Fr. Bauer's Blog

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Our Gospel this Sunday begins with someone asking Jesus: “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”    Jesus replied:  “Friend who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”    Initially this response may seem harsh, but from the parable Jesus told next, it could be argued that Jesus was inviting the individual to approach the disputed inheritance in a different way.   That parable is the story of a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.   “He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’  And he said, ‘This is what I shall do; I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now, as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’  But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you, and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’”   

The problem with the man in this parable was not his wealth (he was already rich before his bountiful harvest); rather the problem was that his wealth was his sole source of security.   He thought of nothing and no one else --- not even God.   At times we too can make this same mistake when we look to things other than God to be our ultimate security.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes.   This weekend is the only time in our three year cycle of Sunday readings when we read from the Book of Ecclesiastes.  This reading shares the theme of the Gospel reminding us that “All things are vanity!”   While this message sounds distressing, it is meant to remind us that striving to amass material wealth is futile and pointless. 

In our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.  In it Paul reminds us that because we have put on Christ, we are to “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Has there been a time when you have put your trust in something other than God?
  2. My grandfather once told me that when he was young he felt safe and secure when he had $200 in savings.   When the depression came he had to look to something else to provide that sense of safety and security.   He found this in the church.   Has there been a time when what you thought would provide safety and security failed to do so?
  3. I find it hard to keep focused on “what is above.”  What helps you to keep focused on “what is above”?

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

Our Gospel this Sunday comes in three sections.  In the first section, Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them how to pray.  In response, Jesus taught them the Our Father.   In the second section Jesus tells the parable about a person who wakes up their neighbor at midnight to ask him to loan him three loaves of bread because an unexpected visitor had arrived at their home.  Jesus concludes the parable by saying:  “If he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.”   The third section of the Gospel begins with what seems like an outrageous promise.  “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”   The Gospel concludes with Jesus’ words:  “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”   

What are we to make of this Gospel?   Well, I think there are three important things this Gospel tells us.   1. God is so close to us that we can call on God as “Father.”  (Incidentally, this word is not meant to convey gender, but intimacy of relationship.)   2.  Notice that Jesus does not say “ask and you will receive exactly what you asked for.”  Rather he merely says “ask and you will receive.” We need to be  open to how God responds to our prayers.  3.  While God will not always give us what we want, God will always give us what we need.   

In our first reading this Sunday Abraham seems to be negotiating with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Eventually God tells Abraham that if there are at least ten innocent people in Sodom and Gomorrah, God will not destroy the city.   While this story seems to be saying that we can “negotiate” with God, I think its real message is how very patient God is with us in our sinfulness.   

Our second reading this Sunday is again taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians.   In the section we read today Paul reminds us of God’s loving forgiveness.   “And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Have you ever prayed for something only to discover that your prayers were answered in a way you hadn’t expected?  
  2. Being persistent in prayer is important, not because it sometimes takes us a while to get God’s attention, or to change God’s mind, but rather because sometimes it takes us a while to recognize how God is responding or has responded to our prayer.   When has your persistence in prayer been helpful for you? 
  3. Has your prayer ever helped you to experience God’s forgiveness?   

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

Our Gospel this Sunday is the familiar story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary.   We are told that Martha was busy with the details of hospitality, while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus.   Martha came to Jesus and said:  “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?  Tell her to help me.”   In reply, Jesus said to her:  “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.   Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”    

Since I identify much more with Martha than Mary, I have always struggled with this particular Gospel.  That is why many years ago when I was on retreat, and my retreat director asked me to meditate on this passage,  I resisted.   My retreat director, however, was insistent. And so, I took this passage to prayer and in my prayer it suddenly occurred to me that from my perspective three words were missing from Jesus’ response:   “at this moment.”   I inserted these three words after “There is need only of one thing, at this moment…………”   Mary had realized that at that moment the important thing was attend to the Lord.   Martha, rightly concerned about hospitality, had allowed that concern to become dominant, and as a result she missed the opportunity to attend to the Lord.   I believe something similar occurs in each of our lives.  We can become so focused on something --- sometimes things that are good and important --- that we can fail to be conscious of and attend to God.   The challenge for us is recognize the moments of God’s presence when they occur, and then, like Mary, to attend to them. 

