Fr. Bauer's Blog

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012019.cfm 

This Sunday and for the following three Sundays we return to what is known as Ordinary Time in our Church Year.  Ordinary Time is that time between the seasons of Christmas and Lent, and between Easter and Advent.   

Our Gospel this Sunday is the familiar story of the wedding at Cana.   There are two specific things in this Gospel which deserve comment. First, notice that when the wine ran out, Mary did not tell Jesus what he should do.   She merely brought the matter to his attention:  “They have no more wine.”   She left it up to Jesus as to how to respond to this situation.    If you are like me, this is not how I usually bring a problem to God.    Too often when I bring things to God in prayer, I have a desired outcome in mind.   Mary, though, just presented her concern to Jesus and left it in his hands.  I think this is a good model for our prayer.  The second thing I would note is the abundance of water turned into wine: “six stone water jars………………each holding twenty to thirty gallons.”   This reminds us that where God is involved there is always an abundance.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   The people of Israel have returned from Exile, and the prophet Isaiah reminded them that they still have found favor with God:  “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you, and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.”   It is the marriage imagery that ties this reading to this Sunday’s Gospel.   

Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In it Paul reminds us that “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there re different workings,  but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In your prayer have you ever followed Mary’s example and simple brought something to God without having a hoped for outcome in your mind? 
  2. Where have you experienced God’s abundance in your life? 
  3.  What gifts have you been given?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and past it into your browser: https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011319.cfm 

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.   Now, to some it might seem strange that we celebrate this Feast so soon after we have celebrated Christ’s birth, especially since the scriptures tell us that Christ was baptized as an adult at the beginning of his public ministry.   The reality is, though, that other than the infancy narratives and the story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple, we really have no information about Christ’s early life.   When you stop and think about it, this is as it should be.  What is important about Christ is not any stories about his early life, but rather the stories about his preaching, teaching, miracles and ministry.  

This weekend we read the story of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel of Luke.  The first section of this Gospel is a summary of the mission of John the Baptist:  “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”   The second section of this Gospel records Jesus’ baptism.  We are told simply that after he had been baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.’”   Interestingly, in Mark and Luke the voice from heaven is addressed to Jesus personally, whereas in Matthew the voice is addressed to the surrounding crowds.   (John records Jesus baptism indirectly, though the words of John the Baptist.)

There are two choices for our first reading this weekend.  At the Basilica we will be using Isaiah 42: 1-4; 6-7.   The section we read this Sunday is part of what is know as the Songs of the Suffering Servant.   It is God’s promise to send a “servant” who will be filled with God’s Spirit.   We would see this as prefiguring Christ.   

We also have a choice for our second reading today.   At the Basilica we will read from the Acts of the Apostles.  In this reading Peter boldly proclaims:  “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. Have you attended a baptism recently?   What do you remember about it? 
  2. How would you explain baptism to a non-Christian? 
  3. If God, shows “no partiality” why is baptism important?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010619.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.   Epiphany comes from the Greek word “epiphaneia” meaning manifestation.   In the Western Rite Catholic Churches this Feast is celebrated as the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi from the East.  

On this feast we always read the Gospel story of the visit to the new born Christ child by astrologers or magi from the East.  If you read the Gospel text carefully, however, you will notice that the magi are never identified as “kings” and their number is never specified.   (We presume there were three, because there were three gifts.)  The three “kings” we sing of comes to us from our verbal tradition and not from the scriptures.  

The message of this feast is important and it is stated well by St. Paul in our second reading today.  “………... the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise of Jesus Christ through the Gospel.”   In essence Paul is saying that Jesus came to save all people for all time.  His manifestation to the magi (being Gentiles, not Jews) reminds us of this most basic fact.   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah.  It speaks of the restoration of Jerusalem, when the Israelites will return from their exile.   The new Jerusalem will be a light to the nations for the Lord will shine upon it.  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. While there have been and will continue to be dramatic and powerful epiphanies of our God, I also believe that subtler epiphanies take place all the time.  Can you remember a time when you experienced an epiphany of God’s presence and grace?
  2. If Jesus Christ came to save all people for all time, why do you suppose some people want to put limits on God’s salvific will?   
  3. Can you find the Epiphany stained glass window in the Basilica?    
     

