Fr. Bauer's Blog

A few weeks ago Johan van Parys, our Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts, wrote an excellent column for this space articulating why he is staying in the Catholic Church. His words prompted me to reflect on why I to stay in our Church, especially in light of the fact that many people have left or are at least taking a break from our church.

In most cases the reason people have left, or are taking a break from our Church, has to do with the handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis by the leaders of our Church. Over the past many years, hundreds, if not thousands, of priests have engaged in the sexual abuse of children or vulnerable adults. Others have sexually exploited or harassed adults. Worse, many bishops and others in leadership positions covered up this behavior or turned a blind eye to it. Worse still, it has come to light that some bishops have also engaged in this kind of behavior. Worst of all, though, is that now that the actions of these bishops have come to light, the leadership of our Church still hasn’t developed a comprehensive plan to respond to the sexually inappropriate behavior of their fellow bishops. 

Until and unless the leaders of our Church acknowledge their failures, and put forth a concrete, specific plan for their future accountability, our Church will continue to be embroiled in the sexual abuse crisis, and people will continue to leave our Church in frustration and anger. People have been deeply wounded by individuals they have trusted. In many cases, those in positions of authority allowed this to happen. These same leaders must now commit themselves publicly to openness, transparency, and honesty. This is called accountability. People should not only expect it; they should demand it. 

Despite the failures of many in leadership positions in our Church, however, and despite the fact that many people have left our Church, I chose to remain. While the reasons I stay are many and varied, there are two primary reasons. 

I stay in the Church because I need the Eucharist. As Catholics we believe that in the Eucharist we celebrate and share, that Jesus Christ is really and truly present—not present just in memory, not present just symbolically, and not present just spiritually, but really and truly present. We offer no proof for this. There is no logical or rational explanation for it. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a matter of faith. And it is the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist that I hunger for and that sustains and nourishes me in my life. As I tell the children at First Eucharist every year: I know that I am not the best person in the world. I am a sinner. But I would be far worse without the Eucharist. The Eucharist makes me be a better person than I would otherwise be. I cannot do without it, and I cannot accept a substitute for it. 

The second reason I stay in the Church is that I need a community of faith that both supports and challenges me. I believe we do this especially well at The Basilica. Here at The Basilica we welcome all those who come through our doors. Not only do we strive to see the face of Christ in one another, but we also strive to be the face of Christ for each other. While some would seek to limit the embrace of our Church, I believe that the embrace of our Church can be nothing less than the embrace of God’s love. 

In his message at the beginning of Lent a few years ago Pope Francis wrote: “Dear brothers and sisters, how greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference.” I believe these words describe well what the church, as a community of faith, is all about. These words are an important and necessary challenge to parishes everywhere. They remind us that parishes can never be self-referential or concerned only with their own self interest. The Church needs to be a community of faith that supports and challenges its members. The Church needs to be a community of faith where people are welcomed and accepted. The Catholic Church—and particularly The Basilica—does this better than any church I know. I need this in my life. 

And so because I need the Eucharist and because I need a community that supports and challenges me, I stay in the Catholic Church. 

In this space several months ago I quoted a line from the late comedian Phyllis Diller, who famously said: “Don’t go to bed angry…Stay up and fight.” I believe this is good advice for Catholics today. And so, on this Easter Sunday, I say to all those who may read this: Don’t leave our Church angry. Stay and fight for a Church that is open, honest, and transparent. Stay and fight for leadership that is accountable and responsible. Stay and fight so that you can be the Church that you want the Church to be. Stay—and celebrate the Eucharist and be a part of a community that supports and challenges all of us. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/042119.cfm 

The readings listed above are those that will be used on Easter Sunday morning at the Basilica.  There are different readings for the Mass of the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, and a different Gospel for Easter Sunday afternoon.   

The Gospel for Easter Sunday is John’s account of Mary of Magdala’s finding of the empty tomb.  We are told that she “came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.”   Peter and John then both ran to the tomb.  John arrived first, but perhaps out of deference to Peter, did not go in.  He merely “bent down and saw the burial cloths there.”   When Peter arrived he went into the tomb and “saw the burial clothes there.” John also went in and we are told that “he saw and believed.”   We don’t know exactly John what believed because the last line of the Gospel is enigmatic: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”   It is easy for us from our vantage point 20 centuries later to wonder why Peter and (perhaps) John didn’t immediately understand the resurrection.  We need to remember, though, that Jesus’ resurrection was entirely new, clearly extraordinary, certainly beyond understanding, and something that has never occurred since.   

