Fr. Bauer's Blog

Blocking God's Grace

A few weeks ago I got a call from a priest in another diocese who asked if I had received an email he had sent a month earlier. I told him I hadn’t and asked what email address he had sent it to. He replied that he didn’t have my email address and had sent the email via our website. I checked through my various email folders and finally found his email in my junk email folder. Unfortunately, I also found about twenty other emails in that folder that needed a response. As a result, I spent an entire morning sending apology emails to those twenty emails that unbeknownst to me had been sent to my junk email folder.

When I checked with our IT person, we discovered that any and all emails that had been sent to me via our website were being blocked and unceremoniously consigned to my junk email folder. Since I don’t know how to block emails, I didn’t have any idea how this could have happened. At this point, the problem has been corrected and I am once again receiving emails that are sent to me via our website. And while I tried to be careful when I went through my junk email folder, I hope I didn't miss an email I should have responded to and ended up offending someone.

As I reflected on this situation, it occurred to me that at times we may be aware when something is blocking our communication efforts. On the other hand, there may be other times when we are completely unaware that something is blocking them. I think this is probably especially true in regard to God’s attempts to share God’s love with us. Our faith tells us that God is constantly revealing God’s love to us and offering us God’s grace. At times, though, because of our sins, we may not be open to God’s love and grace. In effect and in fact, our sins block us from being open to God.

The above is exacerbated by the fact that, while there are times when we are aware that we are estranged from or at a distance from God, there are times when our sins have put us at a distance from God, and as a result we are unaware that the grace and love our God wants to offer us is being blocked. This is the corrosive and numbing effect of sin. It can block God’s grace without our being aware that this is happening.

Fortunately, while Christians didn’t invent sin, we do believe that in Jesus Christ we have found the remedy for sin. In chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel, we find the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. Both of these parables remind us that when we are lost—even and perhaps especially when we don’t know we are lost—Jesus seeks us out. And he is not satisfied and won’t stop looking until he finds us.

Sin can block the love and grace God wants to offer us. But in and through Jesus Christ we know and believe that this situation is usually temporary. Because of Jesus Christ, there is nothing—save the hardness of our own hearts—that can block God’s love. Of this we can be sure and because of this we will be saved.

 

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


http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082414.cfm

What do you think I should do?  Is this a good color on me?  What did you mean by that?  We often ask questions of one another.  Most of the time these questions are relatively simple and benign.  At other times, though, our questions ask for more than a simple opinion.  I think this was the case in this Sunday’s Gospel.   Jesus was in the region of Caesarea Philippi when he asked his disciples:  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  His disciples must have been pleased that they could fill him in on the local gossip.  “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”   Jesus, though, wasn’t interested in what others were saying, and so he asked his disciples:  “But who do you say that I am?”   Peter replied:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”    Jesus then told Peter that this had been revealed to him by “my heavenly Father”   Jesus then told Peter he was the “rock” up which he would build his church.  At the end of the Gospel, Jesus “ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”  

I suspect the reason Jesus asked his disciples:  “But who do you say that I am?”  was because he wanted them to know him --- and his mission --- on a deeper level.  I also think he was challenging them not just to know about him, but to come to know him, personally and intimately.  

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   In the section we read this Sunday, Shebna, the master of the palace of King Hezekiah, has opposed Isaiah’s council.  In response, Isaiah prophesies Shebna’s loss of position and power.  “Thus says the Lord to Shebna, master of the Palace; ‘I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station.’”  

Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   In the section we read this Sunday Paul reminds us that the ways and work of God are beyond our comprehension. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  How would you respond to Jesus question:  “But who do you say that I am?”   
2.  What helps you to come to know someone?   Does this also work with Jesus?
3.  I need to continually remind myself that the ways and work of God are beyond my comprehension.  Is this true for you as well?   

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

 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081714.cfm

Our Gospel this weekend presents us with what --- at least initially --- looks like an unflattering picture of Jesus.   We are told that a Canaanite woman came to Jesus and called out:  “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”   We are told that Jesus “did not say a word in answer to her.”    Jesus’ disciples want him to send her away.  Jesus response to them was: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”   But the woman “came and did Jesus homage, saying Lord, help me.”  Jesus tried to brush her off with the rather abrupt response that: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”   In reply the woman said: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”   Jesus responded to her by telling her:  “O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done for you as you wish.”     