In our first reading this Sunday Abraham extended hospitality to three visitors who were passing by.   At some point, Abraham recognized that God was one of his visitors.  As a result, as often happens after a divine visitation, there is an announcement: “One of them said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.’”   Abraham’s generous hospitality had resulted in the announcement that in her old age, Sarah would have a son.  

In our second reading this Sunday, Paul wrote from prison to the Colossians.   Paul is clear that even in our suffering Christ is “the hope for glory.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Can you think of a time when you have been so preoccupied that you almost missed a moment of God’s presence?  
  2. Has there been a time when in extending hospitality you have felt the presence of God?
  3. In times of pain or suffering have you ever found hope in Christ?  

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

Our Gospel this Sunday contains the well known story of the Good Samaritan.   Jesus told this story in response to a “scholar of the law” who approached Jesus wanting to know what he must do to inherit eternal life.   Jesus asked the scholar what was written in the law and he replied:  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being and with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself.”  We are told that Jesus approved this answer, but then the scholar of the law asked a follow up question:  “And who is my neighbor.”   In response, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.  

There are three things to note in this story.  First, there was a great deal of antipathy between Jews and Samaritans.   The Samaritans were those Jews who stayed in Israel during the Babylonian captivity.   The Jews thought the Samaritans had polluted the Jewish religion.  The Samaritans believed something similar about the Jews.  The two groups hated each other and had nothing to do with one another.    Second, it is possible that the priest and the Levite passed by the man because they thought he might be dead.  Contact with a dead person would have rendered them ritually impure and unable to fulfill their temple obligations.   Third, notice that the scholar of the law couldn’t even use the word Samaritan to name the man who had helped the victim of robbers.  Instead when Jesus asked him who of the three was neighbor to the robbers’ victim he replied:  “The one who treated him with mercy.”    

It is easy for all of us to find excuses for not extending a helping hand to those in need.  Jesus is clear, though, that our “neighbor” is anyone who is in need.     

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy.  In it Moses tells the people that the commandments and statues of the law are not “too mysterious and remote for you.  It is not up in the sky ………. Nor is it across the sea………. No, it is something very near to you already in your mouths and in your hearts.”    

Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Colossians.   In it Paul reminded the people of the preeminent and unique role of Jesus.   “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation.  For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers, all things were created through him and for him.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1.  Who has been “neighbor” to you?
2.  To whom are you being called to be “neighbor?” 
3.  What excuses do you make for not being “neighbor?”

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

In our Gospel this Sunday, we are told that Jesus appointed 72 of his disciples and “sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.”  (These 72 are in addition to the 12 disciples he had sent out in chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel.)  In sending out the 72 he gave them clear and specific instructions.  “Carry no money bag, no sack,  no sandals; and greet no one along the way.”   Further, they were told: “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment.”   When the disciples entered a town if they were welcomed, they were to “cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand.”  If a town didn’t receive them they were to “go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’” 

At first glance, the instructions to take nothing with them and not to move around if they find better lodgings might seem a bit severe.   I think the reason for these instructions was twofold.  First, the disciples were to rely solely on God.  Taking nothing with them reinforced this.   And second, the reason for their mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God.   They were not to get caught up in their own needs and wants.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the final chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon.   In the section we read this weekend, the message is clear.  Despite their exile, God continued to love and care for his people, and offered them another chance to live in the covenant God had made with them.  The people were called to “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her;  exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her………………...Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.”   

In our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians.  In the selection we read this weekend, Paul is clear about his reason for rejoicing:  “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…………”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In our Gospel this weekend Jesus is clear that nothing is to hold his disciples back from proclaiming the Kingdom of God.   Is there something that holds you back from following Christ?  
  2. What does the Kingdom of God mean to you?  How are you called to proclaim it? 
  3. What do you think Paul meant when he talked about boasting in the cross of Jesus?   

