Fr. Bauer's Blog

This past week as I was reflecting on our Gospel today I kept returning to Jesus’ question to his disciples:  “Do you also want to leave?”   Given the news involving priests and bishops in the Catholic Church the past couple weeks, this is a question I have asked myself.  I suspect many of you have also asked yourself this question. 

And to be honest, I know more than a few people for whom the latest news was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  They have decided that --- at least for now --- they need to take a step away from the Catholic Church. While I am grieved and deeply saddened by this, I understand and respect their decision.      

For myself, though, despite the news of the past couple of weeks, despite the failures of our bishops, and despite the sinful and evil actions of many priests, I cannot leave the Catholic Church.   I say this for two specific reasons.  

1.  I need to belong to a community.  I need to be with people who believe as I do.   I don’t think we can be our best selves unless we are part of a community.  And I don’t believe that we are saved alone, as isolated individuals. 

Rather, I believe that God draws us to himself, through the communities of which we are a part, and for me the Catholic Church --- and particularly the Basilica --- is my community.   It is too much a part of me for me to let it go.    

2.  I need the Eucharist and the other sacraments.   As I tell the children making their First Communion each year,   I know I am not the best person/priest that I could be, BUT I would be far worse without the Eucharist. 

The Eucharist helps me to be a better person than I would otherwise be.   I need the Eucharist to live as a follower of Jesus, and I need the faith of the community to make the Eucharist real and alive in my life.   

Now in deciding to stay in the Catholic Church, I also want to be absolutely clear that this does not mean that I think we can gloss over the events of the past few weeks.  
It is essential that we acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by priests, by bishops and by those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for the most vulnerable among us.  

With shame and repentance, we must acknowledge that the leaders of our church allowed grave damage to be done to so many young lives.  We need to beg forgiveness for this.  As Pope Francis said in his recent letter: “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

We also need to be clear that no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. 

The pain of the victims and their families is a wound from which our church will not soon recover.  It is vital that we reaffirm our commitment --- and take steps to ensure --- the protection of children and vulnerable adults.  Specifically what this means is that all of us must demand honesty, accountability, transparency, and a willingness on the part of our leader to accept responsibility for their actions.  

No effort must be spared to create a culture which will prevent such situations from reoccurring and to ensure that there is no possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. 

I believe that if there is a lesson to be learned from the current crisis facing our church, it is that we must listen to the voice of you --- the laity --- the people in the pews.   Reform, healing, renewal must come about from every single member of the church.  Since the ordained haven’t or can’t provide it, you must demand it of us.  You’ve been commissioned by your baptism to be salt and light, leaven and courage, agents of renewal, and witnesses to hope in our world.  And at this moment, particularly, our church desperately needs to hear your voice.   

As sinful and incompetent as the leaders of our church have been in responding to the issue of sexual abuse, however, this Church is still my home.    And so as I close today I paraphrase Peter’s words in our Gospel today: “Master to whom shall I go?  Your church is my home.  I can have no other.”   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/090218.cfm 

After reading from the Gospel of John for the past five weeks, this weekend we return to the Gospel of Mark.   In our Gospel this weekend, we find a scene that is often repeated in the Gospels.   Jesus is at odds with some of the Pharisees and the scribes.   (Often in the Gospels Jesus is depicted as being in conflict with either or both of these groups.)   The scribes and Pharisees were strict adherents to the law.  Now, in and of itself adherence to the law is not a bad thing.  In the case of the scribes and Pharisees, however, it was problematic, because in many cases their relationship to God had taken a back seat to their adherence to the law. 

The issue is our Gospel today had to do with the fact that Jesus’ disciples “ate their meals with unclean, that is unwashed hands.”    Prior to eating, Jews were supposed to purify themselves.   These and other “rites of purification” were prescribed for Jews, and yet Jesus’ disciples were ignoring them.   Jesus challenged their position and reminded them that what “defiles” people does not come from outside, but from within a person.   If our hearts are set on God the appropriate actions will follow accordingly. 

