Fr. Bauer's Blog

For many years I thought of prayer in terms of technique—a technique that could be learned, much like how one learned to play a musical instrument. I thought if I only “practiced” enough, I would become proficient at prayer. When I experienced difficulties with prayer, or when prayer seemed dry or rote, I assumed that I just needed to work on my technique and keep practicing. I also read books on prayer, and kept hoping I would find an expert who could help me with my technique or share a secret that would suddenly help me to be more proficient at prayer.   

I don’t think my experience in regard to prayer is unique. Over the years, I have encountered many people who, like me, were looking for a technique or method that would help them feel more comfortable and proficient with prayer. I have also encountered people who thought they were lacking some secret skill or had some defect in their make up that hindered or even prevented them from praying as well as they would like. And in some cases I have also encountered people who have given up on prayer altogether because they found it too frustrating and unsatisfying. 

Fortunately for me, my attitude toward prayer changed many years ago when I was on retreat. I asked my retreat director for some “tips” on prayer. Initially he suggested things I already knew, e.g. have a regular time and place for prayer, start with some deep relaxing breaths, etc. As we talked further, though, he told me that perhaps I was taking the wrong approach to prayer. He said that while there are a lot of techniques that can help with prayer. When we approach prayer solely as an activity we want to become proficient at or a skill we want to master, we are missing something important and will probably find prayer frustrating.  

My retreat director went on to suggest that I approach prayer more in terms of a relationship. While there are things we can do to enhance our relationships and help them grow, the most important thing is simply being present. If we are not present to someone, if we don’t spend time with them, we shouldn’t be surprised if the relationship feels stilted or stagnant. In order for a relationship to grow and deepen, we need to spend time simply being with another. This presence eventually leads to trust, which eventually leads to deeper and deeper sharing, which eventually leads to love.  

Now to be clear, when we think of prayer in terms of a relationship, that doesn’t mean that every time we go to prayer that it is a deep and profound experience. There are ebbs and flows, and peaks and valleys in every relationship. This is certainly true with regard to God. Our prayer, though, helps us to keep our relationship with God open and flowing, even and perhaps especially, at those times when our prayer feels unproductive or even frustrating.  

Occasionally, I will find myself falling back into the habit of trying to find a technique or skill that will help me feel more proficient at prayer. At these times, I need to remind myself that prayer is about relationship and not about technique. At root, my relationship with God — like the other relationships that nurture and nourish me in my life —  is sustained not by doing something, but simply by being present. 

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.   
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072014.cfm 

This weekend there is a long form and a short form of our Gospel.  The short form, (which we will be using at the Basilica) is one of Jesus’ most challenging parables.  We are told that “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat and then went off.  When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.”   The owner had a difficult decision to make.  Should he have his slaves try to pull up the weeds right away or let them grow with the wheat.   He told his slaves: “……if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.  Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvester, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”   

The message of this parable is clear.  It is not easy to identity, let alone separate, the weeds from the wheat --- the good from the bad.   This is why judgment is God’s business, not ours.  And judgment will take place in God’s time, not ours.   

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Wisdom.  It shares the theme of the Gospel.  In the section we read today, the author is clear about God’s role.  “There is no god besides you who have the care of all, that you need show you have not unjustly condemned.  For your might is the source of justice; your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.”  

Our second reading this weekend is a brief excerpt from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  Paul reminds us:  “Brothers and sisters: The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”   

 Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1. Why do so many of us feel free to make judgments about others? 
2.  Have you ever made a judgment about someone only to find out later it was inaccurate?
3.  I like the idea of the Spirit coming to our aid when we don’t know how to pray as we ought.   Have you ever experienced this 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/071314.cfm 

This Sunday’s Gospel is the familiar parable of the sower and the seed.  We are told that a sower went out to sow and “some seed fell on the path, and birds come and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.”  But when the sun came out “it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.”  Some “fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.”   “But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”    

To understand this parable, it is helpful to know three things.  First, parables were short stories that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God.  They were not meant to be taken literally.  Second, the impact of a parable occurs when our sense of what is proper/right is upended.  Third, it is helpful to know is that for the kind of sowing process described in this parable a harvest of 6% – 9% would be the best you could hope for.   Thus a harvest of a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold would be absolutely extraordinary. Taken together these things remind us that the message of the Kingdom of God goes out to all people, but is received in a variety of ways.   Ultimately, though, the Kingdom of God will flourish, despite any obstacles to its growth.   

Our first reading this weekend shares the theme of the Gospel.  Through the Prophet Isaiah God reminds the people that “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return till they have watered the earth ………………… so shall my word be ……………… my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  In the section we read this weekend, Paul is clear about his faith in God’s ultimate triumph.  “I consider the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”     

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1.  Why do you think Jesus used parables?
2.  Have you ever been surprised at the effect God’s word has had on you or someone else? 
3.  What do you think Paul meant when he talked about the glory to be revealed for us?  