What are we to make of this strange conversation?   First, it must be noted that historically Jews had little to do with Canaanites.   Jesus’ response, then, would have been in line with the spirit of the times.  Second, while eventually Jesus commissioned and sent his disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations, initially he wanted their mission to begin with the Jews.  Thirdly, though, and perhaps most importantly, Jesus as he does elsewhere in the Gospels, responded to the woman’s obvious faith.   It is the woman’s faith that is the most important element in this Gospel. 

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   It shares the theme of the Gospel.  In it Isaiah prophesizes:  “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord ………. All who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer………. for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”    

For our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  In this section, Paul, while identifying himself as the “apostle to the Gentiles,” also preaches to his fellow Jews and reminds them that “the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:    
1.    When you have prayed about something, have you ever felt that initially your prayer was rebuffed?    
2.    Has your faith ever drawn you to deeper prayer? 
3.    If God wants God’s house to be a house of prayer for all peoples, why do some want to limit access?    

For many years I lived with what a friend of mine liked to call: “an attitude of scarcity.” I was always worried that there was never going to be enough — especially enough money. I suspect I developed this attitude during my college years when I was worried about paying tuition and other bills.  After ordination I continued to worry about money. And because I worried there would not be enough, there often wasn’t enough. The fact of the matter is, however, that no matter how much money I had, it wouldn’t have been enough. Enough was always more than I had at any given moment.   

My “attitude of scarcity” continued for several years. Surprising enough, however, it began to change one day when I was the victim of a burglary. For several years, at the end of each day I would put my spare change in a large decorative wooden box someone had given me. Every now and again, I would count the money and was pleased and excited when at one point it totaled over five hundred dollars. Then one night when I was away on my day off, someone broke in to the rectory and stole my box of money — along with several other items.   

The police were called and a report filed with the insurance company. I was informed, though, that because there was no way of verifying the amount of money that was stolen, there was nothing they could do about it. Initially, I was frustrated and angry. I worried that because I lost my stash of cash, I would certainly encounter some problem or difficulty and I wouldn’t have enough money to deal with it.  I waited and worried — but nothing happened. I survived the loss without incident. I didn’t have to cut back on my expenses or make other sacrifices. And actually my life went on quite nicely. 

When I talked about this incident with my spiritual director he suggested that perhaps I had turned a corner, and instead of having an “attitude of scarcity,” I was beginning to develop an “attitude of abundance.” An attitude of abundance tells us that because God loves us, there will always be enough, that we don’t have to worry. An attitude of abundance is not suggesting a simplistic: “don’t worry, be happy” philosophy. Rather, it is an attitude that reminds us that worry is a waste of imagination. What will happen, will happen. Yet in anything and everything that happens, God is with us. Jesus was clear about this. “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are not you more important than they.  Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life span.”  Matthew 6:26  

An attitude of scarcity seems to reoccur with irritating regularity in my life, especially when I find myself worrying about something. At those times I need to remember that as God has been with me and cared for me in the past, so God is with me now and will be in the future. This doesn’t mean that I won’t encounter difficult or unpleasant situations. And it doesn’t mean that I will always have everything I want. I have learned, though, that in God’s love we are held firm and secure, and with God’s love there is always enough. 

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


http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081014.cfm

Our Gospel this weekend follows immediately after last Sunday’s Gospel, which contained the story of feeding of the five thousand.  We are told that Jesus “made his disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  After doing so, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.”   Often in the scriptures we are told that Jesus went off by himself to pray.  This is a good model for us.  In this instance, though, while Jesus was praying and the disciples were in the boat, a storm came up and the boat was being tossed about by the waves.   We are told that Jesus “came toward them walking on the sea.  When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.”   Peter then said:  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”   Jesus told him to come, but when Peter “saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Jesus then stretched out his hand and caught Peter.  “After they got into the boat, the wind died down.  Those who were in the boat did him homage saying, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’”   

There is much that could be said about this Gospel.  Perhaps its most important lesson, though, is that it reminds us that in the storms of our lives Jesus is always with us, and when we cry out to him in our need, he will respond to us.  

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the first Book of Kings.   It is the wonderful story of Elijah fleeing to Mount Horeb.  He is tired and ready to abandon his role of prophet.  God calls him to “stand on the mountain before the Lord, the Lord will be passing by.”  God, though, was not present in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. Rather God made God’s presence known in a “tiny whispering sound.”  This reminds us that we can experience God’s presence now only in great and powerful events, but also in small, unexpected ways.  

