter with the new yeast “of sincerity and truth” and not the old yeast of “malice and wickedness.” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Why doesn’t Easter get the notice that Christmas does? 
  2. What is your favorite account of one of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection?  
  3. Do you have any Easter traditions?   Do they actually relate to the Feast of Easter?   

Nothing jumpstarts my prayer life more than when I encounter an unexpected difficulty. Facing a challenging situation, and realizing I don’t have a quick or easy answer, sends me to my knees faster than a blow to the solar plexus. Now certainly this doesn’t happen often. I don’t like surprises and work hard to avoid them. (I believe “surprise parties” are a preview of what hell is all about.) Occasionally, though—and usually through no fault of my own—I face an unexpected dilemma that throws me for a loop. At these times, my prayer life automatically kicks into high gear, as I storm heaven seeking guidance and support. 

Now the above is not something I am particularly proud of. In fact, I am a little embarrassed to admit it. I probably wouldn’t bring it up at all except that I think it is a trait that is common to most people. In this regard, I suspect most of us pray on a regular basis. (Our prayers may be short or long; they may come from a prayer book, or perhaps they are memorized prayers like the rosary, or they may even be spontaneous and heartfelt. Regardless of how we pray, though, we do pray.) The thing is, though, that while we may pray on a regular basis, there is nothing like a crisis to get us to pray more frequently and more fervently. 

I suspect the reason a crisis motivates our prayer life like nothing else is that when a crisis occurs we become aware, as in few other ways, of our limitations and weaknesses. It is during times of crisis that we have to admit that we aren’t sufficient unto ourselves and that we need God.    

Now while on one level I think most of us would admit that we need God, on another level I suspect that most of us also live as though God were an ancillary and optional part of our lives. Now certainly we acknowledge God’s existence and we do pay heed to God when we pray. But in regard to regularly recognizing and admitting our need for and dependence on God, I’m guessing most of us only do this when we have run out of other options. We are like children who insist that “I can do it myself” only to discover that “doing it ourselves” was more difficult than we thought, or that we can’t do it at all.     

Despite the fact that it is so often difficult for us to admit our need for God, God doesn’t hold this against us. In fact, quite the opposite is true. God is pleased whenever we recognize our need for God and come to God in prayer. God is like a loving parent who doesn’t chide us when our abilities are insufficient and our efforts fail. Rather when this happens and we come running to God for help and comfort, we discover that God has always been there, waiting for us with outstretched arms and all the grace that we need. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it in your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032016.cfm   

This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday.    In addition to the usual three readings, we also have a Gospel reading that is used at the beginning of Mass.  This reading records Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem just prior to his passion, and it introduces the procession with palms. 

Each year on Palm Sunday we read one of the accounts of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross.  This year we read from the Gospel of Luke.  While each of the four evangelists tells the story of the passion and death of Jesus, they each approach it from their own unique perspective.  In this regard, Luke is not as sparse in detail as Mark.  At the same time, in Luke’s account of the passion, Jesus is not as regal or as “in charge” as he is in John’s account.   From Luke’s perspective, Jesus willingly accepts his suffering and death as the fulfillment of God’s plan.   

While we are all familiar with the story of Jesus’ passion, reading (or hearing) it in its entirety can help us appreciate anew --- and hopefully at a deeper level --- the suffering Jesus’ endured for our sake.  

The first and second readings for Palm Sunday remain the same every year.   The first reading is taken from that part of Isaiah known as the “songs of the suffering servant.”   From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have seen these songs as referring to Christ, the suffering servant par excellence.  

The second reading for Palm Sunday is taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  It is in the form of a hymn and it speaks of Jesus’ journey from heaven to earth and back to heaven.  Its simple eloquence reminds us that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” for us.   And because of this, “every knee shall bend in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord………..”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:    

  1. As you read the passion, what moment stands out for you?
  2. The “cross” has been a Christian symbol for centuries.  Yet, in recent years especially, it has become more decoration/ornamentation than a symbol of one’s faith.  Why do you think this is?
  3. In the second reading, Paul speaks of Jesus’ emptying himself for our sake.  Have you ever emptied yourself for another?     

Click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser for this Sunday’s readings: https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031316-fifth-sunday-lent.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Fifth Sunday of the Season of Lent.   Our Gospel this weekend is taken from the Gospel of John and is the familiar story of the woman caught in adultery.   