Our first reading for this weekend is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy.  In it Moses reminds the people of the “statues and decrees” they have been given by God.   “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God is to us whenever we call upon him?”    For Moses, the law was to lead people to God, not take the place of their relationship with God.    

Our second reading for this weekend is from the letter of James.   We will read from it for the next four weeks.   In the section we read today, James reminds us that we are to “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Have you ever allowed “following the rules” to take the place of your relationship with God?
  2. When have you called upon God and felt close to God?
  3. How do “doers of the word” act?    
     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082618.cfm 

This weekend is the last weekend when our Gospel reading is taken from the Gospel of John.  (We are in year B of a three year cycle for our weekend readings, and in year B we read from the Gospel of Mark.  However, since Mark is the shortest Gospel, we have to supplement it with selections from the Gospel of John.)   Our Gospel today is the conclusion of what is known as the “Bread of Life” discourse.   

In the Gospels preceding today’s Gospel, Jesus has identified himself as the living bread come down from heaven, and his invited people to eat his flesh and drink his blood.   In our Gospel today we are told “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard, who can accept it?’”   And “As a result of this many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”   Clearly Jesus knew that some of his followers would not be able to accept his words.  He wanted them to make a clear choice, though, whether to continue as his followers.    Peter responded for the disciples who had decided to remain with the unambiguous statement:  “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”   

Our first reading for this weekend also emphasizes the idea of choice.    In this reading Joshua challenges the tribes of Israel to make a clear choice in regard to God.  “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve………………As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  

Our second reading for this weekend is taken from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.   Its opening lines --- which are usually omitted --- are every preacher’s nightmare:  “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.”   As we read these words we need to remember, though, that they were written at a time and place, and in culture, where wives were often considered property.   I suspect Paul would have written them differently, if we were writing today.   Also, and more importantly, the main point of Paul’s words is to remind us of how we are to conduct ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ.   In this regard, we are to be “Subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Has there been a time when you have found Jesus’ words too demanding/challenging? 
  2. Has there been a time when you have had to make a clear and decisive choice for God?
  3. What words of Scripture do you find difficult or that rankle you?  
     

Dear Parishioners: 

Lately it has been hard to be a Catholic. A few weeks ago we heard of multiple accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. More recently, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report about the widespread sexual abuse of children by priests in six dioceses in Pennsylvania. In regard to former Cardinal McCarrick, the accusations go as far back as his time as a newly ordained priest. In regard to the grand jury report, it listed credible allegations of sexual abuse of children by 300 priests over a period of 70 years. In each case, those who were in positions to do something either chose not to, or simply looked the other way. This was not just bad decision making. Those individuals bear both legal and moral culpability for their inaction. In the face of this situation, it would seem that there is very little I, or any other priest or bishop, could or should say. And yet to say nothing could be misconstrued as acquiescence to or acceptance of this situation. Given this, I would like to offer the following thoughts.

1. First and foremost, we must be clear and unmistakable in our absolute condemnation of the sexual abuse of children. There is no excuse to be made for it and no defense to be offered for those who would victimize a child in this way. When anyone (most particularly a child) is a victim of sexual abuse, we must be clear and unequivocal in our condemnation of this activity. Any attempt to explain or minimize this behavior is quite simply wrong. 

When priests or bishops engage in behavior that is sexually abusive or exploitive they cannot, nor should they be shielded from the consequences of their actions. Where illegality has occurred or is suspected, our legal system must be engaged and allowed to function without hindrance. Where actions of Church officials are found to be insufficient or negligent, they also must face the consequences of their actions or inaction. 