A few weeks ago, after the meeting of U.S. Bishop’s in Baltimore, I received an email from a friend. He was distressed and angry that the Vatican had intervened and asked the U.S. Bishops not to develop specific recommendations for how to handle malfeasance among their ranks. The Vatican asked them to wait until a meeting of the heads of the various bishop’s conferences from across the world that will take place in Rome this coming February. While my friend understood that it was perhaps better to deal with the issue of malfeasance on the part of bishops on a worldwide basis, he didn’t understand why the U.S. Bishops didn’t at least discuss the issue, without coming up with specific recommendations. Frankly, I think my friend has a right to be angry. At a minimum our bishops should have discussed this issue in a public forum. Once again, our bishops have failed to provide leadership at a critical time in our church—most specifically the church in the United States. And as a result more people are heading to the door on their way out of the church.

While I understand and respect people’s decision to leave—or at least take a break from our church—I would like to suggest that, from my perspective, they are leaving the church for the wrong reasons. Certainly our bishops have been a disappointment, but they are only a small part of our church. More important for us as Catholics is that we know and believe in Jesus Christ and his message of love, peace, care, and compassion. More important are the sacraments and especially the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. More important is our belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God that speaks to our lives today. And more important is our belief that whatsoever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we do to Christ. These are the things that define and maintain our church. 

Our church is much bigger and much better than the members of the hierarchy who have ill-served it. Yes, these men have had a very big and a very bad impact on our church. BUT, they are just a small part of our church. While their actions and their inaction have been and are very public and very problematic, they are just a small part of the church. From this perspective, I would like to suggest that it is the organization of our church, most specifically the hierarchy, and not our church, that people should be upset about. Catholics went through one crisis of faith when they discovered they couldn’t necessarily trust priests who ministered to them. We are now going through another as it becomes clear that many bishops have not fulfilled their duty to hold abusers and their enablers accountable. People have a right to be angry, disappointed, and upset about this. 

The words transparency, openness, and honesty are much in vogue lately. Their high fashion status, though, doesn’t diminish their importance or necessity. In regard to our church, they call our bishops to a high standard of accountability. Certainly for some time now our leaders have failed to meet this standard. For this they need to confess their failings, repent, and establish clear standards of accountability. And they need to work with others, most especially the laity, to do this, and thus to provide the leadership we deserve. If they can’t do this, or are unwilling to do this, then they shouldn’t be surprised if people simply stop paying attention to them. 

This year, as we celebrate the great Feast of Christmas, I extend a welcome to all those who, despite their discouragement, disappointment, and anger, will join us for worship at The Basilica as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The many and diverse people who fill our church are a visible reminder that we have a big God, and so we need a big church. A church that is much bigger and much better than our bishops. This Christmas especially, this is something for which I am particularly grateful.

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/123018.cfm  

This Sunday we observe the Feast of the Holy Family.  This Feast celebrates Jesus’ birth into our world as a member of the human family of Mary and Joseph.   It also reminds us that the Holy Family is a model for our own families.   

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 had to continually expand my understanding of family.  I say this because I have come to realize that families come in all shapes and sizes   What is most important in regard to families (of whatever configuration) is that they are characterized by loving relationships.  At their best they are marked by lives lived out in care and service of one another and the broader community.   Clearly this was the case with the Holy Family.   

Our Gospel this Sunday is the story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple.   This story illustrates well the relationship of love that existed in the Holy Family.  Note that there is no display of anger, no recriminations, and no resentment.  Rather there is mutual respect, an effort at understanding, and above all love.  Would that all families manifested these qualities.   

There are two options for our first reading this Sunday.  The one we will use at the Basilica is from the book of Sirach.   This book is part of the Wisdom literature included in our Catholic Bible.  If it is included in Protestant Bibles it is usually under the heading of “apocrypha books”.  Following the theme of the Gospel, the section we read today reminds us of the ideals of family life:  honoring and reverencing parents, caring for them, and exhibiting love and kindness toward them.  