Grace Over Vengeance

On a warm and humid night a few weeks ago, I finally got around to viewing, “The Revenant,” starring Leonard DiCaprio. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it is set in the 1820s and it follows a fur trapper and frontiersman played by Leonardo DiCaprio as he sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after he was mauled by a bear. The cinematography was wonderful. It really captured the bitter cold of winter and the stark conditions of the frontier (although the night I watched the DVD was hot and muggy, it actually looked kind of inviting). The movie was a wonderful tale of survival. It really captured the desire to survive and the will to live. As a story of vengeance, though, it left me with questions and concerns. Perhaps though, that was what it intended to do. 

Maybe I have not been hurt deeply enough, but I have never had or felt a consuming desire for vengeance. To be sure, there have been times when my immediate response when someone has done something that has hurt or offended me was the desire to retaliate or get even with them. But those feelings/thoughts didn’t linger for very long, and I was able to move on fairly quickly. The overwhelming desire for revenge, though, is foreign to me. 

Now as I was writing the above, it occurred to me that perhaps I am letting myself off the hook too easily. To be honest, I have been known to nurse a grudge. And my old Irish pastor taught me that I should, “bury the hatchet in a shallow grave that is well marked.” I’d like to think, though, that there is a big difference between nursing a grudge and the overwhelming desire for revenge. Perhaps the difference is more in degree than type, but I think there is a difference. 

Specifically, I think that when we nurse a grudge there is always the possibility that God’s grace will find an opening, however slight, into our hearts. It seems to me, though, that a consuming desire for revenge omits this possibility. This might sound like I’m splitting hairs, but in my own life I have discovered that when I have been hurt or offended by someone, while this takes up a few bytes of memory, it is not ever-present and all consuming. The desire for vengeance on the other hand seems more intense and in its worst form can be overwhelming. And when something is that consuming, there is no room left for anything else even and perhaps especially God’s grace. 

God’s grace is always being offered to us. I believe this is particularly true at those times when we have been hurt physically, emotionally, or spiritually and we want to retaliate. At those times, if we can pray for an openness to the grace God wants to offer us, perhaps our hurt won’t turn into a desire for revenge. And maybe, just maybe if we continue to be open to God’s grace, one day we might even forget where we buried the hatchet. 

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

This Sunday we celebrate the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time.   Our Gospel this Sunday comes in two sections, and it is tied together by the overarching theme of “the cost of discipleship.”   In the first section James and John wanted to “call down fire from heaven” because a Samaritan village refused to welcome them.   Jesus rebuked them for this suggestion.  In the second section three people approached Jesus inquiring about following him.   They discover, though, that the cost of discipleship was perhaps too steep for them.   

The point of this Gospel is that following Jesus is not always easy.  There are certain “demands” that are part and parcel of a being disciple of Jesus.  While some of these demands are the same for everyone, (e.g. love one another, forgive our brother or sister from our heart, share with those who are less fortunate), some are specific for particular individuals.   The challenge for each of us is to be realistic and honest about what Jesus is asking of us if we are to follow him.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the first book of Kings.   It is the story of the call of Elisha to be a prophet to succeed Elijah.   It parallels the theme of the Gospel in that Elisha realized that being a “prophet” brings with it certain demands.   

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians.   In the section we read today, Paul responds to certain Christians from Jerusalem who have followed him to Galatia and have urged the Galatian community to adapt certain parts of the Mosiac Law.    Paul is clear and blunt: “For freedom Christ set us free, so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. What specific thing(s) is Jesus asking of you in order for you to follow him? 
  2. Of the “demands of discipleship” that apply to all of us, what do you find most difficult? 
  3. In the closing sentence of today’s second reading Paul says:  “But if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”    How does one know, though, that they are being guided by the Spirit?   

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

I suspect at one time or another most of us have been put in that uncomfortable position when someone asks us what people think of them or what people are saying about them.   These moments are awkward at best, particularly because most of the time the people asking the question suspect that something is amiss.   In our Gospel today Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do the crowds say that I am?”   I suspect the disciples were more than happy to fill Jesus in on the local gossip, particularly since it reflected well on him.  “They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”   Jesus, though, was not satisfied in knowing what others thought of him.   In fact, His next question was very personal.  “But who do you say that I am?”   Peter replied: “The Christ of God.”  Jesus then went on to tell them that he must suffer greatly and be killed.   He then told his disciples:  “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  

Jesus was clear with his disciples.   It is not enough to know what others are saying about him.  We are called to know Jesus in our own life.   As importantly, Jesus reminds us that the cross is not an optional part of following him.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah.   It is a foreshadowing of Christ’s death. “and they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.”    It reminds us that Christ’s life, death and resurrection was part of God’s plan from the beginning of time.  

We continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians for our second reading this Sunday.   It reminds us that there are no distinctions or degrees among the followers of Christ.   “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. If Jesus were to ask you “Who do you say that I am?”  how would you respond? 
  2. Luke is the only evangelist who includes the word “daily” to Jesus admonition to take up your cross and follow him.   Why do you think this is? 
  3. Have you ever heard someone try to make distinctions among the followers of Christ?   

A few weeks ago I read, “Go Set a Watchman,” by Harper Lee for my book group. While much ink has been spilled in debating how it compares with, “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” clearly that is not my area of expertize, so I will not venture into that discussion. I did enjoy the book, and it was a source of a good discussion for my book group. Very specifically, though, I was particularly struck by one sentence near the end of the book. Jean Louise was involved in a long conversation with her uncle Jack around the issues of race and prejudice. At one point her uncle, Jack, said to Jean Louise: “Prejudice a dirty word, and faith a clean one, have one thing in common: they both begin where reason ends.” 

When I read these words I was struck by their simplicity, but also their truth. Both prejudice and faith are not grounded in reason or logic. They are an act of the will that has no logical explanation. Now, I suspect some people would argue that with both prejudice and faith there is some rational explanation for them, or that they have their roots in experience and/or knowledge. I believe, though, that when push comes to shove, the proof for this position is elusive and vague. 

In speaking of faith, the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote: “Faith is confidence reassurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Notice that there is no reference to reason or logic, no attempt to explain faith or give a rational explanation for it. Faith is not a “provable” proposition; it simply is. I think something similar is true in regard to prejudice. 

While there are times when I wish there would be some “proof” for my faith, I have come to believe that if this were to occur, I would be very disappointed. Because faith has to do with things beyond our human awareness and comprehension, by its very nature it can’t be proven or gotten to by reason or logic. Faith like prejudice begins where reason ends. 

On one level it does bother me a little that faith and reason have in common the fact that they begin where reason ends. On a deeper level, though, I am grateful that faith is not an easy or provable proposition. I want and need something to believe in that is greater than myself and beyond my comprehension. Additionally, though, I am also embarrassed that at times prejudice has crept into my life disguised as insight or knowledge. With both faith and prejudice, the challenge is not to try to use reason as their basis, but to remember that they both begin where reason ends. 

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

This Sunday we celebrate the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Our Gospel this Sunday taken from the Gospel of Luke.  It is the well know story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and then anointed them with oil.   Observing this scene, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus to dinner said to himself:  “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him,  that she is a sinner.”   The Pharisee’s thoughts prompted Jesus to tell a story about two people whose debts were forgiven.   He then asked the Pharisee:  “Which of them will love him (the creditor) more?”  The Pharisee rightly answered:  “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”   Jesus then went on to say of the woman:  “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”     Interestingly, the Pharisee could only see the woman as a sinner.  Jesus on the other hand was able to see her as woman of great love.   The story invites us to remember and to trust in God’s mercy.  It also challenges us to reflect on those times when we have pigeonholed someone based on an impression we have of them. 

Our first reading this Sunday is from the second book of Samuel.  In it the prophet Nathan, speaking in the name of the Lord, rebuked David for taking Bathsheba to be his wife after having conspired to have her husband, Uriah, killed.   When David acknowledged his sin, Nathan responded:  “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin:  you shall not die.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians.   In it Paul reminds us that we are justified by our faith in Jesus Christ, and not by any actions of our own.   Paul summarizes this belief succinctly:  “We who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in the Christ Jesus and not by works of the law. Because by works of the law no one will be justified”    

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. When have you experienced God’s forgiveness in your life?
  2. When have you been able to forgive someone else?  What made it possible for you to forgive?
  3. Justification by faith in Jesus Christ sounds kind of protestant, doesn’t it?   What does this mean to you?