Sin as Our Failure

One Monday morning a few weeks ago I was at my cabin catching up on the Sunday newspaper when I heard a loud “clunk” from the living room. I looked up from the paper and saw a bird fluttering around on the deck in a daze. I realized immediately that the bird must have flown into the  sliding glass door, only to have the glass bring its flight to a rather abrupt end. The bird appeared to be okay, so I went back to reading the paper. 

I hadn’t been reading the paper for more than five minutes when I heard another loud “clunk.” I looked out on the deck and saw the same bird fluttering around once more in a daze just outside the sliding glass door. I watched it for a few minutes, but since it again appeared to be okay, I went upstairs to take a shower, figuring that the bird had learned its lesson this time.

After my shower I had to run some errands and ended up being gone for a couple of hours.  When I returned to my cabin, and began unloading some groceries I had bought, I once again heard a familiar “clunk.” This time when I checked, I wasn’t surprised to see the bird fluttering around outside the sliding glass door.  What did surprise me, though, was the number of small feathers and other telltale markings that speckled the window pane. Apparently the poor bird had spent most of the morning trying to fly through the glass. I couldn’t help but think what a shame it was that it hadn’t learned a lesson from its first few failed attempts.  It occurred to me that if only it had a bigger brain or a stronger memory it might have saved itself a lot of pain and uselessly expended time and energy.

I thought about that bird a few days later, when I caught myself falling back into a bad habit I had been working to change. I couldn’t help but smile at myself as it dawned on me that in this particular case, I wasn’t really all that different from that poor bird. Like that bird, I hadn’t learned from my past mistakes. I had fallen into an old behavior pattern, which was anything but constructive and growthful.   

As I reflected on this situation it struck me that something like this probably occurs in each of our lives. There are times when we continue bad habits or patterns of behavior even though they are counter to our growth. It occurred to me that this is what sin is all about. Sin is our failure to break the destructive habits or behaviors that keep us from growing into the people God has called us to be.      

Now in some ways the above is a depressing thought.  Fortunately for us, though, unlike the bird outside my sliding glass door, we have the ability to recognize our destructive behaviors.  Additionally, though, we also have the means available to help us change those behaviors.   As Christians, we believe that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is always there for us and with us in our lives. If we are open to it, and if we allow it to work in our lives, the grace of the Lord Jesus can help us change our lives and be better people.  

Certainly it is not easy to change habits or patterns of behavior that are sinful and which have become entrenched over the years. Moreover, it may take a considerable amount of effort to do so.  However, the work involved in changing these behaviors is certainly preferable to continuing them. For the reality is that if we don’t make the effort to change, to learn from our mistakes and grow, we aren’t a whole lot better off than some poor bird who keeps bumping its head into a pane of glass.

For this Sunday’s readings please click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070614.cfm

Several years ago I heard a story --- probably apocryphal --- about a small boy who snuck into the room where his baby brother lay in his crib and whispered:  “Tell me about God.  I’m already starting to forget.”  I thought of this story as I reflected on this Sunday’s Gospel.  In this Gospel we hear Jesus exclaim: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.”   I believe these words remind us that we should be child-like (as opposed to childish) in our relationship with God.  We are called to trust and believe that the God who loved us into existence, will never abandon us or fail to hold us firm in God’s love.   

This is the message in the second part of today’s Gospel.  There we hear the familiar words: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”   These comforting words remind us that in God we will always find rest and comfort.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah.  It is a prophecy of the Messiah’s return and the establishment of his kingdom.  “and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.   His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. “   .  

In our second reading this Sunday from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans, Paul draws a contrast between the “flesh” and the “spirit.”  Paul reminds us that because of Jesus Christ:  “You are not in the flesh, on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1. Has your relationship with God gotten simpler or more complex as you have gotten older? 
2. Where in your life do you need rest from your labors or burdens? 
3. How do you know when the Sprit of God is dwelling in you?    

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062914-day-mass.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles.   This Feast is observed each year on June 29th, and since June 29th falls on a Sunday this year, it takes the place of what would have been the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time.   

Our Gospel for this Feast is the familiar story of Jesus asking his disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”   His disciples must have been pleased they could fill him in on the local gossip.  “Some say John the Baptist, other Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  Jesus, though,  makes the question more personal, though, by asking: “But who do you say that I am?”  It is Peter who gets is right --- even though at that point he didn’t understand the full meaning of his words:   “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”   In response, Jesus tells him:  “……….you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church……….”   
  