2. While several Bishops have offered their apologies for the mistakes that occurred in the past and the suffering these mistakes caused, I am deeply disappointed that those Bishops, whose ill-advised decisions to re-assign priest abusers led to the further abuse of children, have not resigned their positions, or if they are already retired, why they haven’t publicly acknowledged their failure and begged for forgiveness. Where their actions were illegal they need to be charged. And even if there are no legal repercussions for their actions, for the sake of those who were abused and for the good of the church, I think these bishops need to publicly take responsibility for their actions. While this act in itself will not restore the trust that has been broken, it is a beginning. 

3. While acknowledgement of the source and depth of the problem and offering our deepest and most humble apologies are necessary first steps in responding to the victims of sexual abuse, our efforts cannot stop there. When innocent people, most particularly children, have been the victims of sexual abuse we, as a Church, must recognize our responsibility and offer the full measure of our support and assistance to those who have been victimized. Very practically this means that we must offer recompense to victims of sexual abuse in the form of services and monetary compensation. Further, we must ensure that the policies, procedures and safeguards that have been put in place to protect children and vulnerable adults are adhered to strictly. We must also offer programs to help our individuals and parishes grapple with this issue. In this regard, specifically, I would invite you to attend a program here at The Basilica entitled “Restorative Justice as a Path to Healing.” It is scheduled for Thursday evening September 20, from 6:30-9:30pm in the lower level of The Basilica.

4. At some point we, as individual Catholics, and as a parish community, are going to need to begin the hard work of forgiveness. I don’t know how we will go about this, but for the spiritual health and vitality of our Church, I believe that eventually we will need to forgive those priests who abused children, as well as those bishops and other leaders who allowed this abuse to happen. This is not to say that forgiveness is easy, or that in forgiving we are accepting and/or forgetting the horror of sexual abuse. Rather it is an acknowledgement that, as followers of Jesus, ultimately forgiveness is not optional for us. 
(Matthew 18:35) 

Personally, I find forgiveness to be one of the hardest things that is asked of us as Christians. I do know, though, that with God’s grace forgiveness is possible, and that it starts with prayer. Prayer is the essential first ingredient to forgiveness. We need to pray for and with each other, and most particularly for those who 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. 

Over the course of the past several years each time new charges of sexual impropriety against a priest has become public, I have been shocked, saddened, and angry. These incidents have been and continue to be a source of great pain and sadness for me. I had hoped that by this time we would have dealt with all the instances of sexual impropriety on the part of priests. Unfortunately, these latest cases have proven this to be a false hope. These cases are a wound from which our church will not soon recover. I do know and believe, though, that in order to move forward, prayer is where we need to begin.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

John M. Bauer
Pastor, The Basilica of Saint Mary

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/081918.cfm     

As I have mentioned previously, on the Sundays of August we read the “bread of life” discourse from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel.  In the section of the discourse we read this weekend, Jesus urges the crowd to believe that:  he is “the living bread that came down from heaven, whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”   In response to Jesus’ words we are told that “The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’”   

The Jews would have had great difficulty with these words of Jesus.  The idea of eating someone’s flesh would have been repugnant to them.   They were not able to see beyond the surface and to understand that at a deeper level Jesus was talking about being present to and within his disciples in the Eucharist under the forms of bread and wine.  As Catholics, it is our belief in the Eucharist that really distinguishes us from other religions.  For as Catholics we believe that in the Eucharist we share in Jesus’ name and memory that Jesus Christ is really and truly present.  This presence is not transitory or conditional.  It is not based on logic or rational argument.  It is for us a matter of faith.   The Eucharist inspires and empowers us in this life, but also it is the foretaste and the promise of the life to come. 

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Proverbs.   It speaks of a meal that truly satisfies.   “Come eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”    As Christians we see this feast as fulfilled in the Eucharist.  

In our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians.   In the section we read this weekend, Paul urges the Ephesians “not to continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. As Catholics, the Eucharist is at the core of our faith.  How would you explain the Eucharist to a non-believer? 
  2. What helped/caused you to believe in the Eucharist?
  3. How do you come to know the will of the Lord in your life?   
     

