Fr. Bauer's Blog

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Believe and Receive?

A few weeks ago I was driving back to The Basilica when I happened to get behind a car with a bumper sticker that read “Believe and Receive; Doubt and Do Without.” My immediate reaction to this bumper sticker was a strong sense of discomfort. It occurred to me that whoever came up with that saying must either have a very strong faith, or had learned to do without a lot of things they had prayed for. Not being very pleased with my initial response, I decided the idea suggested by the bumper sticker merited some prayer and reflection on my part.  

As I reflected on the idea behind the bumper sticker, it struck me that the author of the sentiments behind the bumper sticker had a very different notion of what belief and faith are all about than I did. For me, faith is not about believing that we will get everything we want or need from God. Rather it is about believing that in our want or need, God will be with us.

As Christians, we believe that God is always with us. Because of and in God’s providential love we are constantly watched over and cared for. We are never abandoned or left to face the vagaries of life by ourselves. God is always with us, and in God’s love we are forever held firm. God’s abiding love and care for us—God’s ongoing presence in our lives—is the bedrock of our faith. In saying this, though, I want to be clear. Even though God loves and cares for us, this does not mean that God will give us everything we want or that God will grant our every prayer request, just because we ask for something in faith. 

There have been numerous times in my life when I have prayed about something or prayed for something with great fervor and sincerity only to end up being disappointed because what I prayed for didn’t happen. I am not alone in this. I have known many good and holy people who have prayed and prayed for things, only to see their prayer go seemingly unanswered. In the face of this, what are we to say? An easy answer (and one suggested by the bumper sticker) would be to suggest that we didn’t pray hard enough or that our belief wasn’t strong enough. I have a great deal of difficulty with this. I have known too many people of strong faith, whose lives have been formed and shaped by their beliefs, and yet have suffered great disappointment and pain in their lives. To suggest that they did not believe enough is an affront to them. On the other hand, to suggest that God was somehow capricious in answering their prayers would be an affront to God. 

When prayers go unanswered it is too simple to suggest that we are at fault for a weakness of faith, or that God is at fault because God failed to hear and respond to our prayers. To make these the only responses to unanswered prayers is, I believe, a great error. Rather, I think there are times when we have to settle for simply not knowing. Now certainly “not knowing” runs counter to our cultural and personal values. We have a deep and abiding human desire to know why something is the way it is. I believe though, that it may not be possible for us, as humans to ever know and understand the will, work and way of God. In this life, especially when we are dealing with God, we may have to settle for “not knowing.”  

Now I realize that for many the above may not be a completely satisfying answer to the issue of unanswered prayers. In all honesty, though, I must admit that I am more comfortable with “not knowing” than I am with the idea that we need only believe to receive.  

 

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste into your browser.
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020815.cfm 

“Everyone is looking for you.”   These words from this weekend’s Gospel remind us that when Jesus began his ministry of curing the sick, driving out demons, and preaching the Gospel, people began to seek him out.   Jesus was in such demand that the scriptures tell us that he often rose “very early before dawn ……………… and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”   Jesus knew that his ministry flowed form the time he spent in communion with his Father in prayer.  This is a good model for us.  As disciples of Jesus, our time in prayer helps us to follow Jesus more closely and lead the life of one of his disciples.   

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the book of Job.   This book, perhaps more than any other book in the Bible, has been and continues to be the source of much study and discussion.  It presents us with the eternal question:  “Why do bad things happen to good people?"   In the section we read today Job lamented his life:  “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope.  Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”  To the casual observer, it must seem odd that this reading is paired with this weekend’s Gospel reading, since the first reading and Gospel are always share a common theme.   The reason the reading from Job is paired, with this Gospel is that this weekend’s Gospel invites us to remember and believe that God is always with us and for us.   God loves us and is always sharing God’s grace with us.   This Gospel invites us to look for the ways in which God is sharing God’s grace with us and helping us deal with whatever we encounter in our lives.   

In our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In the section we read this weekend Paul talks about his call to preach the Gospel.  He says: “All this I do for the sake of the Gospel, so that I too may have a share in it.”  

