Fr. Bauer's Blog

Important Questions

In the Gospels, Jesus always asked interesting questions. Do you also want to leave? (Jn. 6:67) What do you want me to do for you? (Lk.18.41) Do you love me? (Jn.21.17) What are you looking for? (Jn.1:38) Do you not yet understand or comprehend? (Mk.8.18) Do you want to be healed? (Jn.5.6). Now originally, Jesus asked these questions of those individuals who came to him with a concern or question, or who wanted him to do something for them. I believe, though, that these are also questions Jesus asks of all of us who are his followers. 

Now the questions Jesus asked are not only very interesting, they are also very important. They are the questions we each need to consider as we seek to follow Jesus. As important as these questions are, though, I think equally important are how we answer them. For our answers remind us that in terms of following Jesus, while we know in broad terms what is required of us i.e. we are called to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, the specifics of how we are called to live this out will vary with each individual. 

For example, the question “What do you want me to do for you?” will have a unique answer for each of us. Some people may be looking for guidance, others assurance, others friendship; still others, healing or hope. And, while our answers may change as our life situation changes, the questions don’t. 

Being like us in all things but sin, Jesus knew our human needs, wants and longings. And he also knew that ultimately the answer to our deepest needs, wants, and longings—the answer to all our questions is to be found only in God. So Jesus continually asked questions that invited us to look beyond our limited horizon and to recognize and respond to God’s presence and to be open to the grace that God is always offering us. 

As I said above, the questions Jesus asked in the Gospels are not only interesting, they are important. They are the questions for each of our lives. They challenge us to go beyond the surface, to dive deep, and to recognize our fundamental and abiding need for God in our lives. More importantly, they invite us to recognize that ultimately it is God and God alone who is the answer to our deepest wants, needs and longings. 

As we begin this new year, let us ponder the questions Jesus asks. And more importantly, let us pray that we might be more and more open to realizing that ultimately God is the answer to these and to all our questions.

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

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, The Mother of God.   Our Gospel reading this Sunday tells the story of the visit of the shepherds to the new born Christ child.   We are told that after the shepherds arrived in Bethlehem “they made known the message that had been told them about this child. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”   In this, I think Mary provides a good model for us.  Clearly she knew that the birth of her Son was the work of God.  But at that point she didn’t have a clear understanding of what his birth meant and what his life would entail.  She was not angry about this.  She did not complain about it.   She didn’t worry about it.  Instead she took in all the events surrounding his birth and reflected on them in her heart.  

As we begin a new year with all its possibilities and uncertainties, I think it would be good for us to follow Mary’s example, to take in all that this new year will hold for us, to reflect on it and pray about it, and to trust that in God’s good time their meaning and purpose will become known to us. 

In our first reading this Sunday from the Book of Numbers the Lord tells Moses to teach a blessing to Aaron and his sons that they might bless the Israelites.  The blessing is simple, yet eloquent: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!  The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”   This prayer of blessing reminds us of God’s graciousness and love, which are poured out on all believers. 

Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Galatians.  In it Paul reminds the Galatians that because of Jesus Christ we are all children of God.  “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’  So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, though God.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Has there been a time when initially you didn’t understand something, but through prayer and reflection came to understand it over time? 
  2. When have you experienced God’s graciousness and love in your life? 
  3. Is it easy to see yourself as a son/daughter of God?

Scripture Speaks

I think I have mentioned before, but I really enjoy the Christmas letters that accompany many of the Christmas cards I receive. I realize that sometimes these letters are “over the top” in terms of announcing the accomplishments of various family members during the past year. And occasionally they do cross the line and become more fiction than fact, or worse, more confessional (revealing things that were perhaps better left unsaid) than newsy. Despite these occasional misfires, though, I do love those Christmas letters. 

I follow a similar practice with all the Christmas letters I receive. I read them when I first receive them and then a couple weeks after Christmas I go through them again and re-read them. The reason for this is that I have discovered that more often than not, I pick up something the second time around that I failed to notice on my first reading. Sometimes it is a fact I overlooked or a nuance that I failed to notice the first time through. In any case, reading these letters again often yields an insight I missed the first time through. 

Just as we discover new things when we re-read Christmas letters, I believe something similar happens when we read the scriptures. Often times when I read a familiar scripture passage, something new will pop out. Sometimes it is a word or phrase that will catch my eye. Sometimes a new insight or a new understanding will present itself. While this doesn’t occur every time I read the scriptures, it happens often enough that I am no longer surprised when it does. 