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081218.cfm 

Three things are happening in our Gospel this weekend.  First the people “murmur against Jesus” because he was known to them, and had said that he had “come down from heaven.”  Second, Jesus responds to them and identifies himself as the “one sent by the Father” and the “Bread of Life.” Third, Jesus promises “eternal life” to those who believe.   Each of these things is important.  Let me say a brief word about each of them.  

Certainly it is difficult to see familiar people in a new way.  We sometimes “lock” people into an early perception of them and refuse to see more than that.  This is what happened with the people in our Gospel today.   However, if we truly believe Jesus’ words, that “whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me,” it behooves us to be open to the presence of God in everyone --- even those who are known and familiar to us.  

As a Eucharistic people we are very familiar with Jesus as the Bread of Life.  We believe that in the Eucharist we celebrate and share in Jesus’ name and memory that Jesus is really and truly present, and that he is for us the Bread of Life. 

The idea of eternal life would have been foreign to the Jews of Jesus times.  For the Jews of Jesus’ time  (and even for many Jewish people today) people lived on through their descendents.   That was why it was so important to have children.   We who have grown up with the promise of eternal life would do well to take a step back every now and then, and remember and give thanks for this gracious and unmerited gift.

In our first reading today the prophet Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert and was ready for death.  An angel of the Lord brought him a hearth cake and a jug of water and ordered:  “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you.”   These words speak to us today and remind us why the Eucharist is so important.  

Finally, in our second reading today we are reminded of the vices that need to be removed from our lives and virtues we are to exhibit as followers of Jesus. 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Can you remember a time when you discovered God’s presence and/or grace in a person or place that was known and familiar to you?
  2. When has the Eucharist helped you when the journey seemed long and difficult?
  3. What vices do you need to remove from your life or conversely what virtues do you need to develop?   

One of the priests I worked with when I was first ordained was a genial Irishman who seemed to have a saying for every occasion or circumstance. When an unlikely couple presented themselves for marriage he would say: "There's no pot so beaten out of shape that you can't find a lid for it." When someone's clothing choice was a bit questionable or problematic he would say: "They must have got dressed in the dark this morning." My favorite saying, though, was when he was confronted with a situation that defied explanation or understanding. In those cases he would simply say: "Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense." This was his way of acknowledging that sometimes things just happen that are beyond our reason and over which we don’t have any control. 

Now to be honest, I have used this saying on more than a few occasions. While it is nice when there is a logical explanation for the things that happen in our lives, this certainly is always or often the case. Now sometimes those unexpected or unexplainable things that happen are good e.g. winning the lottery. I suspect, though, that more often this is not the case, e.g. we face a sudden illness, or someone we love dies unexpectedly. At these times, while we can search for meaning or understanding, these often prove elusive. 

The above is not a new problem. In the Old Testament the Book of Job dealt with the question of why bad things sometimes happened to good people. For Job's friends the answer was simple. Job must have done something wrong or bad to deserve all the terrible things that were happening to him. Job, though, knew that wasn't true. He knew he had tried to live a good life and that he didn't "deserve" what was happening to him. The resolution occurs in the final chapters of the Book of Job. God speaks and in essence says: I'm God; you're not. My ways are not your ways. 

Now I realize that for some people this is not a very satisfying response. For me, though, it helps me remember that God is in charge, and that ultimately the ways and work of God are beyond my ability to comprehend or explain. It also invites me to believe that God knows what God is doing, and that I need to learn to trust that the God who loved me into being isn't capricious or aloof in continuing to love and care for me. 

