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Fr. Bauer's Blog
“I think you missed the turn.” Those words were spoken to me by my friend as we were on our way to another friend’s home for dinner. And in fact, they were right. I had indeed missed the turn. In my defense, though, I had been paying more attention to our conversation than I had been to the directions. Fortunately, the missed turn was easily compensated for and we arrived at our destination on time.
This experience came to mind a few weeks ago when I was praying about a decision I needed to make. In my prayer, while I was trying to be open to God’s will, God didn’t seem (at least to me) to be particularly communicative. It occurred to me that it certainly would have been helpful if God had simply told me: “You missed the turn.” or “You’re headed in the wrong direction.” Unfortunately, neither of these directives was forthcoming.
I suspect there are times for all of us when we wish that God was clear and unequivocal in what God was asking of us or what God would have us do. If only God would be direct and unambiguous in communicating with us, things would be so much easier. And while on one level this is true, on another—and deeper level—it would negate our free will. And our free will is what defines us as human beings and distinguishes us from the other created beings on the earth.
Because of our free will, God doesn’t issue clear edicts or direct commands. Instead God communicates with us in much more subtle ways. God communicates with us through the movements of our spirits, in the longings of our hearts, and in the ponderings of our minds. In and through these things, God helps us to understand what God would have us do, or where God would have us go. It is always our free will, though, whether or not we attend to and follow these subtle promptings.
Three things that can help us be open to God’s subtle promptings are a fierce honesty in our prayer, an openness to various possibilities, and a willingness to change direction. Honesty in our prayer is needed because it is easy to come to prayer with a decision already made. We need, though, to be truthful about our personal biases and our desires because, unless we honestly acknowledge them, they can influence our decision making. Similarly, if we aren’t open to various possibilities, it is easy to take some things off the table without ever considering that they might be from God. Finally, in order to be open to God’s subtle promptings, we need to be willing to change directions. If we have already set our course on something, we can’t really be open to what God would have us do.
Certainly it would be clearer and much easier if God simply told us when we missed a turn or were headed in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, then our choices would not really be free. Given this, the only alternative is to continue to work to be open to God’s subtle promptings and to pray that if we take a wrong turn, we will notice it, correct it, and get back on course.
- Looking back can you see where you have failed to respond or even rejected an invitation from God?
- Have there been times when you’ve just shown up in response to God’s invitation, without doing anything else?
- In our second reading Paul talks about living in widely divergent circumstances. He then says: “I can do all things in him who strengthen me.” Can you think of a time when you were strengthened to do something that initially you didn’t think you could do?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
Some scripture scholars suggest that today’s Gospel parable may represent an allegorization of another of Jesus’ parables by one of the early Christian communities. The parable of tenants rejecting the many messengers (i.e. the prophets) sent by the owner of the vineyard (God) would have supported this belief. In suggesting this, of course, these scholars are not in any way questioning that it is not the inspired word of God. Rather, they suggest that the early Christian community had begun to see itself as replacing Israel as God’s chosen people. Regardless of the origins of this parable, though, it contains a powerful and ever current message. It invites us to consider how we respond to the many overtures and/or messengers God sends into our lives.
As an important aside, we need to be clear that the Catholic Church does not teach that God has rejected Israel or that its election as God’s chosen people has ended. “The Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy deigned to establish the Ancient Covenant.” (The Documents of Vatican II Decree on Non Christians) Our Church also teaches, though, that Jesus Christ, “the Lord, is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart, and the answer to all its yearnings.” (Documents of Vatican II; Decree on The Church Today)
Our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, shares the theme of the Gospel. It speaks of a vineyard that, despite the loving care of its owner, yielded only “wild grapes.” In the Old Testament the “Vineyard” was a symbol for God’s people.
In our second reading today from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, Paul reminds us that by prayer and petition and thanksgiving we will come to know “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
Questions for reflection:
- Looking back on your life can you see times when you have not recognized or perhaps even rejected messengers of God’s presence and grace?
- Who have been messengers of God’s presence and grace in your life?
