Fr. Bauer's Blog

God's Abiding Presence

This past summer my best friend of almost 49 years passed away. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and chemotherapy proved ineffective. In the weeks and days before he died we had a chance to share many memories of our friendship through the years. As we shared these memories, we also talked about the fact that there weren’t all that many people in our lives we could presume on and take for granted—people we knew would be there for us in a difficult situation or in time of need. Other than each other, our respective families, and a few others, there really weren’t all that many people in our lives we could count on absolutely. 

I suspect the above is true for most of us. In each of our lives there are a limited number of people we can always rely on and trust, and know they will be there for us in our times of need. Usually these people are family members and/or friends who have seen the best and the worst in us, and who love us just the same.

We all need those people who are “there for us” no matter what happens. They might not be able to do anything to make a bad situation better, and they might not be able to solve any problems we have, but their presence, their care, their empathy, and their love help us to deal with or get through whatever difficulties or troubles we face. As I said, hopefully we all have these people in our lives. They are the people with whom we share love, and who enhance and nurture our lives.  

Now in mentioning this, I also would like to suggest that God is present in our lives in a way similar to these special people. God is there for us at all times and moments of our lives—both good and bad. God never abandons us or leaves us to face the difficulties and trials of life alone. In and through our prayer, we can feel God’s presence and experience God’s grace. And as a result, we are strengthened and sustained as we go about our lives.

Sometimes, though, for a variety of reasons, we have difficulty recognizing God’s abiding presence with us. It is for this very reason that Christmas is such an important celebration for us. When we celebrate Christmas, we are reminded that God loved us so much that God gave form and flesh to that love in the human person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God has touched and continues to touch our world and our individual lives with God’s presence and grace. Jesus is the preeminent and enduring revelation of God’s love for us. He is the way God has chosen to dwell with us and abide with us always. 

Clearly we do not always live with an awareness of God’s presence with us. But when we can attend to God in our prayer, when we can make room for God in our hearts, this can and will make a difference in our lives. For when we do this, we will come to realize that no matter what, we are never alone. God is with us and for us. And ultimately like other old and good friends, God’s abiding presence gives peace to our souls, life to our lives, and joy to our hearts. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122114.cfm 

In our Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent we read the story of the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to announce “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”   Mary did not reject the Angel Gabriel’s words or ask for more information. Instead she asked a very practical question.  “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  In reply the Angel Gabriel said: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.   Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”    The confirming sign that God would make this happen is the pregnancy of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren.  Mary’s response was one of complete faith.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”    

As we approach the celebration of Christmas, our Gospel today reminds us that we are called to imitate Mary, to be open to God’s work in our lives and to make a home for Christ in our hearts.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the second Book of Samuel.   King David “was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies.”    Since David was settled in his palace, he wanted to build a suitable place for the Ark of God.  God, though, had other ideas: “Should you build me a house to dwell in?”   God wanted to be clear that God was in charge and that it was by God’s doing that David’s kingdom would endure.  “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,………………Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;  your throne shall stand firm forever."   

Our second reading this Sunday is the closing verses of the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   In is a hymn of praise.   “To the only wise God, though Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever.   Amen."   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

1.   Like Mary, have you ever felt that God was calling you to do something? 
2.   What do you need to do to make a home for Christ in your heart this Christmas?
3.   What causes you to give glory to God?

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121414.cfm 

This Sunday we once again encounter the figure of John the Baptist.   Last Sunday we read Mark’s account of John’s mission.  This Sunday we read from the Gospel of John.   While there are similarities between the two accounts, each evangelist also has their own theological perspective in regard to John the Baptist.   In John’s account some priests and Levites were sent to John to ask him: “Who are you?”   As in last week’s Gospel, John is clear in his response:  “I am not the Christ.”  He also indicated that he was not Elijah or the prophet.   Instead he said:  “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert.  Make straight the way of the Lord.”   Some Pharisees then asked him: “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”   John answered them, “I baptize with water, but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”   

Clearly John knew his place and his mission.  He was sent to prepare the way for Christ --- the one who was among them, but whom they did not recognize.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  It is a prophecy of comfort as the Israelites return from the their captivity in Babylon.   Isaiah announces that he has been called to “announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.”   

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians.  Paul urges them to “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1   When asked who he was, John the Baptist was clear in regard to his role and mission.  How would you respond if someone asked you who you were? 
2.   When have you failed to recognize the presence of Christ in your life?
2.   What do you think Paul meant when he told the Thessalonians to rejoice always and to pray without ceasing.   

On more than one occasion, I have discovered that sometimes people assume that because we share the same religion, we share the same understanding of what our religion requires of us. While most of the time this is the case, it is not universally true. Within our church there are differences with regard to the acceptability of the death penalty and our obligations to the poor and marginalized. And if you really want to see differences, just bring up the issue of immigration among a group of Catholics. 