There are at least five things that deserve comment in regard to this Gospel.   First, notice that the scene takes place early in the morning.  This suggests that someone didn’t just happen upon a late night rendezvous, but rather a trap had been laid for the woman.  This is supported by the custom of the time which required the witness of two or more men to accuse someone of wrongdoing.  Obviously, catching the woman in adultery had been prearranged.  Second, the last I heard, adultery required two people.  Where is the woman’s companion?    Third, there has been much speculation about what Jesus wrote when he bent down and wrote on the ground.  The fact is, however, that we simply don’t know.   Fourth, notice that the crowd begins to disperse “beginning with the elders.”   This suggests that wisdom often --- but certainly not always --- comes with age.  Finally, notice that Jesus doesn’t excuse or minimize what the woman did.  Rather, he did not condemn her.  This is significant.  It reminds us that judgment belongs to God alone.  

The point of this Gospel is clear.  All of us are sinners.   All of us stand in need of God’s mercy.  No one of can stand in judgment of another.   Judgment is God’s business, and God doesn’t need our help.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   It was a powerful reminder to the Israelites --- and us --- that God has not been present and active only in the past, but that this is still true today.  “see, I am doing something new!  Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”   

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians.  In it, Paul exults in the life in Christ that has been given him. “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. The woman in this weekend’s Gospel experienced the grace filled mercy of God.  When have you experienced this in your life?
  2. When have you failed to show mercy to another and instead have stood in judgment of them?
  3. When and how have you found God doing “something new” in your life?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030616-fourth-sunday-lent.cfm 

Today we celebrate the fourth Sunday of the Season of Lent.   This Sunday is also known as Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday because our time of penance is drawing to a close as we wait expectantly for Easter. 

Our Gospel this weekend is taken from the 15th chapter of Luke’s Gospel --- sometimes referred to as the “lost and found” chapter of Luke’s Gospel because it contains 3 parables about things that are lost and then found.  This Sunday we read the familiar and profound parable of the prodigal son.  Now as I have mentioned before, it is my belief that this parable actually should be called the parable of the prodigal father.   I say this for two reasons.  

First, synonyms for the word prodigal are wasteful, reckless, extravagant, profligate.  Certainly these words can be applied to the younger son’s lifestyle, but I believe they more properly describe the Father’s love for his two sons.   The Father was wasteful, reckless, extravagant --- prodigal --- in his love for his sons.  Second, even though neither son understood how much their Father loved them, their blindness was not a barrier to his love.  In both cases, the Father “went out” to his Sons to express his prodigal love for them.    

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Joshua.  It takes place when the Israelites have arrived in the “promised land” after their forty year sojourn in the desert.  For the first time they are able celebrate the Passover in their new home.   This story reminds us of God’s fidelity to God’s promise, even in the face of the Israelites (and our) infidelity to God.  

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In this reading Paul reminds the Corinthians that God “has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and given us the ministry of reconciliation.”   These words remind us that it is God’s initiative to bring us back to God.   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. Parables were a favorite teaching device that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God.   What does the parable in today’s Gospel tell you about God? 
  2. I suspect --- if we are honest --- that most of us identify with the elder son in this Gospel as opposed to the younger son.   Do you think the elder son ever came to understand his Father’s love? 
  3. Have you ever experienced God’s grace inviting you to reconciliation?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022816-third-sunday-lent.cfm 

“What did I do to deserve this?”  People often ask this question when something bad happens to them.   While on one level we know there is not a direct correlation between our behavior and bad things happening to us,  on another level I suspect all of us occasionally wonder if --- when something bad happens to us --- we aren’t being punished for something.   In the first part of our Gospel today Jesus dealt with this issue very directly.   He mentioned two specific instances where bad things happened to people.   He then asked whether people thought these things happened because the individuals to whom they happened were greater sinners or were more guilty than others.   His response was clear.  “By no means!”  This would have caught his hearers by surprise because at that time it was thought that people experienced bad things because they had done something bad.   Jesus is clear, though, that bad things don’t happen to people because they’ve done something bad.   Bad things just happen.  

The second half of our Gospel today is a brief parable about a fig tree that has not born fruit in three years.   The owner of the orchard instructs the gardener to cut it down.   The gardener, though, interceded, and suggested that he cultivate the ground and fertilize it to see if the fig tree might bear fruit.   This parable speaks to us of God’s enormous patience with us, even when we don’t produce fruit.   It serves as a nice counterpoint to the first half of the Gospel where people thought punishment for wrongdoing was swift and sure.   