- In regard to this weekend’s second reading have there been times in your life when you have experienced the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding?”
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
“Actions speak louder than words” is the phrase that comes to mind whenever I read our Gospel for this Sunday
Many years ago I worked with an individual who was very amiable and most pleasant whenever we discussed an issue or concern in their work area. They would agree to a certain course of action, or they would agree to follow through on something and then ………………… nothing.
Actually there was something: excuses, rationalizations, and promises to do better next time. Unfortunately when the next time came the same thing would happen. We would talk; they would agree on what needed to be done; and then ………………………………… nothing.
In our Gospel for this Sunday a father asks both of his sons to go and work in his vineyard. The first one said no, but eventually changed his mind and went. The second one said he would go to the vineyard, but didn’t. This story reminds us that there needs to be a correspondence between our actions and our words. It is easy to say the right thing. It is much harder to say and then do the right thing. And even though the first son eventually did as his father had requested, it took him a while to get it right.
In our first reading this Sunday from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, we are reminded that if a person “turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life………..”
Our second reading today continues the theme of the Gospel that there needs to be a correspondence between our words and our actions. St. Paul entreats the Philippians: “………. complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for their own interests, but also for those of other……….. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Jesus Christ.”
Thoughts/Questions for Reflection:
- When have your words been bold, while your actions have been inadequate? What were the consequences?
- In the scriptures, Jesus seemed to focus a lot of time and energy on two different groups: The Pharisees, and the Tax Collectors and Prostitutes. Why do you think that was?
- In regard to the second reading, what does it mean for you to have the same attitude as Jesus Christ?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092417.cfm
It’s not fair! Growing up in a family of seven (five boys and two girls) these words were common in our house. They were automatic response to every perceived injustice or sense of preferential treatment. I suspect these words were on the lips of the laborers in today’s Gospel parable. This parable, found only in Matthew’s Gospel, tells the familiar story of a landowner who went out at various times throughout the day to hire laborers for his vineyard. When it came time to pay the laborers, however, those who were hired late in the day received the same pay as those “who had bore the day’s burden and heat.” This just doesn’t seem fair.
In order to understand what this parable has to say to us, we need to remember that parables are simple stories that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God. They were not meant to be taken literally. Rather, they challenge us to ask what they are telling us about God. In today’s parable we are reminded that salvation is freely offered by God to all people, regardless of when they arrive in the vineyard of faith. Such is the way of God. It is certainly different from the way we often act. And when you stop and think about it, isn’t that good for us.
Our fist reading today shares the theme of the Gospel. In it God, speaking through the Prophet Isaiah, reminded the people that “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”
After reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans for the past twelve Sunday’s, today we switch to St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. In the section we read today Paul acknowledges that he would like “to depart this life and be with Christ.” He also realizes, though, that for now it is “more necessary for their benefit” that he remain in this world.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Many people believe that only a limited number will be saved. Today’s parable would seem to argue against this. Why do you think God is so generous and undiscriminating with God’s love and offer of salvation?
- Have you ever experienced that God’s ways are not your ways?
- We all live with the hope of heaven, yet we know that we are all put on this earth for a purpose. How do you know when you have accomplished your purpose?
- Why, at times, is it so hard to forgive?
- What helps you to forgive?
- What does it mean to live for the Lord?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091017.cfm
Our Gospel this weekend comes in two parts. In the first part, Jesus gives some practical directives as to how to deal with disputes. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone ……….. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you ………. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.” Sadly, all too often we reverse this process, going first to others and only last to our brother or sister. The really important thing to note in this section, though, is Jesus’ last words: “treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.” And as we know from Jesus’ ministry, he welcomed these people and treated them with respect and love. These are very challenging words.
In the second half of today’s Gospel, Jesus appears to make an impossible promise: “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” In this regard, it is important to note that if two people are really united in prayer, they will also be united in their desire to do God’s will ----- and will pray to do God’s will.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. In it we are reminded that we have a responsibility to try to “warn the wicked” and turn them from their way. It is not enough simply to be concerned about our own welfare.
