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/052718.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.   This celebration reminds us that the God we worship has revealed God’s Self as Creating Father, Redeeming Son and Sanctifying Spirit ---- three persons, yet one God, undivided and of one essence.   The preface for this Feast states:  “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God.  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 of one substance.”   While we may not be able to explain how this can be --- that it can be has been our faith since the beginnings of the Church.  

Our Gospel for this Sunday is the last four verses of Matthew’s Gospel.   In it Jesus commands his disciples:  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  

In our first reading this Sunday, from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people of all that God has done for them.  He then says:  “This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  It reminds us that we have received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘"Abba, Father.’”  This reminds us that God is not removed from our world and our lives.  Rather, because of Jesus Christ, we are able to call on God with the intimate term of “Father.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In the seminary, we had to take a class on the Trinity.   Despite this, (or maybe because of it) at times I still struggle for words to explain/describe the Trinity.   What words would you use to explain/describe the Trinity?  
  2. In the first reading this weekend, Moses reminded the people of all God had done for them.  What has God done for you?
  3. When does it mean for you to call on God as “Father?”  

     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/052018-mass-during-day.cfm  

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost.  At the time of Jesus, the feast of Pentecost was a Jewish harvest festival.   From our Christian perspective, however, this Feast celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.   Our first reading this weekend from the Acts of the Apostles describes this scene in dramatic language.  “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in the one place together.  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” 

The scene described above is very dramatic.  And certainly the gift of the Spirit can be manifested in this kind of dramatic way.  I would suggest, though, that more often the gift of the Spirit is seen in less dramatic ways.   This was certainly the case in our Gospel this weekend where we read of an appearance by the resurrected Jesus.  We are told that Jesus appeared to his disciples and said: “‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”   The subtlety and intimacy of Jesus “breathing” the Spirit on his disciples reminds us that the gift of the Spirit sometimes comes in a quiet and calming manner. 

Regardless of whether the gift of the Spirit is dramatic or subtle and peaceful, it is not given for our own use.  Rather as St. Paul says in our second reading:  “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. How have you seen the gift of the Spirit manifested?
  2. What gift(s) of the Spirit have you been given?
  3. How would you explain the Holy Spirit to someone who comes from a non-Christian background?   
     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/051318-ascension.cfm     

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord.   This Feast used to be celebrated as a holy day of obligation on the Thursday after the sixth Sunday of Easter.  Several years ago, however, most dioceses in the United States moved this celebration to the Sunday immediately following what would have been Ascension Thursday.    

Our first reading this weekend, from the Acts of the Apostles, contains the account of the Ascension.  “When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.  While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.  They said:  “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?  This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way you have seen him going into heaven.”  

The Gospel reading for this weekend is taken from the Gospel of Mark.  It too contains an account of the Ascension, (albeit briefer than the one in Acts).  It contains the clear declaration, however, that even though Jesus was taken up to into heaven he “worked with them (the disciples) and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”  

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians.   In it Paul prays:  “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. When I think of the Ascension I have this image of Jesus’ disciples staring off into the sky looking for Jesus.   Eventually, though, they had to learn to find his presence here on earth.   Where on this earth do you see signs of Christ’s presence? 
  2. Where have you found the grace of Christ at work in our world? 
  3. I love St. Paul’s use of the phrase:  “the eyes of your heart.”    What have you seen with the “eyes of your heart” that you didn’t recognize with your regular vision?  
     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/050618.cfm 

“I love you:” three simple words, but words that can carry many meanings.   Saying “I love you” to a spouse has one meaning, another when said to an offspring, still another when said to a friend or acquaintance.   In our Gospel for this Sunday we hear Jesus say:  “……… I also love you.”    To understand what Jesus means by these words we need to read the five words that precede them:   “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.”   The Father’s love for Jesus and Jesus’ love for the Father is not a romantic love (Eros) or the love of one friend for another (Philios), but rather an intense, absolute, and unwavering love (Agape).    

Jesus’ love for us is not dependent on our ability to recognize and respond to it, nor is conditioned on our acceptance of it.   Rather, Jesus loves us as we are, simply because we are.   As importantly, Jesus loves us with the same love with which the Father loves him.    It is an intense, absolute and unwavering love.   Because of Jesus’ love for us, we are chosen and invited to be his friends, and called to love one another.   

Of course, we always have the choice whether or not to accept Jesus’ love for us.   The question is, though, why wouldn’t we accept it?   

Our first reading for this weekend from the Acts of the Apostles shares the theme of the Gospel.  In that reading we hear Peter proclaim:  “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”    

Our second reading for this weekend elaborates on this theme as St. John reminds us that we are called and “to love one another because love is of God.”

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Perhaps I am deliberately naïve, but it seems to me that Jesus is eminently clear that God loves us.  Yet many people see and/or speak of God as vengeful or wrathful.   Why do you think this is?  
  2. If we truly believe that God shows no partiality, why do some people try to restrict God’s love?        
  3. What prevents us from loving one another?   