In our second reading today, St. Paul urges us to “Think of what is above, not of what is on the earth.”  

Our first reading today is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.  It is part of a speech by Peter to the Gentiles.  In a few brief words Peter summarizes Jesus’ ministry and then reminds people that “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. What stands out for you from the various Services of Holy Week?
  2. Is there a sentence from the Easter Gospel that has special meaning for you? 
  3. Peter speaks of being a witness to the risen Lord.  How do you give witness to the risen Lord Jesus in your life?  

     
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
 
 
This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday.  In addition to the usual three readings, we also have a Gospel reading that is used at the beginning of Mass.  This reading records Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem just prior to his passion.  This Gospel is read at the beginning of Mass and introduces the procession with palms. 
 
Each year on Palm Sunday we read one of the accounts of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross.  This year we read from the Gospel according to Luke.  While each of the four evangelists tells the story of the passion and death of Jesus, they each approach it from their own unique perspective.  In this regard, Luke is not as sparse in detail as Mark.  At the same time, in Luke’s account of the passion, Jesus is not as regal or as “in charge” as he is in John’s account.   From Luke’s perspective, Jesus willingly accepts his suffering and death as the fulfillment of God’s plan.   
 
While we are all familiar with the story of Jesus’ passion, reading (or hearing) it in its entirety can help us appreciate anew--and hopefully at a deeper level--the suffering Jesus’ endured for our sake.  
 
The first and second readings for Palm Sunday remain the same every year.   The first reading is taken from that part of Isaiah known as the “songs of the suffering servant.”   From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have seen these songs as referring to Christ, the suffering servant par excellence.  
 
The second reading for Palm Sunday is taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  It is in the form of a hymn and it speaks of Jesus’ journey from heaven to earth and back to heaven.  Its simple eloquence reminds us that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” for us.   And because of this, “every knee shall bend in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord………..”  
 
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
  1. As you read the passion, what moment stands out for you?
  2. The “cross” has been a Christian symbol for centuries.  Yet, in recent years especially, it has become more decoration/ornamentation than a symbol of one’s faith.  Why do you think this is?
  3. In the second reading, Paul speaks of Jesus’ emptying himself for our sake.  Have you ever emptied yourself for another?    

     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/040719-yearc.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the Fifth Sunday of the Season of Lent.   Our Gospel this weekend is taken from the Gospel of John and is the familiar story of the woman caught in adultery.   

There are several things that require comment in regard to this Gospel.   First, notice that the scene takes place early in the morning.  This suggests that someone didn’t just happen upon a late night rendezvous, but rather that a trap had been laid for the woman.  This is supported by the custom of the time which required the witness of two or more men to accuse someone of wrongdoing.  Obviously, catching the woman in adultery had been prearranged.  Second, the last I heard, adultery required two people.  Where is the woman’s companion?    Third, there has been much speculation about what Jesus wrote when he bent down and wrote on the ground.  The fact is, however, that we simply don’t know.   Fourth, notice that the crowd begins to disperse “beginning with the elders.”   This suggests that wisdom often --- but certainly not always --- comes with age.  Finally, notice that Jesus doesn’t excuse or minimize what the woman did.  Rather, he did not condemn her.  This is significant.  It reminds us that judgment belongs to God alone.  

The point of this Gospel is clear.  All of us are sinners.   All of us stand in need of God’s mercy.  No one of can stand in judgment of another.   Judgment is God’s business, and God doesn’t need our help.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   It was a powerful reminder to the Israelites --- and us --- that God has not just been present and active in the past, but that this is still true today.  “see, I am doing something new!  Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”   

Our second this Sunday is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians.  In it, Paul exults in the life in Christ that has been given him. “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. The woman in this weekend’s Gospel experienced the grace filled mercy of God.  When have you experienced this in your life?
  2. When have you failed to show mercy to another and instead have stood in judgment of them?
  3. When and how have you found God doing “something new” in your life?  
     