Questions of Reflection/Discussion:

1.    Have you ever felt like Job?  
2.    Where have you experienced God’s love and healing grace in your life? 
3.    When is the best time for you to pray --- “very early before dawn” or ??????  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020115.cfm    

I suspect we all know people who could be described impolitely as “windbags.”  These people talk a lot, but say very little.  On the other hand, we all know individuals who, when they talk, people listen.  They speak with a wisdom and authority that causes us to take them seriously.  Twice in this weekend’s Gospel we are told that the people were “astonished” and “amazed” at Jesus’ teaching because he taught with “authority.”   What this suggests is that when Jesus spoke or taught people listened because inherently they knew that his words were not mere opinion, but had a depth of meaning and power to them.   

Tucked in between the people’s words of astonishment at Jesus’ teaching is the encounter between Jesus and a man with an unclean spirit.   The unclean spirit recognized Jesus, but Jesus rebuked him and said: “’Quiet! Come out of him!’  The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.”    The exorcism of the unclean spirit helped to demonstrate Jesus’ power and authority.  

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy.   In it Moses tells the people “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.”   In the Old Testament God communicated with the people through the prophets.  In the New Testament, God spoke to God’s people through Jesus Christ.   Jesus, though, was not just another prophet.  He was and is the Word of God, given form and flesh, and spoken into our world and our individual lives. 

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.    Like the section we read last weekend, this weekend’s reading seems to anticipate the imminent return of Christ.  Given this, Paul tells people he would like them to be “free of anxieties” so they can adhere to the Lord “without distraction.

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. When have you encountered someone who spoke with authority?  How did you feel when you heard their words? 
  2. Have you ever felt the words of Scripture speaking to you with authority?
  3. What anxieties do you need to be freed from?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012515.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the third Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Our Gospel this Sunday records the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and the call of the first disciples.  As Jesus began his public ministry his message was clear.  “The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”   And when he called his first disciples his message was equally clear.  “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”   This call must have been compelling for we are told: “…… they abandoned their nets and followed him.”   

Our first reading this Sunday is the story of the call of the prophet, Jonah, to prophesize to the city of Ninevah: “’Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,’   The people of Ninevah took Jonah’s message to heart for  “when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  At the time it was written there was widespread expectation of Jesus’ imminent return.  Given this mindset, Paul’s message is simple.  “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out ………………… For the world in its present form is passing away.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  While we might like to receive God’s call in a clear and direct fashion, as did the disciples in today’s Gospel, most often God’s call is quiet and subtle.  When have you felt God’s call in your life?
2.  Jonah was given a very specific call to prophesize to the people of Nineveh.   Have you ever felt a specific call in your life?
3.  Since we are still waiting for Jesus’ return, how should this affect the way we live?    

A few months ago Fr. Greg Skrypek’s brother died. For those of you who don’t know, Greg has been a presence at The Basilica for many years, first as an associate, then as a resident in the rectory, and, most recently, for the past several years, as the presider at the 7:00am Mass on Thursday mornings. Since I was away at the time of his brother’s death, I stopped in the sacristy chapel before Mass one Thursday to express my sympathy. Since both of us have lost a brother, there was a certain comfort and empathy in our conversation. At one point, though, Greg said something that really struck me. Specifically, he said: “Grieving is the privilege that comes from loving someone.”

Now I had never thought of grieving as a privilege, but when he said these words, I knew their truth. We don’t experience grief unless we had some kind of loving relationship with the individual who has died. Certainly we can feel sadness and sorrow when someone dies, but I think grief is deeper than sadness and sorrow. Grief is a profound and deep sense of loss. It leaves a hole in our lives and hearts that had previously been filled by a particular person’s presence and love. 

Grief also reminds us how important the individual was to us. It reminds us that even though they have died they continue to have a place in our lives and in our hearts. Grief calls us to remember that the love we had shared with someone is not ended with death, but continues. If we have never loved or been loved, we can feel sadness and sorrow certainly, but I don’t know that we can experience grief. Grief occurs when we experience the loss of someone with whom we have shared love. It is a privilege, because sadly, not everyone is given the opportunity to love and to be loved. 

Grieving is also a privilege for us as Christians because it gives us the opportunity to remember and renew our faith. For it is our faith that tells us that despite the sadness and sorrow that accompany death, we believe there is more. For Christians, it is the promise of eternal life that gives us hope even in the face of death. Now, in saying this, I want to be clear. The promise and hope of eternal life doesn’t take away the grief we feel when someone we love has died. Rather it moderates and tempers that grief. It softens it so it is easier for us to hold and carry.  