I believe the above is particularly true with the scriptures we read at Christmas. Each time we read those familiar passages they invite us to enter anew into the wonderful mystery of God’s love made visible to us in the birth of Jesus Christ. While we may not remember many—if any—Christmas homilies, I’m willing to bet that we all remember the scripture accounts of Jesus’ birth. When we read or hear those words of scripture we are brought back to the root and core of Christmas. They have the power to speak to the deepest parts of our heart, and remind us that God so loved the world that He gave form and flesh to that love in the infant born in Bethlehem.

The beauty and wonder of scripture is that because it is the inspired word of God, it can speak to us in a way that no other words can. This Christmas, as we hear or read again the story of Jesus’ birth, let us allow those simple words of scripture to speak to our heart and soul. May they help us to remember anew the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love revealed to us in the gift of his son Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. And let us pray that we might always strive to be worthy of such a great gift. 

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

This Sunday we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent.   Our Gospel this Sunday is the story of  Joseph learning of Mary’s pregnancy, and how he responded to it.   We are told that: “Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.  For it is through, the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”    We are then told that “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”   

I suspect that even though an angel had communicated God’s will to him, that Joseph didn’t completely understand God’s ways and work.  This is a wonderful example of what faith is all about.  Faith doesn’t necessarily provide understanding.  Rather faith helps us realize that even when we don’t understand, that God is with us and for us, and ultimately will bring light out of darkness, good out of evil, and life out of death. 

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  It contains what we Christians believe is a prophecy of Christ’s birth.  “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is the opening verses of the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   Paul says that he was called to be an apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God “………. The Gospel about his Son descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Have you ever accepted in faith, something that you didn’t understand? 
  2. How has faith helped you when you have encountered difficulties? 
  3. Have you ever felt yourself set apart or called by God to do something?  

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

This Sunday we celebrate the third Sunday of the season of Advent.  This Sunday is sometimes referred to as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, because our time of waiting and preparation is nearing its end.   On this Sunday the priest wears Rose colored vestments and the pink candle on the Advent wreath is lit.  Together they  set a tone of joyful expectation as we await the Lord’s birth and anticipate his second coming.    

In our Gospel this Sunday we find John the Baptist in prison.  He knows (or at least suspects) that he doesn’t have much longer to live.   And so we are told that “he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’”   Interestingly, Jesus does not respond with a yes or no to John’s question.   Instead Jesus tells John’s disciples:  “Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”   Most probably John’s disciples would have recognized these words as coming from the book of the prophet Isaiah. These words are part of our first reading this Sunday.   They envision a time of new life and hope when the Messiah will come.  

As noted above, our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   In the section we read today Isaiah offers a hopeful vision that, at some point in the future, God will deliver God’s people from captivity and oppression, and they will know vindication, healing and new life.   

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter of Saint James.  While it reflects the idea prevalent in the early church that the return of the Lord was imminent, it does provide some practical advice. “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1.  What gives you cause to rejoice on this Sunday?   
  2.  While we believe that at some point in the future Christ will come again, it is also our firm and abiding belief that he is present with us now.  What signs of Christ’s presence and grace do you see in the world around you?  
  3.  How do we be patient as we wait for the coming of the Lord?   

Waiting. I don’t think we’re very good at it anymore. But then again, maybe we never were very good at it. In this fast paced, electronically driven, and hectic world we seem to get frustrated very easily if we have to wait for any length of time. We’ve gone from voicemail to email. That wasn’t fast enough, so now we text and instant message people. And waiting in a line at a store or at a stoplight can feel like doing hard time in prison. Waiting feels like time wasted. And who can afford to waste time these days. We are a busy people. We have way too much to do. Every second counts. 

But now we are in the season of Advent, and Advent is all about waiting. During this season, we remember all those faithful and faith-filled people who waited in hope for the messiah to come. So maybe a little waiting is a good thing. Now I know this is probably a heretical thought for some people. I think, though, that there are some real and tangible benefits to waiting. In fact, I’d like to suggest four specific benefits to waiting. You may disagree with them of course, but I think they are worth reflecting on. 

1. Waiting reminds us that God is in control. Or looked at another way, waiting reminds us that we are not in control. Now I realize that for some people this may be a difficult concept to accept. For many people control is an emotion, and not being in control can be anxiety producing. Ultimately, though, waiting reminds us that God is in control and we are not. This is a lesson some of us need to learn over and over again. 

