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Fr. Bauer's Blog
Waiting. We’re not very good at that anymore. Perhaps we never were. In this “instant gratification” “gotta have it now” “why is that website taking forever to download” modern age, we get frustrated and irritable if we have to wait for any length of time. The other day I found myself not so silently criticizing the driver of the car in front of me because the light had turned green three seconds earlier and they had not moved. I mean really, I am sure most people would agree that three seconds is a long time for any sane person to wait.
I think the problem with waiting is that it feels like time wasted. And who can afford to waste time these days? We have way too much to do. Every minute counts. It feels like we are squandering a precious resource if our schedule isn’t jam packed, and we aren’t racing from one good and important thing to another. And that is part of the problem. If we were engaged in frivolous or unimportant activities, it would be easy to cut back on them. But for most of us, the things we do have value and significance. We wouldn’t be doing them otherwise. And yet—at times I wonder if all this activity isn’t a way for us to avoid some of the deeper issues and concerns of our lives. Very specifically, I wonder if it isn’t a way for us to avoid having to pause and wait so we can become aware of God’s presence and open to God’s grace.
Now I know that most of us would not intentionally or deliberately try to avoid God. It’s just that God isn’t really good at small talk. Moreover, it takes a while, as well as some real effort, to tune everything else out so we can “tune in” to God. We all have schedules. So, it would just seem to make sense that if we could just sync up God’s schedule with our schedule everything would be so much easier. The difficulty is that God doesn’t work on our schedule, and so we need to find the times and tools that help us to slow down and wait on God. Advent is such a time.
The season of Advent is all about waiting. During advent, we are reminded of all those centuries when God’s people awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises, the years of uncertainty, the times of doubt. This side of Christmas, it’s easy to think that this season is all about “arrival” e.g. the birth of Jesus. And that’s partly true. But let’s not forget the waiting that preceded Christ’s birth, the waiting that marked the time before Christ’s birth, the waiting that the people of old experienced.
And so, maybe a little waiting is a good thing. I know that’s a difficult concept for some of us to get our minds around, but I think there is a profound truth to be found in waiting. And that truth is that God also waits for us. God waits for us to discern God’s presence, to be open to God’s grace; to respond to God’s love; and to let God find a home in our lives and in our hearts.
I think the season of Advent is a great opportunity to think differently about waiting. Perhaps the waiting we do during Advent won’t change the way we feel as we get caught in a traffic jam and have to wait, and wait and wait, but maybe, just maybe, it will give us the chance to view that time differently—possibly as a time to turn off the radio, put down the cell phone and spend a little time with God in prayer.
- Our readings today are clear that judgment is God’s business, not ours. Yet we all continue to make judgments about others. Now I rationalize this by telling myself that when I make judgments about individuals I am doing so for entirely altruistic reasons. I want to save time at the end of the world by doing a little pre-judging in the present. What rationale do you use for judging others?
- Fairly frequently we hear of people who, by their reading of certain scripture texts, have determined that the end of the world is near. So far they have all been wrong. Why are so many people so obsessed with the trying to determine when the end of the world will occur?
- Notice that in our Gospel today, both the righteous and the accursed are surprised that they either helped --- or failed to help --- the Lord in what they did --- or failed to do --- for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger the naked, the ill and they imprisoned. When have you seen or failed to see the face of Christ in others?
Several years ago I had a meeting with my spiritual director and in our conversation I mentioned an issue that seemed to crop up periodically in my life. He listened carefully and than suggested that it might be helpful if I asked myself a couple of questions on a regular basis—sort of a mini examination of conscience. The questions he suggested were simple. “Where have I been the bad guy in someone’s life the past few (or several) weeks?” “Where have I been a hero in someone’s life the past few (or several) weeks?”
These questions were and continue to be helpful to me as I look at where sin has found a foothold—or worse—safe haven in my life. They challenge me to look beyond my intentions, to the impact and effects of my words and actions on others. In this regard, it is easy for me to tell myself that since I didn’t deliberately intend to hurt someone, what I did or said couldn’t have been sinful. The reality is, though, that both intentionally and unintentionally we can be the bad guy in someone’s life.
On the other hand, it is also good to ask ourselves on a regular basis, where I might be the hero in someone’s life. Now we don’t do this to inflate our ego, or to give us something to feel good about. Rather, we do it to discover where we are doing something right or good and how we might do more of that.
Asking ourselves on a regular basis where we may have hurt someone or conversely where we may have helped someone is a good spiritual exercise. It can help us be more aware of where a pattern of sin may have entered our life, or where virtue is manifesting itself. Taking a look at the impact of our words and actions on a regular basis can spur our spiritual growth, and help us to be more attuned to God’s presence in our lives and more open to God’s grace.