     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below, or copy and paste it into your browser.
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042918.cfm 

I have never been much of a gardener.  Keeping a couple of house plants alive is about as much as I can handle.   I do appreciate, though, those who create beautiful flower gardens and those who grace our tables with fresh fruits and vegetables.  I suspect it not only takes an interest, but also a special set of skills to create and cultivate a garden.  Now I mention this because the image of a garden is evident in our Gospel today as Jesus tells us: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.”  

Friends of mine who are gardeners tell me that if a plant is to produce beautiful flowers or abundant fruit, a certain amount of pruning is necessary.   I suspect this is why Jesus told us that his Father “takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.”    In addition to pruning, though, if a plant is to bear fruit it must also receive the proper nutrients.  Jesus reminded us of this when he went on to say:  “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.”   

We continue to read from the Acts of the Apostles for our first reading today.   Today’s section is the wonderful story of how Paul (Saul), who had previously persecuted the early Christians, tried to join the disciples.  We are told that they “Were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.”  Finally “Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord……”  

Our second reading today is from the first Letter of Saint John.  In the section we read today, John reminds us that we are to “love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. What do you need to allow God to prune in your life in order to become a better Christian?  
  2. When have you been suspicious of someone’s words or actions only to discover that they were acting in good faith and with charity?
  3. How and/or where do you need to love in deed and truth?   

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042218.cfm  
 
Each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we read a section of the 10th chapter of St. John’s Gospel.   This chapter contains Jesus’ discourse on the “Good Shepherd.”   In fact our Gospel for this weekend begins with Jesus’ statement:  “I am the Good Shepherd.”   In this Gospel, Jesus articulates exactly what it means to be a Good Shepherd 
  
  1. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.  He doesn’t run away when he sees the wolf coming.
  2. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and they know him. 
  3. The Good Shepherd is the shepherd of “all” the sheep, not just the ones that belong to his fold.
  4. The Good Shepherd does all that he does freely and out of love. 
 
Jesus’ description of the Good Shepherd would clearly set him apart from Israel’s religious leaders in the past, as well as at that time, who did not always -- or even often -- act in the best interests of their people.  
 
Our first reading for this weekend is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.  In it we hear Peter “filled with the Holy Spirit” address the Sanhedrin and boldly proclaim his faith in Jesus Christ as the one through whom salvation is offered.
 
Our second reading for this weekend is once again taken from the first letter of St. John.   In the section we read this weekend, John reminds us that we are children of God now, but what we shall be has not yet been revealed.   When it is revealed, however “we do know that we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” 
 
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
 
  1. Even though many people have not had any experience with sheep, they find the image of the Good Shepherd very comforting.    Why do you think that is? 
  2. The priest sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, particularly in the United States, has revealed clearly that many priests and bishops are not the shepherds we would want or hope for.   Despite this, many people still look to the church and its leaders for guidance/support/leadership.  Why is this?
  3. What do you think it means that we shall be like God?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041518.cfm  

Our Gospel this weekend begins just as the two disciples who had encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus join their fellow disciples and recount “what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known t them in the breaking of the bread.”   We are told that as they were still speaking about this, Jesus stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”   The disciples were “startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.”   Jesus calmed them by showing them his hands and feet and by asking for something to eat.  He then went on to “open their minds to understand the Scriptures.”   The Gospel concludes with Jesus’ words:  “You are witnesses of these things.”  

What are we to take away from this Gospel?  I’d like to suggest there are at least three things that are three important lessons from this Gospel.  1.  Jesus wants his disciples (and us) to know “peace.”  In this case, peace isn’t just the absence of conflict or fear; rather it is the deep peace that comes from the knowledge that God is with us.   2.  The scriptures are important for understanding that in his suffering and death Jesus was fulfilling what had been prophesized about the messiah.  3.  Our faith in Jesus Christ is not a private matter.  We are all called to be witnesses of the saving work of Jesus Christ.   

In our first reading this weekend, Peter speaks boldly and directly to the people.  He reminds them that while they had “acted out of ignorance,” they had put to death the “author of life.”  But God “raised him from the dead……………….Repent, therefore, and be converted that your sins may be wiped away.”  

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint John.   In it John reminds us that Jesus Christ is the “expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. When have you experienced the “peace” of Christ?
2. How have the scriptures helped you to understand God’s presence and action in your life? 
3. The word “expiation” has several synonyms.   (I know because I looked it up.)  What does this word mean to you?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040818.cfm 

I have always felt a great deal of sympathy for poor Thomas.   One quick and ill conceived comment and he has been forever labeled “doubting Thomas.”   Perhaps even worse, because we read this story every year on the Sunday after Easter there is little chance that he will ever live down this nickname.   