The pain we experience when someone we knew and loved has died is real. It is important that we acknowledge that pain. And shame on anyone who seeks to minimize it or take it away. We need to recognize and accept our grief, and remember that grief is only possible because we loved someone. Grieving is a privilege that comes from experiencing love.  

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

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011815.cfm

 

Having concluded the Christmas season, this weekend we return to what is known in our liturgical year as Ordinary Time.   This designation is meant to distinguish this time in our liturgical year from the other seasons of our Church year, e.g. Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.   Our Gospel this Sunday is taken from the Gospel of John.   It records the call of Andrew, who in turn brings his brother, Simon Peter to Jesus.  

 

There are two things to note in the call of these disciples.   First, notice it is John the Baptist who pointed out Jesus:  Behold, the Lamb of God.”   This suggests that sometimes we need others to point out God’s presence in our lives.  Second, notice that the call did  not come in a dramatic or extraordinary manner.  In fact, quite the opposite, it came in the midst of their ordinary lives.  This suggests that we need to be alert, because God’s call doesn’t always come to us in a spectacular manner. More likely it will come to us in the midst of our everyday and ordinary activities. 

 

Our first reading this weekend shares the theme of the Gospel.  It records the call of Samuel.   At first Samuel thought Eli was calling him and so he went to him.  After the third time, however, Eli realized that God was calling Samuel, and so he told him:  “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”   

 

Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.   In it Paul challenges the Corinthians to engage in correct moral behavior.  He reminded them:  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not on your own.”

 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

 

1.  John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to Andrew who in turn pointed out Jesus to his brother, Simon Peter.   Who pointed out Jesus to you?

2.  Samuel needed Eli’s help to recognize God’s call.   Has someone helped you to recognize the call of God in your life?  

3.  What do you think it means to be a Temple of the Holy Spirit?

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011115.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.   It must seem strange to move so quickly from the celebration of Jesus’ birth to his baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.   The fact is, though, that after the infancy narratives and the story of the finding of Jesus in the temple, there are no biblical stories of Jesus’ adolescence or young adulthood.  Instead, we move immediately to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry with his baptism. 

This year we read Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism.   Mark is sparse in the details he includes in regard to  Jesus’ baptism.   We are told simply that “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John.   On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a  dove, descending upon him.   And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”   

There are two options for both our first and second readings for this feast.  For our first reading we will use Isaiah 55: 1-11.   It anticipates the release of the Israelites from their captivity in Babylon.   Through the prophet Isaiah, God urges the people: “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.   I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.”   John the Baptist’s preaching echoes these words. 

Our second reading for this feast is from the Acts of the Apostles.  In the section we read this Sunday we hear Peter boldly proclaim:  “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. “

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  At this baptism Jesus heard the voice of the Spirit proclaiming him God’s beloved Son.  As a baptized Christian do you think of yourself as a beloved son or daughter of God? 

2.  In Jesus Christ we believe that God has entered into a new covenant with his people.  What is the difference between a covenant and a contract?

3. How would you respond to someone who believes that God does show partiality? 

Last fall I made my annual retreat at the Guest House at St. John’s Abbey. I arrived Sunday evening in time to join the monks for evening prayer and then returned to my room to spend some time reading and praying before going to bed. Despite my best efforts to sleep in, I awoke early on Monday, so I joined the monks for Morning Prayer and then had breakfast. After breakfast I decided to spend some time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Now, at the Abbey church the Blessed Sacrament is in a small room near the back of the church. It is one of my favorite spots. The chapel is quiet, intimate and warm and you don’t have to worry about being disturbed by individuals or groups touring the Abbey church.   

Unfortunately, when I got to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel the doors of the Tabernacle were wide open and there was a sign that read: “Damage to the Tabernacle has required removal of the Blessed Sacrament.” As soon as I read the sign my heart sank. My first thought was: “I hope God isn’t trying to tell me something.” As it turns out I needn’t have worried. Actually the sign was a good reminder that God’s presence isn’t restricted to just the Tabernacle. The absence of the Blessed Sacrament challenged me to ask myself where and/or how God might be making God’s presence known to me in other ways. 