Our second reading this weekend is once again taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. In it Paul reminds us that the commandments of the Old Testament are summed up by the new commandment of Christ: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- In this weekend’s Gospel Jesus is clear that we are to go to our brother or sister to try to resolve issues before going to anyone else. Why do so many of us do just the opposite?
- How do you know when it is appropriate to confront someone, and when it is better simply to accept their faults?
- What is a practical way to love someone as you love yourself?
The column below was submitted as a letter to the editor for the Catholic Spirit. It was written in response to two letters to the editor that appeared in the August 10 edition of the Catholic Spirit.
I hate waiting in lines. Unless there is just a single line for people who want to check in/out; get gas; pay for their groceries, or whatever, I always choose the wrong line. I inevitably end up behind someone who is sure they have the exact change—if only they can find it; or someone who can’t find their credit card; or someone who doesn’t quite understand why they can’t use a coupon that expired three weeks ago.
Given my abhorrence to waiting in lines, you can perhaps appreciate how surprised I was to read the letters to the editor in the August 10th Catholic Spirit. (The newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.) The issue they were writing about concerned an Illinois Bishop’s decision to prohibit Catholics in same-sex marriages from receiving communion or having their funeral in a Catholic Church. One of the writers was clear that God “does not have a place in heaven for those who decide his rules are outdated and don’t fit the current whims of individuals.” Another suggested that: “Those who claim they are loving others by allowing forbidden practices may just be loving them into hell.” As I read these comments I couldn’t help but think that these writers had found a way to expedite the judgement line at the end of world.
This is pure genius. I am surprised that no one thought of this before. By narrowing down the issues that Jesus articulated in Matthew 25:31-46 to a single question: “Did you question/wonder about/believe in same sex marriage?”—in effect, by doing some pre-judging in this world—it will save God time at the end of the world. In fact, the line at the judgement at the end of the world should move along quite swiftly. We won’t have to worry about whether or not we fed the hungry; gave drink to the thirsty; welcomed the stranger; clothed the naked; comforted the ill; or visited the imprisoned. Of course, though, if we narrow down the criteria for judgement to a single issue/question, it does make it difficult to explain why Jesus told that parable in the first place.
We need to be clear. The idea that we can save God time at the end of the world by doing some pre-judging here is complete nonsense. God searches our hearts, our minds, and our souls; and God—and God alone—is the only One who is qualified to do any judging. And while I can’t say for sure, I suspect God is not all that appreciative of those who think it is right and proper to save time at the end of the world by doing some pre-judging here.
As for me, I am grateful that judgement belongs to God alone, and that it is something God doesn’t need any help with—however well intended. I am also hopeful that at the end of the world God will grade on a curve. I say this because the older I get, the more I realize how much in need of God’s mercy I am.
For the readings for this Sunday click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090317.cfm
“No crown without a cross.” A former parishioner used these words whenever she encountered a difficulty in her life. It was her way of saying that life wasn’t always going to be easy, but by staying true to Christ, she believed that heaven would await her. In our Gospel for this weekend, Jesus told his disciples that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Peter responded: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus, though, reminded Peter that “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus then went on to tell his disciples that “Whoever wished to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” No one could accuse Jesus of false advertizing. He is clear. The cross --- in one form or another --- is a part of the life of every Christian.
Our First reading this weekend shares the theme of the Gospel. In it Jeremiah, the prophet, laments that he has been “duped” by the Lord. Because he has prophesied in the name of the Lord, he is mocked and the object of laughter. He vows: “I will not mention him, I will speak his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” Clearly being a prophet has caused Jeremiah pain and ridicule --- this is his cross --- but he cannot turn away from his prophetic calling. Instead he submits to the will of God knowing that ultimately God will vindicate him.
In our second reading this weekend from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, Paul urges the people: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of god, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- What cross(es) have you been called to carry?
- What has helped you to carry your cross(es)?
- Like Jeremiah, have you ever felt that you have been “duped” by God?