Our first reading this Sunday is from the Acts of the Apostles.  We are told that Herod had Peter arrested and put into prison.  While in prison an angel of the Lord appeared to Peter, freed him from the chains that bound him, and led him out of prison.   In response to this miraculous act Peter said:  “Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.”   

Our second reading for this Feast is from the second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy.   Paul is facing death, but reminds Timothy that God has been and continues to be his strength.  “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.  From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me…….”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  How would you respond to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?”
2.  Peter felt God working in his life when he was freed from prison.  When have you felt God working in your life?  
3.  Do you believe that a crown of righteousness awaits you at the end of your life?    

This coming October, Pope Francis has called for a special Synod on the family. According to Pope Francis, “the Synod will be on the family, the problems it is facing, its assets and the current situation it is in.” In preparation for this Synod, bishops from around the world were asked to seek input and gather information from the people of their respective dioceses. Several individual bishops, as well as conferences of bishops, have released summaries of the input they received. Archbishop Michael Jackels, the Archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa, was one of the bishops who reported on the input he had received.

Additionally, though, he offered his reflections on that input. In this regard, he noted that “the responses reflected positions relative to marriage and the family that were varied and opposing.” He also reported hearing a range of opinions about birth control, divorce and remarriage, same-sex marriage, and other issues. While I don’t think anyone would be surprised at this, I am grateful for and pleased by Archbishop Jackels’ candor in acknowledging it.     
In his reflections on the input he had received, I was struck in particular by one comment Archbishop Jackels made.  Specifically, he said:“The Church is a lot like a family, which is never perfect, often not pretty, sometimes dysfunctional and a source of frustration, even the cause of anger. And yet we still identify with it, claim membership in it, and how dare anyone try and say otherwise.  In the Church family we always hold out hope that other members or things in general will change for the better. And what “better” means varies from family member to family member.”

I think Archbishop Jackels really hit the nail on the head with this comment. As I have mentioned previously, I think Church is like a family. In my own family, we have managed to cancel out each other’s votes in the last several presidential elections.   And yet we realize that when we come together to share a meal, when we all put our feet under the same table, there is something much bigger holding us together than could ever divide us. And so it is with Church. 

When we celebrate the Eucharist we experience the preeminent commitment of God to us. At its deepest level, the Eucharist is a communion of life, a communion of love with our living God. It is a sharing in God’s life, so that our lives can be holy, and we can be united in Christ. In the fourth century, St. Augustine in a homily about the Eucharist said: “So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: ‘You are the body of Christ, member for member.’ (1 Cor. 12.27) If you, therefore, are Christ's body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord's table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying "Amen" to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear "The body of Christ," you reply "Amen." Be a member of Christ's body, then, so that your "Amen" may ring true!”  

When we gather for Eucharist we come with all our different perspectives, opinions, prejudices, perceptions, views, thoughts and ideas about how things should be. It would be easy for these things to separate and divide us. When we share Eucharist, though, the things that might divide us shrink in significance as we are unified in Christ through the Eucharist that we share in his name and memory. It is the Eucharist that strengthens us, that nourishes and sustains us, and that unites us as we seek to follow Jesus. And in the Eucharist, when we receive the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ in the world. We are united in faith, and because of this our differences — whatever they are — dim in comparison to the unity we experience in the Body of Christ.  

For this Sunday’s readings, please click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062214.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  For those old enough to remember, this Feast used to be called Corpus Christi.   It celebrates our belief in that in the Eucharist we celebrate in Jesus’ name and memory that Jesus Christ is really and truly present --- not present just symbolically, not present merely in memory, not present simply spiritually --- but really and truly present.    We offer no proof for this belief.  There is no rational explanation for it.  There is no way to logically reason to it.  For us it is a matter of faith.  And as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews:  “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”   Heb. 11.1)   

Our Gospel for this Feast is taken from the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John.   In the section we read this Sunday Jesus tells us:  “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”   

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Deuteronomy.  In the section chosen for this Feast Moses reminds the Israelites that when they were in the desert God “………. fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your fathers, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth form the mouth of the Lord.”   The manna that fed the Israelites in the dessert prefigures the Eucharist.   

Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  The section we read today is very appropriate for this Feast: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. How would you explain our belief in the Eucharist to someone who doesn’t come from a Christian background? 
2. Have you ever spent time in an Adoration Chapel or in quiet prayer before the Tabernacle?  What was that experience like? 
3.  What do you remember about your First Communion? 

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


http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061514.cfm 

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.   This Feast celebrates our belief that God has revealed God’s Self as loving Father, redeeming Son and sanctifying Spirit.  In the preface for this Feast we hear the words:  “For with your Only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit you are one God, one Lord:  not in the unity of a single person, but in a Trinity off one substance.”   How this can be we do not know.  That it can be we do believe.   