As there have been in the past, so there were will continue to be times in the future when things happen that cause us pain or anxiety, and over which we have no control. At those times we need to continue to pray. and to remember that it's okay to say: "Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense." 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/080518.cfm 

Our Gospels for the next couple of Sunday’s are taken from that section of John’s Gospel known as the Bread of Life discourse.   Our Gospel today immediately follows the story of the feeding of the 5,000.   The crowd has sought out Jesus and, upon finding him, Jesus says to them: “you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.  Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”    They then asked Jesus “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?”  Jesus didn’t respond to their desire for a sign, but instead invited them to have faith in him as the one sent from God.  He tells them:  “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”   

Often times we ask God for “signs” of God’s love and care for us.   Like the people in our Gospel today, though, we seek the signs we want and not the signs God has given us.  The challenge for us is to look through the eyes of faith and see the signs of God’s love and care that exist all around us.  

In our first reading this Sunday, from the Book of Exodus, the Israelites grumble against Moses and Aaron: “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our flesh pots and ate our fill of bread!”   Similar to the feeding of the 5,000, God sends the Israelites “manna” to eat.  When they question about it, Moses tells them:  “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is again taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians.   In the section we read this Sunday,  Paul urges the Ephesians to “put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:  

  1. Have you ever asked God for a sign only to discover later that you missed a sign that was already present?
  2. Have you ever grumbled against God when things didn’t go the way you wanted?
  3. What does it mean for you to put on the new self created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072918.cfm 

F.H.B:   “Family Hold Back” was a phrase I heard on numerous occasions when I was growing up.   Usually it occurred when my father would invite unexpected company to “stay for dinner” and my mother would go into overdrive to make sure there would be enough food for everyone.   I suspect the fact that she was Irish had something to do with this.  From her perspective running out of food was only a slightly lesser sin than denying the faith.   This memory came to mind this past week as I reflected on our Gospel for this weekend.  In that Gospel we are told that a large crowd had been following Jesus and so Jesus said to Philip:  “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”  Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.”   

Since this is one of the few incidents that is recorded in all four Gospels, this story is familiar to all of us.   Jesus took the loaves and fishes gave thanks and distributed them to the crowd and “when they had their fill, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.’  So they collected them and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.”  

There are a couple things to note in this Gospel.   First, notice that Jesus started with what was at hand.   He could have worked this miracle by himself, but he took what was at hand and built on it.   Second, when God is involved, abundance is the order of the day.  Scarcity is not an issue.  There is always more than enough.   These two things remind us that if we let God work with and through us, great things can happen.  

Our first reading this weekend from the second Book of Kings, is the account of an earlier miraculous feeding.   In this case twenty barley loaves fed over a hundred people.  “For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’”

In our second reading this weekend we continue to read from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians.   In this reading Paul urges us “to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.”   

Questions for discussion/reflection:

  1. When have you felt God’s grace encouraging your efforts so that you were able to do something that surprised you?  
  2. Do you live with an attitude of abundance or scarcity?
  3. What does it mean for you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received?   
     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072218.cfm 

In our Gospel last weekend we heard how Jesus sent out his disciples two by two to preach repentance, drive out demons, and anoint the sick with oil and cure them.   In our Gospel this weekend we see the disciples return to Jesus and “report to him all they had done and taught.”   While they no doubt were excited by their missionary efforts, Jesus also realized that the disciples were probably tired and hungry, so he said to them:  “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while”   Unfortunately, the people followed them and Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them because “they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”     

Our first reading for this weekend is from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah.    In this reading, the Lord chastises the shepherds “who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture.”  There is a clear contrast in this reading between the shepherds who have mislead and misdirected the people and the Lord, the Good Shepherd, who always has the best interests of his people close to his heart.    The connection with the Gospel is clear.   Jesus is also the Good Shepherd, whose heart is moved with pity for the flock entrusted to his care. 

In our second reading for this weekend, we continue to read from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.    In this reading Paul reminds us that in Christ Jesus we “who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Have you ever felt yourself being called to go to a deserted place and rest for a while?
  2. Clearly not all shepherds are “Good Shepherds.”   What are the hallmarks of a Good Shepherd.?
  3. When and/or how have you felt yourself becoming near to Christ?   
     

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