For our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  In the section we read this Sunday, Paul expresses his sadness that so many Israelites are unwilling to embrace faith in Jesus Christ.  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1.  In the storms of your life, have you ever called out to God for help?
2.  How did God response to your call?
3.  It is easy to see God’s hand at work in great and powerful events (Acts of God).  When have you felt God’s presence and grace in quiet and subtle ways? 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/080314.cfm 


Our Gospel this Sunday is Matthew’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and the feeding of the 5,000.  We are told that after learning of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus withdrew to a “deserted place by himself.” The crowds learned of this and followed him.   When it was evening the disciples came and said to Jesus:  “This is a deserted place and it is already late, dismiss the crowds so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.   Jesus said to them, ‘There is no need for them to go away, give them some food yourselves.’  But they said to him, ‘Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.’”   Jesus then took what they had blessed it and gave it to the disciples who in turn gave it to the crowds.  “They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over --- twelve wicker baskets full.”  

I have a friend who likes to say:  “See what happens when you pray before you eat.”   And while there is an element of truth to this, I think there are three other things that are important to note in this Gospel.  First, notice that Jesus started with what the disciples had.  Second, after he blessed it he gave it to the disciples to distribute to the crowds.  Third, notice the abundance that was left over.   Taken together these things remind us that amazing things can happen when we allow God to bless what we have.   

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It shares the theme of the Gospel.  In the section we read this weekend the Lord invites the people to come to him “without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk ………… Heed me, and you will eat well you shall delight in rich fare.”  

For our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  In the section we read this weekend we are reminded that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.  

Questions of Reflection/Discussion:
1.  Have you ever felt that you didn’t have the resources/gifts needed to do something?   
2.  Has God ever blessed your efforts so that you were able do something you didn’t think you could do? 
3. Have you ever felt separated from God’s love?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072714.cfm

For the past two Sundays we have been reading from the 13th chapter  of Matthew’s Gospel, which contains several of Jesus’ parables.  This Sunday we conclude this chapter with three more of Jesus’ parables.  The first two are very brief.  They are the parable of the treasure buried in a field and the merchant’s search for fine pearls.  In both cases the individuals sell all they have in order to possess the treasure and the pearl.  This reminds us that the kingdom of God is so valuable that we should do all that we can to obtain it.   

The third parable this Sunday is a bit enigmatic.  It is the parable of the “net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets.  What is bad they throw away.”   Jesus then says:  “Thus it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace....”  This reminds us that there will be a time of judgment, but the time of that judgment belongs to God, as does the judging.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the first Book of Kings.  Solomon has succeeded his father David as King.  In a dream the Lord said to Solomon: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”  In reply Solomon does not ask for wealth or power.  Instead he said: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”  This was my prayer when I was first named a pastor in 1987.  

Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   In the brief section we read today Paul reminds us:  “We know that all things work for good for those who love god, who are called according to his purpose.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 
1.  What is important to you?  What do you treasure?  
2.  If you don’t already possess your treasure, what would you do to possess it?  
3.  If God asked you what you wanted, what would ask for? 

For many years I thought of prayer in terms of technique—a technique that could be learned, much like how one learned to play a musical instrument. I thought if I only “practiced” enough, I would become proficient at prayer. When I experienced difficulties with prayer, or when prayer seemed dry or rote, I assumed that I just needed to work on my technique and keep practicing. I also read books on prayer, and kept hoping I would find an expert who could help me with my technique or share a secret that would suddenly help me to be more proficient at prayer.   

I don’t think my experience in regard to prayer is unique. Over the years, I have encountered many people who, like me, were looking for a technique or method that would help them feel more comfortable and proficient with prayer. I have also encountered people who thought they were lacking some secret skill or had some defect in their make up that hindered or even prevented them from praying as well as they would like. And in some cases I have also encountered people who have given up on prayer altogether because they found it too frustrating and unsatisfying. 

Fortunately for me, my attitude toward prayer changed many years ago when I was on retreat. I asked my retreat director for some “tips” on prayer. Initially he suggested things I already knew, e.g. have a regular time and place for prayer, start with some deep relaxing breaths, etc. As we talked further, though, he told me that perhaps I was taking the wrong approach to prayer. He said that while there are a lot of techniques that can help with prayer. When we approach prayer solely as an activity we want to become proficient at or a skill we want to master, we are missing something important and will probably find prayer frustrating.  

My retreat director went on to suggest that I approach prayer more in terms of a relationship. While there are things we can do to enhance our relationships and help them grow, the most important thing is simply being present. If we are not present to someone, if we don’t spend time with them, we shouldn’t be surprised if the relationship feels stilted or stagnant. In order for a relationship to grow and deepen, we need to spend time simply being with another. This presence eventually leads to trust, which eventually leads to deeper and deeper sharing, which eventually leads to love.  