Bulletin April/May 2019

From the Pastor

It’s not over yet …

As I write this column, it was recently announced that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has been removed from ministry. I suspect that several bishops, along with many members of the Vatican Curia are wiping their brows and muttering: “Whew! Thank God, that’s over.” And yet, the reality is that it isn’t over—not by a long shot. There are things that yet need to be done to bring closure to this very sad and very painful chapter in the history of the Catholic Church in America. Specifically, I think there are four things that need to be done in response to the news about former Cardinal McCarrick. 

1. We need to make public all the files that relate to former Cardinal McCarrick. I say this not because I want to encourage voyeurism or to publicly humiliate former Cardinal McCarrick. Rather, until everything is out in the open, I suspect there will always be the suspicion in the public’s mind that the Church is holding something back. At this point in time, however, our Church cannot appear to be anything less than open, honest and transparent. Even the hint that something is being withheld or being covered up is simply unacceptable. We need to publicly share the various files on former Cardinal McCarrick, so that there can be no doubt that our Church leaders understand and are truly committed to a new era of openness, transparency, and honesty. This is called accountability. People should not only expect it, they should demand it.

Related to the above, as I’ve stated in the past, and for the same reasons as above, I think our Archdiocese needs to release the investigations into the conduct of former Archbishop John Nienstedt. Certainly there are ways of protecting the anonymity of those who, when interviewed, were promised anonymity. The faithful of our Archdiocese need and deserve the truth, so that we can move forward into a future with confidence that our Archdiocese is indeed being open, honest, and transparent. 

2. Those Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and priests who knew of former Cardinal McCarrick’s behavior and didn’t say or do anything about it, need to resign. Since the news about former Cardinal McCarrick first became public, the lingering question has been how he was able to remain at the pinnacle of power in the Catholic Church for more than twenty years despite persistent rumors that something was amiss. People need to know who knew what, when did they know it, and why they failed to act. On October 6, the Vatican issued a statement indicating that Pope Francis had ordered a “thorough review” of Vatican files relating to McCarrick. In part the statement read: “Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for Bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.” While the Vatican indicated that the results of the review would be communicated “in due course,” so far there has been no update. Until that revelation comes, it is doubtful that anyone will consider the McCarrick story closed.

3. Just as dioceses in the United States have policies and procedures for dealing with priests who have been accused of sexual abuse or other sexually inappropriate behaviors, so now Bishops need to be covered by these same policies and procedures. Furthermore, these policies and procedures need to be world-wide. As I write this column the meeting of the heads of the world’s Bishops’ Conferences in Rome has just ended. Perhaps it will produce such a result. If that doesn’t occur, however, the Bishops of the United States need to put into place the same policies and procedures that are in place for priests, for bishops who have been accused of sexual abuse or other sexually inappropriate behavior, or who covered up this behavior. There is no reason why this can’t be done, and no excuse for not doing it. We need this kind of accountability if our Church and its leaders will ever again be seen as creditable. 

4. In regard to the issue of clergy sexual abuse we must continue to offer our apologies, and look for ways to reach out to those who are victims/survivors of sexual abuse. However, as I mentioned in an earlier column on this issue, we must also acknowledge and admit with sadness and great sorrow that we can never think that our previous and ongoing apologies are enough, or that we can ever make amends. Yes, we need to continue to offer our ongoing profound and deepest apologies. But this is only the beginning. People have been deeply wounded by individuals they trusted. In most cases, those in positions of authority allowed this to happen. We must seek new and ongoing ways to respond to the hurt and pain that happened to people in our church. I don't know what this will look like, but I do know we need to talk about this in a public forum, so victims/survivors can tell us what they need from us. Apologies—even ongoing apologies—are not enough.

Until and unless the leaders of our Church exercise leadership in regard to the issue of sexual abuse, our church will continue to be embroiled in the sexual abuse crisis. Worse, until and unless the leaders of our Church exercise leadership in regard to the issue of sexual abuse, people will continue to leave our Church in frustration and anger. As we struggle to deal with this crisis and move forward, I believe prayer will be an essential weapon in our arsenal. We need to pray for and with each other and most particularly for those who have brought this stain upon our Church. Certainly prayer cannot change what has happened, but it can have a salving effect on wounded souls and eventually it can bring about healing and peace.