I suspect there are times for all of us when we go to the place where we are used to feeling God’s presence—and we don’t feel it. There are dry spells in each of our prayer lives. Sometimes too, Mass is not the spiritual experience it usually is. And sometimes too, it is difficult, if not impossible to recognize God’s presence in our brothers and sisters. For all of us, there are times when despite our best efforts we have difficulty feeling God’s presence.  

Whenever people tell me they are having difficulty feeling/experiencing God’s presence, I always suggest two things. First, I tell them to remember the last places they felt God’s presence and to spend some time in prayer with those memories. If we can remember where we have experienced God’s presence in our lives, that can help us believe that God is still with us, even though we are having difficulty experiencing his presence in the current moment. Our memories are a powerful guide when we have temporarily “lost touch” with God. They call us to remember that as God has been with us in the past, so God is with us now. We just need to keep looking for God’s presence and not give up the search. 

The other thing I suggest to people who are having difficulty feeling/experiencing God’s presence is to look for God in new and unfamiliar places. Trying a different way of praying, or attending a different Mass, or volunteering in a new area, reading the Bible, or simply allowing ourselves to be caught up in the beauty of nature can be great ways of jump starting our spiritual lives and helping us to look for God in new or different places.   

God doesn’t have to break into our world. God is always present to us and to our world. Sometimes, though, for whatever reason, we can have trouble recognizing God’s presence. When these times occur, we shouldn’t panic or feel that our spiritual life has gone off the rails. We simply need to remember that as God has been with us in the past, so God is with us now. We need to trust that God has not abandoned us, and we need to believe that if we continue our efforts, God will help us discover anew God’s abiding and grace-filled presence. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010415.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.   The word epiphany means an unexpected manifestation/revelation or a sudden intuitive leap of understanding.  Our Gospel for this feast is the visit of the Magi from the East to the new born Christ child.  The Magi were Gentiles not Jews, so this Gospel celebrates the manifestation of God in Christ to the whole world.   It reminds us of the universality of God’s savific will --- that God wants everyone to be saved. This was St. Paul’s message in our second reading today from his letter to the Ephesians: “………the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”     The universality of God’s saving will would have been a startling idea for the Jews, as well as for many of the early Christians.   And yet, God planned this from the beginning.   Thus, this feast celebrates not just a past event, but an ongoing reality.  God continues to offer salvation to all people for all time.  

On a tangentially related note, the Gospel story of the visit of the Magi has through time been infused with more details than perhaps any other story in the scriptures.  Over the centuries we have made the Magi all men.  We have made them Kings.  We have said there were three of them, and we have even given them names.  None of these details, however, are part of the original story.  This should remind us that when we read the scriptures we need to be open to what they really say and not what we think or want them to say.  

In our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the prophet offers a message of hope.   Jerusalem’s time of exile will come to an end, and the glory of the Lord will once again shine on her.  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  I believe that epiphanies or experiences of God’s presence still occur in our world and in each of our lives.  When have you felt God’s unexpected presence in your life? 
2.  How would you respond to someone who suggested that God’s offer of salvation was limited to just a chosen few? 
3.  Were you surprised that in this Gospel, the Magi weren’t Kings, that there may have been more or less than three of them, and that they didn’t have names?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122814.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.  This Feast reminds us that our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born into the human family of Mary and Joseph.  

When I was growing up it used to be very easy to say what a family was.   It was a mom and dad and any number of kids. Through the years, however, I have seen that families come in all shapes and sizes.  As a result, I have had to continually expand my understanding of family. What is most important in regard to families, though, (whatever their configuration) is that they are characterized by loving relationships, that are lived out in care and service of one another and the broader community.   Clearly this was the case with the Holy Family.   

Our Gospel for this Sunday is the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple.   We are told  that to fulfill the prescriptions of the Jewish law Mary and Joseph  “ took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord,”  After they had “fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.”  

There are different options for our first and second readings for the Feast of the Holy Family.  For the first reading this weekend we are using the reading from Sirach.   This book offers practical guidelines for the Jewish people of that time.  In the section we read today we are reminded that “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.”    In our second reading for this Feast we use a section of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.  In it Paul offers practical advice for the followers of Jesus.   “Brothers and sisters:  Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  In our Gospel we are told that Mary and Joseph fulfilled the prescriptions of the law.  Are there any customs/traditions that are followed in your family?  
2.  How do the qualities/characteristics articulated by Paul in our second reading today find expression in your relationships? 
3.   What is your definition of “family?”   

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