Now while it is good to identify where we have perhaps grown lax in our spiritual life, or where we are manifesting virtue, it is important not to stop at that point. The next step is to ask ourselves what we need to do to root out sin, and/or where we can give better witness to our faith. In this regard, I have discovered that in my own life prayer and reception of the Eucharist are the things that help me to grow spiritually and to recognize where God is offering me God’s grace.
Now while the Eucharist and prayer have helped me to be a better person, they have clearly not eliminated sin from my life, or put me on the path to sainthood. They do help me, though, to be a better person than I otherwise might be. As importantly, they help me to remember that God is still at work in my life, calling me to do good, avoid sin, and to believe that God’s grace is always being offered to me to live as Jesus has called me to live.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111917.cfm
Our Gospel this weekend --- the parable of the talents --- is a well known story. A man decided to go on a journey and so he called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. “To one he gave five talents, to another two; to a third one --- each according to his ability.” The first two servants traded with the talents they had been given and doubled them. The third “buried his master’s money.” After being gone a long time the master returned and called in his servants to settle accounts with them. The first two were congratulated for being “good and faithful” servants, and were promised greater responsibilities. They also were invited to “share in their master’s joy.” The third was berated as a “wicked and lazy servant,” and thrown “into the darkness outside.”
What are we to make of this parable? It seems as if the master’s treatment of the third servant is unduly harsh. I think the key is to be found in the fact that he entrusted his possessions to his servants “each according to his ability.” The third servant was lazy and indifferent. He didn’t even put his master’s money in the bank where it could earn interest. As with every parable, this one also tells us something about God or about our relationship with God. Specifically this parable reminds us very clearly that God has given us the gift of faith, and we put off living out our faith at our own risk.
Our first reading this weekend from the book of Proverbs speaks of the qualities of a worthy wife. It shares the theme of the Gospel in that a worthy wife uses well the talents and abilities she has been given. In this she is like the first two servants in the Gospel.
Once again this weekend our second reading is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians. In the selection we read this weekend Paul reminds the Thessalonians that because of Jesus Christ they “are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief. For all of you are children of the light, and children of the day.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- What are you doing to develop the gift of faith you have been given?
- What inhibits you from developing the gift of faith?
- What does it mean to live as children of the light?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser: https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/111217.cfm
“Its mine and you can’t have it.” How often did we say those words as children, or worse, how often as adults do we still say them? They express control and selfishness. At first blush, it appears that this is the message being conveyed by the wise virgins in our Gospel today. In that Gospel we are told that there were five wise virgins and five foolish virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. “The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.” When the bridegroom arrived, “all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No for there may not be enough for us and you.’”
Were the wise virgins being selfish in not sharing some of their oil? In order to answer this question, we need to remember that parables were 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. From this perspective the question, then, is what was Jesus trying to tell us in this parable. Well, I would suggest that Jesus was telling us that some things can not be acquired at the last minute, and one very specific thing that cannot be obtained at the last minute is a relationship with God. At the end of our lives we can’t turn to the person next to us and ask them for some of their relationship with God. We need to plan ahead and work throughout our lives to develop our relationship with God.
Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom is an exhortation to seek wisdom. “For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care;” And the wisest thing we can do is seek God, and to build a relationship with God.
In our second reading this weekend Paul reminds the Thessalonians of Christ’s resurrection and the promise of eternal life that has been given to all of us. He closes with the clear command: “Therefore, console one another with these words.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- The Gospel parable reminds us that we need to work now to develop our relationship with God. How does one do this?
- How does one seek wisdom?
- Belief in eternal life is one of the pillars of our faith. How would you explain this belief to someone who came 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/110517.cfm
Our Gospel this weekend comes in two parts. In the fist section, Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees because “They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.” The scribes and Pharisees were not deliberately hypocritical. From their perspective, following the law exactly and slavishly was critically important. In doing so they believed they were being true to God. Unfortunately, they had allowed the precise and detailed following of the law to take the place of their relationship with God. While their actions were correct, they did not flow from heart set on God. Like the scribes and Pharisees, sometimes we too can “do” the right thing, and think that is enough. Our actions, though, need to flow from a heart set on God. It is only in this way that we can truly grow in our relationship with God.
In the second half of our Gospel this weekend, Jesus reminds us his disciples that: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Our first reading this weekend from the Book of the Prophet Malachi, shares the theme of the Gospel. In it God, through the prophet, is critical of the priests because they “have turned aside from the way and have caused many to falter by your instruction, you have made void the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts.”
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians. In it Paul gives thanks to God because the Thessalonians: “in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees for a lack of consistency between their words and their actions. When have your actions not been consistent with your words?