Now to be clear, when we think of prayer in terms of a relationship, that doesn’t mean that every time we go to prayer that it is a deep and profound experience. There are ebbs and flows, and peaks and valleys in every relationship. This is certainly true with regard to God. Our prayer, though, helps us to keep our relationship with God open and flowing, even and perhaps especially, at those times when our prayer feels unproductive or even frustrating.  

Occasionally, I will find myself falling back into the habit of trying to find a technique or skill that will help me feel more proficient at prayer. At these times, I need to remind myself that prayer is about relationship and not about technique. At root, my relationship with God — like the other relationships that nurture and nourish me in my life —  is sustained not by doing something, but simply by being present. 

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.   
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/072014.cfm 

This weekend there is a long form and a short form of our Gospel.  The short form, (which we will be using at the Basilica) is one of Jesus’ most challenging parables.  We are told that “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat and then went off.  When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.”   The owner had a difficult decision to make.  Should he have his slaves try to pull up the weeds right away or let them grow with the wheat.   He told his slaves: “……if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.  Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvester, ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”   

The message of this parable is clear.  It is not easy to identity, let alone separate, the weeds from the wheat --- the good from the bad.   This is why judgment is God’s business, not ours.  And judgment will take place in God’s time, not ours.   

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Wisdom.  It shares the theme of the Gospel.  In the section we read today, the author is clear about God’s role.  “There is no god besides you who have the care of all, that you need show you have not unjustly condemned.  For your might is the source of justice; your mastery over all things makes you lenient to all.”  

Our second reading this weekend is a brief excerpt from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  Paul reminds us:  “Brothers and sisters: The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”   

 Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1. Why do so many of us feel free to make judgments about others? 
2.  Have you ever made a judgment about someone only to find out later it was inaccurate?
3.  I like the idea of the Spirit coming to our aid when we don’t know how to pray as we ought.   Have you ever experienced this in your life?  

Sin as Our Failure

One Monday morning a few weeks ago I was at my cabin catching up on the Sunday newspaper when I heard a loud “clunk” from the living room. I looked up from the paper and saw a bird fluttering around on the deck in a daze. I realized immediately that the bird must have flown into the  sliding glass door, only to have the glass bring its flight to a rather abrupt end. The bird appeared to be okay, so I went back to reading the paper. 

I hadn’t been reading the paper for more than five minutes when I heard another loud “clunk.” I looked out on the deck and saw the same bird fluttering around once more in a daze just outside the sliding glass door. I watched it for a few minutes, but since it again appeared to be okay, I went upstairs to take a shower, figuring that the bird had learned its lesson this time.

After my shower I had to run some errands and ended up being gone for a couple of hours.  When I returned to my cabin, and began unloading some groceries I had bought, I once again heard a familiar “clunk.” This time when I checked, I wasn’t surprised to see the bird fluttering around outside the sliding glass door.  What did surprise me, though, was the number of small feathers and other telltale markings that speckled the window pane. Apparently the poor bird had spent most of the morning trying to fly through the glass. I couldn’t help but think what a shame it was that it hadn’t learned a lesson from its first few failed attempts.  It occurred to me that if only it had a bigger brain or a stronger memory it might have saved itself a lot of pain and uselessly expended time and energy.

I thought about that bird a few days later, when I caught myself falling back into a bad habit I had been working to change. I couldn’t help but smile at myself as it dawned on me that in this particular case, I wasn’t really all that different from that poor bird. Like that bird, I hadn’t learned from my past mistakes. I had fallen into an old behavior pattern, which was anything but constructive and growthful.   

As I reflected on this situation it struck me that something like this probably occurs in each of our lives. There are times when we continue bad habits or patterns of behavior even though they are counter to our growth. It occurred to me that this is what sin is all about. Sin is our failure to break the destructive habits or behaviors that keep us from growing into the people God has called us to be.      

Now in some ways the above is a depressing thought.  Fortunately for us, though, unlike the bird outside my sliding glass door, we have the ability to recognize our destructive behaviors.  Additionally, though, we also have the means available to help us change those behaviors.   As Christians, we believe that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is always there for us and with us in our lives. If we are open to it, and if we allow it to work in our lives, the grace of the Lord Jesus can help us change our lives and be better people.  

Certainly it is not easy to change habits or patterns of behavior that are sinful and which have become entrenched over the years. Moreover, it may take a considerable amount of effort to do so.  However, the work involved in changing these behaviors is certainly preferable to continuing them. For the reality is that if we don’t make the effort to change, to learn from our mistakes and grow, we aren’t a whole lot better off than some poor bird who keeps bumping its head into a pane of glass.

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