Now I believe it is important that we not gloss over our differences or pretend they don’t exist. It is equally important, though, that we don’t allow our differences to be a source of division and anger. In this regard, Jesus is a good model for us. In the Scriptures, we often see him disagreeing with people—particularly the Scribes and the Pharisees. For his part, though, he never let these disagreements become a source of bitterness or hostility. Sadly, the same thing cannot be said of the Scribes and the Pharisees. Most often they were very antagonistic to Jesus. What accounts for the difference between Jesus and the Scribes and the Pharisees? Well, clearly it helped that Jesus was divine. I think, though, that as important, Jesus most often had recourse to prayer when he encountered difference and disagreements.  

In my life, I have discovered that prayer changes things—and the thing it changes most is me. When I have a difference or a disagreement with someone, and I take it to prayer, this often helps me to see things from a different perspective or to take into account new information. Now as I say this, I need to be clear. I don’t always take differences and disagreements to prayer. There are times when I want to hold on to my anger and resentment. There are other times when I take them to prayer, and my prayer is more a monologue about why God should see things my way. When I am able to honestly and humbly take things to prayer, though, it does make a difference. 

Prayer can help us understand that while our differences and disagreements are real, they don’t have to be a source of anger and division. Rather, with Jesus as our model, and prayer as our weapon of choice, we can remain in contact with each other and engage in a dialogue that is frank, honest, and ongoing.   

We may share the same religion, but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily share the same understanding of what that religion requires of us. This doesn’t have to separate us, though. Through prayer and respectful dialogue we can challenge each other to hear anew, and strive to live out the challenge of Jesus to love our neighbor as our self.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120714.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Second Sunday of our Season of Advent.   In our Gospel this Sunday we encounter the figure of John the Baptist.  We are told that he “appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.”   John was clothed in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist.  “And this is what he proclaimed; ‘One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”   

Clearly John knew both his place and his role.   He knew he was not the Messiah; rather he was to prepare the way for Christ.   On this Second Sunday of Advent, John challenges us not just to repent of our sins, but also to prepare our hearts that Christ might find a welcome home there. 

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   It is prophecy of comfort and hope for the Israelites who were in captivity in Babylon.  “Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!  Here comes with power the Lord god, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.”  

Our second reading this Sunday is from the second letter of Saint Peter.   At that time, people were expecting the imminent return of Christ.   In the section we read this Sunday Peter reminds them (and us) that the delay in Christ’s return is for our benefit.  “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  What do you need to do this Advent to prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas?  
2.  When you hear Isaiah’s prophecy, do you feel a sense of hope and/or comfort?  
3.  Have you ever felt that God is “delaying” in response to your prayers?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/113014.cfm

This Sunday, as we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, we also celebrate the beginning of a new liturgical year.   The focus of the season of Advent is on the two comings of Christ --- the first at his birth and the second at the end of time.   The promise fulfilled and the promise of what is yet to come are both part of our Advent celebrations.  

Our Gospel for this first Sunday of Advent is from Mark.   In the section we read this Sunday, Jesus tells his disciples:  “Be watchful! Stay Alert! You do not know when the time will come.”   This might seem like a call to be spiritual insomniacs or to always be on the alert.   Jesus, though, follows these words with a parable about a man traveling abroad who takes care that his house is properly cared for and guarded while he is away.  This parable reminds us that if we are diligent and prepared, we will be ready to meet the Lord whenever and in whatever manner he comes.   

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   It shares the theme of the Gospel.  It is a prayer for God to reveal God’s self.to the Israelites who are being held in captivity in Babylon.  Isaiah also prays that the people would be properly disposed for God’s revelation.  “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in all our ways!”  

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In the section we read today, Paul gives thanks for the gifts of God that have been manifested in the Church at Corinth.   “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  What helps you to be prepared to meet Christ?
2.  In retrospect have you ever realized that you missed recognizing the presence of Christ?
3.  Where have you seen the grace of God at work in your life?  

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112314.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King.  This Feast closes the current liturgical year.  Next Sunday we begin a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent.  The Feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925.   Seeing the devastation caused by World War I, Pius established this Feast as a way to remind people that Christ is Lord of both heaven and earth.  Initially this Feast was celebrated on the last Sunday in October, but when the Roman Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar in 1969 it was moved to the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  

Our Gospel this Sunday is the last judgment scene from Matthew’s Gospel.  We are told that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.  And he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”   Those on the right were told they would “inherit the kingdom prepared or you from the foundation of the world”  because when they offered food, drink, welcome, clothing, and care to those in need, they did it for the Lord. Those on the left were sent off to eternal punishment because “what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”  

An element common to both groups is their surprise:  “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?”   This reminds us that we are called to serve those in need not only because they are in need, but also because we recognize Christ in them. Perhaps more importantly, though, we are called to respond to those in need because our salvation depends on it.  We don’t get to pick and choose who is worthy of our charity and love.   

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.   Ezekiel reminds us that the Lord God is our Shepherd and he will “look after and  tend his flock,” but he will also “judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.”     

Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Paul is clear about the necessity of Christ. “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.”    

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.    Have you ever recognized Christ in one of your least brothers or sisters? 
2.    When have you failed to respond to the needs of one of your least brothers or sisters?
3.    How are people brought to life in Christ?  