We also have two options for our second reading this weekend.  The one we will use at the Basilica is from the First Letter of St. John.  In this reading we are reminded that “We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:  

  1. I once heard a speaker say that families should be defined by bonds of love versus bonds of relationship.    Do you agree or disagree? 
  2. How would you define a family?
  3. Have you ever thought of yourself as a child of God?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122318.cfm   

On this fourth Sunday of Advent we read the familiar story of the Visitation ---  Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth.  Each of their lives has been touched by God’s powerful grace, and now both women are with child.  The story is brief, but important.  Mary has learned through the angel Gabriel that in her old age her cousin, Elizabeth is pregnant.  In response to this news: “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”   Elizabeth responded to Mary’s greeting by crying out in a loud voice: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”   At the close of their encounter Elizabeth’s words to Mary are a message to all believers:   “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”   

Clearly both Mary and Elizabeth were keenly aware of God’s work in their lives, and they rejoiced together in this shared knowledge.  In this they are a model for all believers.  They call us to believe in God’s ongoing and abiding presence in our lives and our world, and they remind us that we too will be blessed if we only believe that God’s promise to us will be fulfilled. 

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Micah.  It contains the promise of a messiah made to the Israelites during the Babylonian captivity.  “Thus says the Lord: You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be the ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”   

For our second reading this weekend we continue to read from the Letter to the Hebrews.  It speaks of the new “covenant” that is offered to us in Jesus Christ.  “He takes away the first to establish the second.  By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. When have you felt God’s grace touch your life?   
  2. How did you respond to God’s grace when it touched your life?  
  3. Paul says we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.  What does it mean to you to be consecrated?   
     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121618.cfm 

What do you think I should do?   I would guess all of us have asked this question at some point in our lives.  This was the question the crowds, the tax collectors and the soldiers asked John the Baptist in the first part of this weekend’s Gospel.   In his response John didn’t propose that any of these individuals do anything difficult or unusual.  Rather, he told them to do those things they already knew they should be doing.   And so it is with us.  As followers of Jesus we are not asked us to do anything extraordinary.  Rather we are called to live in common care and concern with each other, and to be the face and hands of Christ to those we meet.   

In the second part of this weekend’s Gospel we are told that the “people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.”  John had a clear sense of his mission and role, however, so he was able to tell the people:  “one mightier than I is coming.   I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”   

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah.  In it, Zephaniah reassures the people of Judah that if they remain faithful to God, they will have no reason to fear.  “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.”  

In the second reading this weekend from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, Paul reminds the people of Philippe that: “The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In our Gospel for this weekend, various groups asked John the Baptist what they should do.   If you were to ask John this question, what do you think he would tell you to do? 
  2. John the Baptist was clear about his role and mission in life.   What do you think your mission in life is?
  3. In the first reading this weekend, Zephaniah told the people the Lord was in their midst.  Paul told the Philippians that the Lord was near.  Where do you find God close to you in your life?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120918.cfm 

This weekend we celebrate the second Sunday of the season of Advent.   Each year as we begin the season of Advent we also begin a new liturgical year; and each liturgical year we read a different Gospel.  This year is year C, (We are on a three year cycle of readings.), so we read from the Gospel of Luke.  (In year A we read from the Gospel of Matthew.  In year B we read from the Gospel of Mark.   We read from the Gospel of John primarily during the Easter Season, although sections of it are also used in year B to supplement Mark, which is the shortest Gospel.)   

The season of Advent has a threefold character.  It is a time for us to remember Christ’s first coming as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.   Also, though, it is a time for us to prepare our minds and hearts as we await Christ’s second coming at the end of the world.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it calls us to be ready to meet Christ as he comes (in a variety of forms) into each of our daily lives.  

Two important figures during Advent are John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary.  John heralded Jesus’ coming, and Mary models what it means for us to recognize and respond to Christ.  

The words most often associated with the season of Advent are:  waiting, anticipation, preparation, longing, expectation, joyful, and hopeful.   The joyful expectation of Advent distinguishes it from the penitential character of Lent.

In our Gospel for this weekend, Luke introduces John the Baptist.  He situates John’s proclamation within a precise historical context: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar………….”    At first this might seem odd, but when you stop and think about it don’t we do the same thing, when we try to locate an event in our lives, e.g. I know we lived on Elm Street and Bush was president when …………..”    Clearly Luke sees John’s proclamation “Prepare the way of the Lord…….” as having world wide importance.   