 

Rev. John M. Bauer
Pastor, The Basilica of Saint Mary

 

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When I was a young priest, I never used to feel guilty when I hurried through my prayers. I told myself that I had good and important things to do, and that God surely understood that those things needed to be attended to. I would also tell myself that while I could always be more generous, more charitable, less judgmental, and more caring and compassionate, God certainly knew what I had to deal with, so surely God understood when I didn’t do these things. In the past few years, though, I have noticed that when I hurry through my prayers, or when I am not as kind, as tolerant, as accepting, or as generous as I could be, that I feel guilty. And at least for me, guilt is a good motivator to do better, or at least to try harder.

Now certainly there are many people who would suggest that guilt is a bad thing. Some would suggest that guilt can damage our self esteem and lead us to beat ourselves up with remorse or regret. When I encounter these people I politely suggest that they are confusing guilt and shame. Guilt tells us that what we did was wrong or bad. Shame tells us that we are bad because we did it. I think there is a big difference between these two.

There is something terribly amiss if and/or when we are not able and willing to admit that something we did was wrong. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall short of the mark at times. This is part and parcel of what it means to be human. Feeling guilty reminds us that we aren’t perfect. More importantly, it also helps us to remember that we need God’s good grace to help us overcome those faults and failings that are a part of each of our lives. Guilt can be a good motivator for us. In this, it stands in stark contrast to shame, which is ugly and oppressive. Shame weighs us down. It tells us that because we did something wrong or bad, as a consequence we are a bad person.

Sadly, all too often people come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation weighed down by the feeling of shame for something they did. In these situations I gently remind these individuals that we are all beloved daughters and sons of God and that nothing we did or could do would ever cause God to stop loving us. I then tell them that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the ideal place to leave the shame they have been carrying, and take up instead the mantle of God’s love. If they protest that they are not worthy of God’s love, I tell them they are right. None of us is worthy of God’s love. None of us can earn or merit God’s love. God’s love is a gift. And gifts are never earned, they can only be accepted. I then invite them to let go of the shame they are carrying, so they can take up the gift of God’s love—a love that is unearned, unmerited, unwarranted, gratuitous, and undeserved, and yet, oh so very real.

During this season of Lent, one of my prayers has been to ask God to help me allow guilt to motivate me to be more open to God’s grace so that I can be a better person. I have also been praying, though, that God will help me let go any shame I am carrying so that I can more readily accept God’s grace and live in God’s love. I suspect these are prayers that could be on all of our lips.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/032419-yearc.cfm 


This weekend we celebrate the third Sunday of the season of Lent.   Our Gospel this Sunday comes in two seemingly unrelated sections.   In the first section (Lk. 13:1-5) Jesus rejects the Jewish belief that bad things happen to people because they have sinned.   He refers to two incidents in which people had either been killed or died in an accident.  He then states unequivocally that “By no means!” did they die because they were sinners.    

In the second section of this Gospel (Lk. 13: 6-9) Jesus tells a parable of a fig tree that had borne no fruit.   The owner of the vineyard wants to cut it down.  “Why should it exhaust the soil?” he asks."   The gardener responds by asking for one more year so that he can “cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future.  If not you can cut it down.”   

The connecting point for these two sections is clear.  We may not experience judgment in this life for our sins, but judgment eventually will come.   God is incredibly patient, but ultimately there will come a time of judgment for all of us. 

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Exodus.  It contains the wonderful story of Moses’ encounter with the burning bush.   In this encounter Moses had this exchange with God:  “But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?’  God replied, ‘I am who am.’”   This is an important and profound moment.  The fact that God would tell Moses’ God’s name is a sign of God’s covenant with God’s people and God’s abiding presence with them. 