In defense of Thomas, I would like to suggest that he is not so much a doubter as he is a realist.   Thomas had accepted the hard and ugly truth of Jesus’ death, and he had begun to move ahead.   (I say this because our Gospel today reminds us that he was the only one who was not cowering in fear behind locked doors.)   Also, his statement:  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” --- while crude --- is merely asking for a proof similar to what the other disciples had already seen and experienced.  

When we think of Thomas, it is important to remember that we have grown up with a belief in Jesus’ resurrection.   If we can put ourselves in his shoes, however, we can perhaps begin to grasp what an unprecedented, unexpected, astonishing, miracle Jesus’ resurrection was.   From this perspective, I wonder if most of us --- like Thomas who, unlike the other disciples hadn’t seen the risen Lord  --- wouldn’t ask for a bit more “proof” before believing wholeheartedly in Jesus’ resurrection.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Acts of the Apostles.  It moves us quickly from the resurrection to the life of the early Christian community.   It begins with the unequivocal statement:  “The community of believers was of one heart and mind……………...” 

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the first letter of St. John.  (Our second readings throughout the Easter season will be taken from this letter.)  In the section of this letter which we read this weekend, John reminds us that we show our love for God and the children of God not just by knowing, but by keeping the commandments of God.  

Questions for Discussion/Reflection

  1. Alfred Tennyson once said:  “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”  Do you agree or disagree?
  2. What would you say to someone who had difficulty believing in the resurrection?  
  3. What can we do today to make the community of believers of one mind and heart?   
The Cross adorned with Yellow Roses

Knowing and Believing

Several years ago I was part of a question and answer session with high school students concerning what we believe about the last things, e.g. heaven, hell, and purgatory. At one point one of the participants asked me how I knew that heaven and hell existed. Now, I’m not sure if they asked this question out of interest, or to see if they could trip me up. In either case, if their reaction was any barometer, I think they were genuinely surprised when I replied that I didn’t really know that heaven and hell existed; rather I believed they existed. 

Pressed to clarify the difference between knowledge and belief, I explained that knowledge is based on personal experience, while belief is based on the witness or testimony of others. For example, I know that New York City exists because I have been there. I believe that Miami exists, not because I have been there, but because of the testimony of others who have been there. 

Now in making the above distinction, I don’t mean to suggest that those things which we are cognizant of because of our belief are any less real than those things we know because we have experienced them personally. Belief and knowledge are often twin sources of inspiration, motivation, guidance, and hope for our lives. Belief is not a poor substitute for knowledge. It has its own unique place in our lives. It has importance and value for our lives, and because of this it cannot be ignored or denied. 

Particularly with regard to matters of faith, I think belief is as important as knowledge. In fact, our beliefs can be as challenging and reassuring as the knowledge which comes from our experience. For example, my belief in heaven is a source of real assurance for me as I live my life, just as my belief in hell is likewise a real source of motivation for me as I live my life. 

In terms of God, I know that God exists because I have experienced God’s presence and grace in my life. My knowledge of God is based on personal experience. I say this because in my life I have experienced God as loving Father, redeeming Son, and inspiring Spirit. In regard to heaven and hell, however, since, I have not yet died and experienced either of them, my belief in them is based on the testimony of others—very specifically, the testimony of Jesus Christ.

For it was Jesus who told us: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will have eternal life.” 

As we celebrate the great Feast of Easter today, my prayer for all of us is that we might come to experience and know the presence of the risen Lord Jesus in our lives, so that our belief in Jesus’ promise of eternal life might give us courage and hope for our lives. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040118.cfm  

There are several readings that can be used for the Mass of the Easter Vigil, as well as the various Masses on Easter Day in the morning/afternoon.  The readings above are those that are designated for the Mass on Easter morning. 

While the various Gospel accounts of the resurrection may vary somewhat in detail there are some common elements.   1. No one witnessed the actual event of the Resurrection; 2. Those who found the empty tomb were amazed and confused; 3. Ultimately the lives of those who encountered the resurrected Christ were fundamentally and irrevocably changed.   

In John’s Gospel (the last Gospel to be written) Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb, but did not enter.  This differs from Mark’s Gospel (the first Gospel to be written) where Mary Magdalene not only discovered the empty tomb, she entered it and encountered an angel who told her that Jesus had been raised.  She was then told to go and tell this to Jesus’ disciples and Peter.   Why this discrepancy?   Well it is possible they simply represent two differing memories.  It might also be possible, though, that by the time John’s Gospel was written Peter’s leadership role in the early church had been established and as a result John thought it fitting to accord him the privilege of being the first to enter the empty tomb.  Regardless of who first entered the empty tomb, the results as noted above, are the same: their lives were transformed by the resurrection of Jesus.   

Our first reading for Easter is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.   In it Peter addressed the household of Cornelius.   He is clear that Jesus has been raised from the dead and he and the other apostles have been “commissioned to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.”

In the second reading for Easter, taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians, Paul reminds us that:  “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Why do you think there were no witnesses to the Jesus’ actual resurrection?
  2. What is different in your life because of Jesus’ resurrection?
  3. What is your image of eternal life?  

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