May They All Be One

As he lay dying of cancer, Pope John XXIII reportedly continuously whispered Jesus’ prayer: “May they all be one” (John 17:11). As a priest, diplomat, and finally as Pope, one of John XXIII’s aims was to reach across denominational barriers to re-establish the unity of God’s people. He once said: “Whenever I see a wall between Christians, I try to pull out a brick.” Along with Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII was canonized (named a saint) on April 27, 2014.    

I think John XXIII’s words about removing bricks from the walls that separate Christians are perhaps more important now than when he first uttered them. In our world today, there is much that would/could separate Christians. Divisions exist on almost every moral issue, and there is ongoing debate about major issues in our Christian faith—the ordination of women being perhaps the most notable.  

In addition to the differences that exist among Christians, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that differences also exist among Catholics. I don’t believe, though, that we should be alarmed or threatened by differences. Rather, I believe it is the divisions that arise from our differences that are the real source of shame and scandal. There is something wrong if we allow differences to turn into disputes and divisions.   

In regard to the above, I want to be clear. Acceptance of others doesn’t mean we agree with them. Dialogue with others doesn’t mean that we abandon our principles, and respect for others doesn’t mean endorsement of their beliefs. To lack respect for the differing position of others is to be haughty, ignorant, or both.   

Many years ago Dr. James P. Shannon was President of the then College of St. Thomas. He later became an auxiliary bishop in our Archdiocese and eventually left ministry. While President of St. Thomas, he wrote an essay in 1962 entitled: “The Tradition of Respectful Argument.” In that essay he wrote:  

The ability to defend one’s own position with spirit and conviction, to evaluate accurately the conflicting opinions of others, and to retain one’s confidence in the ultimate power of truth to carry its own weights are necessary talents in any society, but especially so in our democratic culture.

There is some evidence that these virtues are in short supply in our land. The venerable tradition of respectful argumentation, based on evidence, conducted with courtesy and leading to greater exposition of truth is a precious part of our heritage in this land of freedom. It is the duty of educated men to understand, appreciate, and perpetuate this tradition.  

If we can remember and put into practice the ideal of respectful argument, perhaps some day Pope John’s prayer: “May they all be one,” will become a reality.   
    

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111614.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.   Our Gospel this weekend is the arable of the talents. We are told that a man decided to go on a journey and so he called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.  “To one he gave five talents, to another two;  to a third one --- each according to his ability.”    The first two servants traded with the talents they had been given and doubled them.  The third “buried his master’s money.”   After being gone a long time the master returned and called in his servants to settle accounts with them.  The first two were congratulated for being “good and faithful” servants, and were promised greater responsibilities.  They also were invited to “share in their master’s joy.”   The third was berated as a “wicked and lazy servant,” and thrown “into the darkness outside.”  

What are we to make of this parable?  It seems as if the master’s treatment of the third servant is unduly harsh.  I think the key to understanding it is to be found in the fact that he entrusted his possessions to his servants “each according to his ability.”   The third servant was lazy and indifferent.  He didn’t even put his master’s money in the bank where it could earn interest.   As with every parable, this one also tells us something about God or about our relationship with God.   Specifically this parable reminds us very clearly that God has given us the gift of faith, and we put off living out our faith at our own risk.  

Our first reading this weekend from the book of Proverbs speaks of the qualities of a worthy wife.  It  shares the theme of the Gospel in that a worthy wife uses well the talents and abilities she has been given.  In this she is like the first two servants in the Gospel. 

Once again this weekend our second reading is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians.  In the selection we read this weekend Paul reminds the Thessalonians that because of Jesus Christ they “are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief.  For all of you are children of the light………”

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

1.    What are you doing to develop the gift of faith you have been given? 
2.    What inhibits or prevents you from developing the gift of faith?  
3.    What does it mean to live as children of the light?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/110914.cfm 

This weekend we celebrate the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.   When this Feast falls on a Sunday it replaces the normal celebration for that Sunday, in this case the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.    The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the Cathedral Church of Rome.  It is where the Pope presides as Archbishop of Rome.   The more well known, St. Peter’s Basilica, is the Church were the Pope presides as head of the universal Church.  

Our Gospel reading for this Sunday is the story of the cleansing of the Temple.   This is one of the few stories that is found in all four Gospels.  We are told that Jesus went to the temple area and ”found those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as money changers seated there.”   Now to be fair, these people were providing a needed service.   Often people came from a distance to offer sacrifice at the Temple.  For them to bring their offering with them would have been a hardship.  It was much easier to buy what your needed when you got to the Temple.  The difficulty was that it had gotten completely out of hand.   The Temple had become a marketplace and not a house of prayer.   On this Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, this story reminds us that our churches are places of God’s presence and our prayer.   

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.  The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, but Ezekiel offered a vision of the Temple’s restoration and a lavishness of new life streaming forth from the Temple.   

Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.   In the section we read this weekend, Paul tells us:  “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

Questions for reflection/discussion:

1.  At times my prayer feels like the Temple in this Sunday’s Gospel --- filled with a lot of commotion and little quiet.   Is that true for you as well?
2.  Have you ever experienced God’s new life pouring into your life?
3.  Have you ever thought of yourself as the temple of God in which God’s Spirit dwells in you?  

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