Our second reading for this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In it Paul reminds us that the things that happened to the Israelites happened “as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things as they did.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. When bad things happen to people, especially good people, if they aren’t a punishment from God, why do they happen? 
  2. If someone asked you by what name you call on God, how would you reply?
  3. God is incredibly patient with us, but ultimately there will be a time of judgment.  What’s your image of the final judgment?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031719.cfm  

Each year on the Second Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Since this is year C in our three year cycle of readings, we read from the Gospel of Luke.   In Luke’s account, we are told that “Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.  While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.  And behold two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah…………………  As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master it is good that we are here;’ ……………… from a cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my chosen Son; listen to him”   

There are several elements that are common to all three accounts of the Transfiguration.  1.  It took place on a mountain, which in the Old Testament often was the place where God’s presence was made known; 2. Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white or white as light; 3. Moses and Elijah are identified as appearing with Christ; 4. Peter suggested that they stay; and 5. A voice came from a cloud identifying Jesus as God’s chosen/beloved son.    

The experience of the Transfiguration certainly must have been overwhelming and awe inspiring.  I would suggest, though, that we all have had similar experiences in our lives ----- perhaps not to the depth or degree of the Transfiguration -----  but we all have experiences of God’s presence and grace ----“transfiguring” experiences.  These experiences give us hope when we encounter difficult or uncertain times in our lives.   

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Genesis.  It is the story of God’s covenant with  Abram (later Abraham) that his descendants would be as numerous as the “stars in the sky” and that: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians.  In it Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. When have you had a “transfiguring” experience in your life?   
  2. What stands out in your memory about that experience?   
  3. Have you ever thought of yourself as a citizen of heaven?   
     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031019.cfm  

This weekend we celebrate the First Sunday of the season of Lent; and every year on the First Sunday of Lent we read an account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert.   This year we read from the Gospel of Luke.   In Luke’s Gospel, the temptation occurs after the infancy narratives and just before the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.   The three temptations Jesus faces are the temptation to turn a stone into bread; the temptation to accept power and glory; and the temptation to test God.   

Luke’s account of the temptations varies in three subtle, but significant ways from the accounts of Matthew and Mark.   First, Mark’s account of the temptation merely notes that it occurred.  He does not include any details of the temptations.  Second, in both Matthew and Mark at the end of the temptations we are told that angels came and waited on Jesus.   These angels are not mentioned in Luke.   Third, it is only in Luke’s Gospel that at the end of the temptations, we are told that “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.”    This seems to indicate that Jesus --- like us --- would face other temptations in his life.  

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy.    The context is the Jewish harvest festival.   It recounts the “ritual” the Jewish people were to follow at harvest time to help them remember their salvation history.   This ritual --- like our ritual of the Eucharist --- made it clear that remembering God’s work and ways is vital to salvation.  

Our second reading today is taken from the Letter to the Romans.   It reminds us that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.  For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. While we are not likely to face temptations on the scale that Jesus did, we all face temptations in our lives.  What helps you resist temptation in you life? 
  2. As mentioned above, Luke ends his account of the temptation with the ominous statement:  “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.”    How do you deal with reoccurring temptations in your life?
  3. Have you ever made “distinctions” between Christians, or between Christians and other religions?   

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

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/030319.cfm 


Parables were a favorite teaching device for Jesus.   In essence parables are simply short stories or sayings that are meant to convey a deeper meaning.   They try to tell us something about God, about our relationship with God, or about how we are to live.   In our Gospel this Sunday we find several brief parables:  “Can a blind person guide a blind person?   No disciple is superior to the teacher.  Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?  A good tree does not bear rotten fruit.  For people do not pick figs from thorn bushes.”   Taken together these parables/sayings remind us that those who seek to guide others, must take care that their own house is in order before they undertake the task of guiding someone else.   

Clearly the message of these parables/sayings is one that needs to be heard today --- perhaps most especially by those in leadership positions in our church.   In the recent history of our church we have seen many priests and bishops who sought to guide others, while not “practicing what they preached.”  Because of this we should not be surprised that people have left of Church.   For this we need to hold people accountable.   As a consequence of this those in leadership positions must re-learn that they need to preach first to themselves before they presume to preach to others.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Sirach.  We don’t often read from this book, but the section we read today shares the message of the Gospel.   “When a sieve is shaken the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks.   As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just.”  

Our second reading today is taken from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.   In the section we read today Paul reminds us to be steadfast in faith, so our labor will not be in vain.  “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Can you remember an instance when your words/actions were not consistent with your faith?
  2. Has there been a time when your faith has been tested in regard tribulations you have had to face? 
  3. How does one devote themselves to the work of the Lord? 
     

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