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Exodus.  It is the story of Moses’ encounter with the burning bush and his being sent by God to the Israelites.  God also told Moses the name by which he is being sent: “I am who am.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In a none to subtle way, it reminds us not to presume on God’s patience.  “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion 

  1. What would you say to someone who experienced something bad and thought they were being punished for something they had done?
  2. God gave Moses a name by which Moses could call on him.   Is there a name by which you call on God?   
  3. Have you ever presumed on God’s patience?  
Mass at the Basilica

Formed by God's Grace

Many years ago when I was in my last year of college, I needed a half credit class to complete my requirements for graduation. Now at that time in my academic career I wasn’t looking for anything that would be especially challenging or that would require a lot of work. Having dropped out of college once, I just wanted to graduate. With this as my criterion, I scoured the various half credit classes that were offered, and finally found one I thought met my criterion to a “T”—Pottery. With low expectations, but with great hope that the class would allow me to graduate, I signed up for it. 

As it turned out taking that pottery class was not one of the best decisions I have ever made. I discovered I had even less artistic talent than I had thought. One of the major requirements of the class was that we had to make a variety of different objects. Some of the objects had to be made by hand and some on the pottery wheel. And the objects actually had to be functional and/or decorative. This proved to be somewhat problematic for me. There were, however, two saving graces in the class. The first was that the teacher offered to be available at various times to help those students for whom the word “remedial” was more than apt. The other saving grace was that the art studio was open until 10:00pm so students could come in during the evening hours and work on their projects. I took advantage of both of these things. And ultimately, I was able to fulfill at the requirements for the class, and to my amazement got a B in the class. 

There were a couple things I remember from this experience. The first is that even though something looks easy, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. This taught me not to make assumptions, but to check things out thoroughly before jumping in with both feet. Now clearly I don’t always do this, but on more than one occasion it has helped me to avoid making a big mistake.  

The other thing I learned is that when you’re trying to throw a pot on a pottery wheel, a slow and gentle touch is needed. If you try to go too fast, or if you use a heavy hand, the pot doesn’t respond well. The best potters know that a slow and steady touch ultimately will produce the best pot. I suspect this is the reason that the prophet Isaiah referred to God as a Potter. “But now, O LORD, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64.8)

In my own life, I have discovered time and again that God never forces God’s grace on me. Rather like a potter bringing a pot to life on a wheel, God—with a slow and steady touch—molds and shapes me with God’s grace. Now, certainly there are times when I am resistant to God’s grace, but at these times, God, like a master Potter, doesn’t force, but rather continues to gently form and shape me that I might become the person God would have me be.  

I am enormously grateful to God for God’s patience and gentle care with me.  And I pray that I might strive to be like clay that is malleable and supple, so that I might respond to God’s gentle touch and be formed into the person God would have me be.  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022116.cfm 

This weekend we observe the second Sunday of the season of Lent.  Each year on this Sunday we read one of the accounts of the Transfiguration.  Luke’s account varies only slightly from the accounts of Matthew and Mark.  Specifically, Luke tells us that Jesus was “at prayer” when the transfiguration occurred, and at the end of the Transfiguration Luke includes the statement that “They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.”   

What is most important about the three accounts of the Transfiguration is what they have in common.  The incident takes place on a mountain, which in Jewish history was the place of divine encounter.  Also, in each account Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus.   Moses represented the law and Elijah the prophets, the two foundations of the Jewish religion.  Finally, in each account there is a voice from heaven identifying Jesus as the beloved or chosen son, followed by the imperative statement:  “Listen to him.”  

We read the account of the Transfiguration at the beginning of our Lenten journey, to remind us of the life that ultimately awaits us.    

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Genesis.   It is the story of the covenant God made with Abraham (then Abram).  Two things are significant in this reading.  The first is God’s word to Abraham:  “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.”  Just so,………. shall your descendants be.”   This promise is significant because at that time (and even today) Jewish people did not have a clear sense of an afterlife.   The believed that you lived on through your descendants.  Thus it was important to have children ---- so you would always be remembered.  The second thing that is significant is God’s promise“To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”  Even today the Jews hold dear this promise.   

The second reading for this weekend is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians.  In it Paul urges people to “stand firm in the Lord.” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion

  1. Certainly the Transfiguration was a singular and unique event.  I suspect, though, that we have all had “transfiguring” (with a small “t”) moments in our lives.   When have you felt the presence and/or power of God in your life?
  2. Have you ever felt God inviting you to “listen” to the words of Jesus?  
  3. Have you ever failed to stand firm in the Lord? 

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