Fr. Bauer's Blog

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? 
     

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022419.cfm


“Now, listen because I’m only going to say this once.”  Growing up with four brothers and two sisters, these words were frequently on my mother’s lips.   I was reminded of them when I read the opening words of our Gospel today.  “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘To you who hear, I say,’”   

In our Gospel for this Sunday Jesus tells his disciples that they are to live and act in ways that set them apart from others.   Jesus tells his disciples: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you………. Give to everyone who asks of you…………Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful……….. Stop judging and you will not be judged……….. Give and gifts will be given to you.”    

Jesus’ words remind us clearly that for his followers God is the standard for our words and actions.  We are called to treat others as God has treated us, by loving and caring for them, being merciful and by not judging.   Certainly we don’t always do this.  Yet Jesus is clear.   As God has loved and cared for us, and shown us God’s mercy in so many ways, so we are called to do this for one another.  This is not just a suggestion or a recommendation.  It is a command given to all those who seek to follow Jesus Christ. 

Our first reading this Sunday is from the first Book of Samuel.    In the section we read today we heard, that King Saul, consumed by jealousy of David, was seeking to kill him. In a reversal, though, David  has a chance to kill Saul.  He refused to do it, though, thus demonstrating God’s mercy and compassion.  

In our second reading this Sunday from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us that “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, (Adam) we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.”  (Jesus)   


Questions for reflection/discussion:

  1. Jesus told us to “love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.”  Why do we find this so difficult? 
  2. Jesus also said:  “Give and gifts will be given to you.”  When have you experienced this in your life?
  3. Where have you seen others bearing the “image” of the heavenly one?  (Jesus Christ)
My youngest brother has a mean streak. He also can be incredibly kind and generous. He has helped me with my estate planning and in fact is the executor of my estate when I die. He and his wife and children also helped me move several months ago. They did a great job cleaning and packing. It was in the packing, though, that I noticed his mean streak. He kept asking me when the last time I had used something was. Then throughout the cleaning and packing process he would make periodic trips to the dumpster with trash bags that I didn’t remember filling. Much to my chagrin, however, I can’t say that I’ve missed anything. 
 
My brother also had my name for Christmas this year and one of the things on my list was a couple of new cookie sheets. As I was putting them away he demanded that I produce my old cookie sheet, which to be honest definitely had seen better days. He promptly took it and deposited it in the garbage. Now I can’t prove it, but I’m almost positive he threw out several other items while I wasn’t looking. 
 
Now, I know my brother isn’t really being mean, and he knows that while I am not a hoarder, I do have trouble letting go of things. I like to think I’m sentimental, but my brother is the youngest in our family, and for the first several years of his life everything he had was a “hand me down.” From this perspective, I suspect things lose their sentimentality after you’re the fourth or fifth person to possess or use them. Given this, my brother doesn’t have a problem purging things that aren’t being used or that have survived their usefulness. And while I did do some purging in my recent move, I know that there is a lot more purging that I need to do.
 
Not only do I need to do some purging of physical “stuff,” though, but I think there is also some emotional “stuff” that I could easily purge and do without. I suspect this is true for all of us. In my experience, most if not all of us hold on to some anger, resentment, and old wounds. We also carry around bad memories, hurt feelings and painful experiences we aren’t able to forgive. In most cases it’s not that we deliberately intend to hold on to these things, it’s just that we don’t know how, or simply aren’t able to purge them.
 
In the above situations it would be great if someone could just rummage through our past bad experiences and resentments and simply put them in an emotional dumpster. Unfortunately, this is a task we have to do ourselves. And yet, we really aren’t alone in it. If we invite God into our lives, if we let God’s grace find a home in our lives and hearts, God’s grace can help us to let go of—to purge—those negative things that in many cases hold us hostage and keep us from moving forward spiritually and emotionally.
 
Letting go of things, either physical things or emotional baggage, is not easy. Fortunately there are people who can help us purge some of our physical items. (I suspect my youngest brother might be available.) And God is there to help us let go of the emotional baggage we carry. The key in both cases is to invite them in and let them do what they are good at. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021719.cfm 

Our Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke’s version of the Beatitudes.   The more familiar version of the Beatitudes is found in Matthew’s Gospel. (Mt. 5:1-12a)   Luke’s version of the Beatitudes differs from Matthew’s in three distinct ways.   1. Luke’s account takes place on a “stretch of level ground,” not on a mountain.  2.  Luke’s Beatitudes are not spiritualized as are Matthew’s, e.g. in Luke the “poor” and “hungry” are blessed, not the “poor in spirit” and those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”   3. Finally, Luke’s version contains four “blessings,” but also four “woes.”  

Luke’s Beatitudes remind us that true blessings come to those who know their need for God and rely on God rather than themselves.   They also suggest that when we seek to be fulfilled by earthly things, and place our confidence and hope in these things, we can anticipate “woe” for ultimately these things cannot satisfy us and cannot offer us eternal salvation. 

Our first reading for this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.   It shares both the theme and structure of the Gospel.  It reminds us that “cursed is the one who trusts in human beings,” and “blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” 

In our second reading for this Sunday we continue to read from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.   The section we read today, is a simple, yet eloquent statement by Paul about our belief in eternal life.   Paul says clearly:  “If Christ is preached as raised form the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” ……………….. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.”   
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. When have you experienced God’s blessings in your life?
  2. When have you relied on yourself and not placed your trust in God?
  3. What does the promise of eternal life mean to you?  

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

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021019.cfm    

 

There are two scenes in this weekend’s Gospel. In the first scene, we are told that the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and so he got into Simon’s boat and they put out a short distance so that he could continue to teach the crowds.  After he had finished speaking, he told Simon “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”   While Simon initially objected, he did as Jesus suggested and ‘they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.”   Such must have been the power of Jesus’ words that experienced fishermen took fishing advice from the son of a carpenter.  

 

The second scene in this weekend’s Gospel occurs immediately after the miraculous catch of fish.   We are told that Simon Peter “fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’”  In response “Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.’”   At this point we are told “they left everything and followed him.”  Peter is like many of us.  We often focus on our sinfulness, and fail to realize that God calls us as we are, where we are.  And the God, who calls us, also gives us the grace to respond to that call.

 

The theme of the Gospel is echoed in our first reading this weekend from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  God calls Isaiah, but Isaiah is reluctant:  For I am a man of unclean lips………”     God, however, sent a Seraphim, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  He touched Isaiah’s lips with the ember and said: “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”   As in today’s Gospel, the message is clear: God doesn’t send the qualified; rather God qualifies those whom God sends. 

 

In our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In the section we read this weekend, Paul reminds the Corinthians (and us) of the Gospel he preached:  “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.” 

 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

 

1.  When have you been invited to trust in God? 

2.  Have you ever felt God calling you to do something for which you did not feel qualified?

3.  Have you ever allowed your sense of sinfulness to keep you at a distance from God?   

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