While our belief in a Triune God has been at the core of our faith since the beginnings of our Church, the dogmatic statements that articulate this belief are the result of later generations of believers.   

Our Gospel reading for this weekend is from the Gospel of John.   It speaks of the core and essence of our faith: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”    

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of Exodus.  In this beautiful passage we are told that “………. The Lord stood with Moses there and proclaimed his name, “Lord.”  Thus the Lord passed before him and cried out ‘The Lord, the Lord, merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.’”
 
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.  It was probably chosen because it speaks of each member of the Trinity.  It is also, though, the greeting that is often used at the beginning of Mass.   “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”       

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.   We believe in one God, who has revealed God’s self as Father, Son and Spirit.  What explanation of the Trinity has been most helpful to you in understanding this belief?  

2.   How have you experienced the presence and/or action of the Father, Son and Spirit in your life?  

3.   What does it mean to you that God is “slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity”?     

“The only purpose of the Church is to go out and tell the world the good news about Jesus Christ. It needed to surge forth to the peripheries, not just geographically, but to the peripheries where people grapple with sin, pain, injustice, and indifference to religion. 

“But the Church had become too wrapped up in itself.  It was too navel-gazing. It had become ‘self referential’ which had made it sick.  It was suffering a ‘kind of theological narcissism.’ When Jesus said: ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock’ people assumed he was outside, wanting to come in.  But sometimes, Jesus knocks from within, wanting to be let out into the wider world. A self-referential church wants to keep Jesus to itself, instead of letting him out to others.”   

The above quotation is part of a pre-conclave talk given by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis). Another Cardinal, Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, the Archbishop of Havana, said that this speech, given during the cardinals’ pre-conclave meetings, was "masterful" and “clear.” In fact he was so impressed with the talk that he asked Cardinal Bergoglio for his notes and his permission to share them publicly.  

I too like these words of Pope Francis.  They remind us that our Church does not exist for its own sake and well being.  Rather our Church is meant to bring Christ to the world — to be the face, the hands, the body, and the love of Christ in the world.

This weekend we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Mass at The Basilica of Saint Mary. That first Mass has been followed by countless other Masses. Additionally, in the 100 years since that first Mass, almost 26,500 babies have been baptized at The Basilica (161 of them were baptized this past year alone); thousands of weddings and funerals have taken place here; as well as Anointings of the Sick and Ordinations. And in recent years The Basilica has been host to hundreds of Confirmation ceremonies for the Archdiocese. In addition to these sacramental celebrations, The Basilica has also educated thousands in our school, and since 1974 in our faith formation programs. Through our various programs, services and ministries we welcome all those who are seeking to know and follow Jesus Christ in their lives. As I mention at the beginning of every Mass, we welcome people to worship with us whether they worship with us regularly or whether they are just visiting. Whatever brings people to The Basilica and wherever people are on their faith journey, they are welcome here.   

In addition to our parish activities, though, for one hundred years The Basilica has also been a beacon of hope on the Minneapolis skyline. The Basilica is a magnet for attracting people from all over the metro area.  Individuals from more than 540 zip codes call this parish their spiritual home. They provide critical funds and volunteer hours to help thousands of people. And our efforts make a difference. Since its beginnings at The Basilica over 25 years ago, our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry has served countless people.  Some are homeless, some on the edge, and some are working families who just can’t make ends meet. Each year, we serve about 50,000 people.  Last year we provided 7,000 pairs of shoes, 13,000 sandwiches, and hundreds and hundreds of bus tokens, gas cards, and rental assistance. The Basilica campus is the home for this life changing and life saving ministry.

Beyond meeting the needs of those in our community to just survive (food, shelter, clothing,) we also provide life skills programs and sessions as well as mentoring. The Basilica’s employment ministry currently serves more than 470 people who are unemployed or underemployed; helping them search for jobs, providing job search guidance, one-on-one counseling and resume building workshops.   

In addition to our social ministry, The Basilica of Saint Mary also plays an important role in the downtown community. For a hundred years The Basilica of Saint Mary has been a center for civic and cultural activities including ecumenical prayer services, concerts, art shows and speakers. We need to ensure that this continues in the future. 

Thousands of activities fill the calendar each year at The Basilica, involving parishioners and the community we serve. From liturgies to our employment ministry, education programs to to sandwich ministry, concerts to outreach programs, The Basilica Block Party, to art exhibits, we are a thriving community. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Mass at The Basilica this weekend, let us pray that we will continue the proud tradition of being and bringing Christ, not just to our parishioners, but also and especially, as Pope Francis said, to those on the peripheries — to those people who grapple with sin, pain, injustice, and indifference to religion.

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