- Jesus invited his disciples to humble themselves. What does that mean to you?
- Have you ever felt the word of God at work in you?
Recently I attended a lecture by author Kathleen Norris. During the course of her talk she shared a quote attributed to Philo of Alexandria, a first century Jewish philosopher: “BE KIND for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” I loved the simplicity of the words, but also the profound meaning behind them. I suspect all of us have “battles” we are fighting in our lives. They could be bad memories, addictive behaviors, physical or mental health issues, difficulties in relationships, financial problems, job concerns, etc. etc. The list could go on endlessly. Whatever battle an individual is fighting, though, it is very often unseen and in many cases known only to a few.
So, recognizing that everyone has their own personal battle they are fighting, the real question is how do we “be kind” to everyone? Well, I think this is easier than some might think. In fact, I think it can be boiled down to four simple things.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt. It is easy for all of us to observe what we “perceive” to be someone’s bad mood or poor behavior, and then respond in kind. More often than I care to admit, when I think someone is being indifferent, unfriendly, or mean, I mirror that behavior in my response to them. We need to remember, though, that we are dealing with our perception, and perception doesn’t necessarily translate into reality. Perhaps the individual is just preoccupied with a difficulty or a problem they are dealing with. Or perhaps, they are feeling a bit overwhelmed and aren’t ready to deal with the world outside themselves. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is a very simple way to be kind.
- Don’t take out your bad mood on someone else. Too often when I am having a bad day, or when I’m overly tired, or when I am worried about something, I can easily share that bad mood with almost everyone I encounter. The challenge for all of us is to recognize when we are “out of sorts,” for whatever reason, and then make a conscious choice to keep our bad mood to ourselves. I have a friend who regularly gives themselves a “time out” when they recognize that they are in a bad mood. It gives them time to think about what issue/concern is the source of their bad mood, and then find a constructive way to deal with that. Not taking out our bad mood on someone else is an easy way to be kind.
- Don’t talk about people behind their backs. When we criticize or denigrate others, particularly when there is no way for them to explain or defend themselves, this demonstrates a serious lack of charity on our part. In effect, we are passing judgement on them “in absentia.” Failing to honor the name and character of someone in their absence is always inappropriate. Not talking about someone behind their back is another easy way to be kind.
- Say a quick prayer. I suggest this because it never ceases to amaze me what a difference it can make to pause for a moment to pray for someone or to pray for myself. Prayer helps to take the focus off of me and my feelings, and reminds me that God is always offering us God’s grace to help us deal with, work through, overcome or forgive whatever is causing us not to be charitable. Saying a quick prayer for someone or for ourselves is an easy way to be kind.
Being kind is not always easy, especially when we don’t know what battle someone is fighting. Perhaps, though if we are kind to others, they in turn will be kind to us. And who knows, that kind of mutual kindness could even start a trend.
- What “neighbor” do you find difficult to love?
- I have a friend who says the reason we have difficulty loving our neighbor as ourselves is that we don’t love ourselves very well. What do you think?
- Who comes to mind as someone you would name as an imitator of the Lord?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102217.cfm
There is an old proverb that says: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We see an example of this in our Gospel this weekend. We are told that the “Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him with the Herodians………..” The Pharisees and the Herodians were bitter enemies. The Pharisees believed the observance of the Jewish law was paramount. They defended it rigorously. The Herodians on the other were seen as collaborators with the occupying Romans. They were willing to make compromises with Jewish law. They displayed a “go along to get along” philosophy. A delegation from these two groups approached Jesus with a feigned compliment: “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” They then laid their trap with a skillfully devised question: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus said yes to paying the temple tax, he would have lost status with the Jews who were following him. If he said no to paying the temple tax, he would have been liable to being denounced to the occupying Romans. Jesus’ response is well known. He asked for a coin (which had Caesar’s image on it.) and said: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” The question that is unspoken, of course, is if a coin bears the image of Caesar, what is it that bears the image of God? The answer, of course, is that we do.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In this reading Cyrus, a Gentile ruler, is referred to as the Lord’s anointed because the Lord used Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians and thus allow the Jews who had been in captivity to return home. The point of the reading is that God can work through anyone.
Our second reading this weekend is the beginning of the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians. In it Paul greets the Thessalonians, and reminds them that they are remembered in his prayers: “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- We have all heard that we are made in the image and likeness of God, but what does this mean to you?
- God used King Cyrus for God’s purposes. Have you ever felt God using you or someone you know for God’s purposes?
- Paul told the Thessalonians that he remembered them in his prayers. Are there people you remember in prayer? Have you ever asked someone to remember you in prayer?
“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.