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Baruch.    We don’t often read from Baruch, who was reported to be the secretary to the Prophet Jeremiah.  This book was written after the fall of Jerusalem and was meant to give encouragement to the people in exile.   “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery, put on the splendor of glory from God forever.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.   In it Paul writes from prison to the Philippians to encourage them that “your love my increase more and more….”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. While I try to set aside some extra time for prayer during Advent, I don’t have a lot of other ideas about how to prepare the way of the Lord.   Any suggestions?  
  2. Baruch’s message was one on optimism and hope that ultimately the Lord would restore Jerusalem.   What words would you use to convey this kind of message to someone who was experiencing a time of trial or uncertainty? 
  3. Do you have any special activities planned for Advent, or any special memories of Advents, past?    
     

Our Spiritual Growth

A few months ago, in an email exchange with another priest, he mentioned that he and his siblings had been busy helping their parents pack up their house as they prepared to sell it and move to a senior living facility. For those of you who have gone through this experience, you know that it is bittersweet. On the one hand it can be very sad because it marks the end of something important—not just the sale of a house, but the sale of a home. On the other hand, it is also a time of gratitude as you remember all the good times and the wonderful experiences that took place there. Those memories are precious gifts that help soften the sadness that these endings often bring.

One of my friend’s emails contained an attachment. It was a picture of the pencil marks indicating his height and that of his brothers and sisters at various times as they were growing up. In this case their growth was measured on the inside of their father’s closet. My friend noted particularly the time when he passed his older brother in height (an achievement that time had obviously not diminished). As I looked at the picture, it brought back memories of a wall in the house where I grew up where the growth of my brothers and sisters (and later, nieces and nephews) was recorded. That house was sold many years ago and unfortunately, unlike my friend, I wasn’t smart enough to take a picture of the wall before it was sold. I suspect the new owner’s have long since painted over our wall of growth. 

As I was thinking about this experience, it struck me that in each of our lives there are various ways we measure our growth or aging. Marks on a wall are one way, but it could also be measured by a widening waist line or a receding hairline, or wrinkles. Now, while we have lots of specific ways of measuring and recording our physical growth, there isn’t any instrument or tool (at least to my knowledge) that can measure our spiritual growth. And yet, I would wager that most of us are growing spiritually. 

In reflecting on this, it occurred to me that while there may not be any external way of measuring our spiritual growth, there may be some other markers that could be helpful. Specifically, in regard to our spiritual growth, I think we need to take the long view. We need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: Am I a better person today than I was a year ago or ten years ago? Do I feel closer to God now than I did in the past? Can I identify occasions when I have experienced God’s presence in new and/or different places? Have I been surprised to discover God’s grace in unexpected ways? If we can say yes to any of these things then I think we are growing spiritually. 

While we may not be able to measure our spiritual growth with marks on a wall, I do believe that it nonetheless does occur. We need only take some time to reflect on our life, so that we might discover that perhaps unbeknownst to us we have indeed been growing in our spiritual life, and, as importantly, that God is always inviting us to enter even more deeply into our relationship with God. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120218.cfm     

This weekend we begin the season of Advent and a new liturgical year.   We are on a three year cycle for our Sunday readings, and each cycle features a different Gospel.  This is year C so we read Luke’s Gospel.  (We read Matthew’s Gospel in year A and Mark’s Gospel in year B.  We read John’s Gospel primarily during the Easter season and to supplement Mark’s Gospel, which is the shortest Gospel.)   

In our Gospel this weekend, Luke speaks about the end times.  This type of literature is known as apocalyptic literature.  Usually it was written to people who were suffering persecution.  It uses very vivid, symbolic language to offer people hope during this time of persecution.  It reminded them that despite the sufferings of the present, all eventually would be well.   It also cautioned people not to lose heart but to stay true to God.  This is the message of today’s Gospel.  “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”   

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.   The section we read this weekend offers hope to the people of Israel during a time of when they were being threatened by outside forces.  The words of Jeremiah remind them that God will be true to God’s covenant and the promises God made to their ancestors.  “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah ……………….In those days, Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure.”  

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians.  In the section we read this weekend, Paul prays that the Lord will make the Thessalonians  “increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Why are so many people fascinated with the end times?   
  2. What gives you hope and/or confidence that God will be true to his promises?
  3. What do you think Paul means when he prays that people’s hearts will be strengthened? 

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