2. Waiting reminds us that the present matters. It is easy to focus on what we have to do today, or what we have to do next week or next month. Waiting gives us the opportunity to remember that the future is in God’s hands not ours. The present is what we have and we need to make the most of it. Being aware of the present can help us recognize the grace that is always being offered to us at this time, in this moment, in this circumstance. 

3. Waiting reminds us that all that we have and all we are is a gift from God. When we are caught in a traffic jam, we can choose to grumble and complain about the loss of our precious time. On the other hand, though, we can use those moments to thank God for the blessings we enjoy in our lives. And in thanking God for those blessings we are reminded of the gift that life is, and what it means for us. 

4. Waiting reminds us that we are not the center of the universe. Now while none of us really believes we are the center of the universe, we sometimes act this way. It is just too easy to get caught up in our own plans and priorities. Without intending or acknowledging it, we can believe that every thing we do is of absolute and critical importance. Waiting can help us remember that we aren’t the center of the universe. That doesn’t mean that we are unimportant. Rather, waiting just puts us in the same boat as everyone else. 

Now perhaps the above won’t give you a new perspective on waiting, I hope, though, that at least it will help you to begin to think of waiting in a new way, especially during this season of Advent. Most particularly, I hope it gets you to think that the waiting time of Advent is not wasted time. For in Advent, while we know for whom we are waiting, it is important that we allow our waiting to remind us that the birth of the Jesus is part of God’s plan and the fulfillment of God’s promises. And clearly celebrating the birth of our Messiah is something that is well worth waiting for. 

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

This Sunday we celebrate the second Sunday of the season of Advent.  Each year on the Second Sunday of Advent our Gospel reading presents us with the familiar figure of John the Baptist.   This year we read Matthew’s account of John’s preaching.   We are told that John’s message was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”    Those who came out to hear John were the people around the region of the Jordan who “were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.”    However, when “he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers!’”    Clearly John, like Jesus who would follow him, saw the Pharisees and Sadducees as opposing rather than supporting his message.  

It is also important to note that John clearly understood his roll vis-à-vis Jesus.  He said: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”  

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   It is Isaiah’s prophecy of a future King from the “stump of Jesse.” (Jesse was the father of King David.) The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon this future King:  “a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight will be the fear of the Lord.”  (If these words sound familiar they are what we Catholics refer to as the “gifts of the Holy Spirit.”)   

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans.  In it Paul asks that “the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. I have always been impressed with John the Baptist’s clarity in regard to his mission.   How do you think he came to such clarity?
  2. John describes himself as not being worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals.  How would you describe yourself in relation to Jesus? 
  3. As a child I had to memorize the gifts (as well as the fruits) of the Holy Spirit.    I was always troubled by the gift of fear of the Lord.   Someone then suggested that I substitute the words “wonder” or “awe” for fear.   That made much more sense to me.   How do we exhibit wonder or awe of God?   

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

This weekend, as we celebrate the First Sunday of the season of Advent, we begin a new liturgical year.  This year we will use the “A” cycle of readings, which means that our Gospel readings will be taken primarily from the Gospel of Matthew.   

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”   In essence he was saying that people will be doing normal everyday things when the end comes.   He sumed up his comments by saying:  “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. "   Clearly Jesus was reminding his followers that we are not to live as did the people of Noah’s time, thinking only of their present comfort and happiness, and giving no thought to the future.   Rather, we are to stay awake and be prepared for no one knows when the Son of Man will return, or when one’s own life will end.   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  In this reading Isaiah offers comfort and hope to the people of Israel who are under threat from their enemies.  In this reading Isaiah reminds the people that if they are true to their covenant with God, “many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come let us climb the Lord’s mountain to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.’”  

Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans.   This letter probably was written somewhere between 55 – 60 AD, and reflects the common thinking at that time that the second coming of Jesus was imminent.   Paul says:  “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.  For your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. It is easy to become lulled into thinking only of our comfort in the present moment and to forget about being prepared for the Lord’s coming.   What is one concrete thing you could do to keep better focused on being prepared for the Lord’s coming?
  2. Priests of our Archdiocese are asked to do advance planning for our funerals.  It is an interesting experience.  If you knew the end of your life was approaching what would you do to plan for it?  
  3. How would you respond to someone who claimed the return of the Lord was near?    

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

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.  This Feast was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925.   Seeing the devastation caused by World War I, Pius established this Feast as a way to remind people that Christ is Lord of both heaven and earth.  Initially this Feast was celebrated on the last Sunday in October, but when the Roman Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar in 1969 it was moved to the last Sunday of the liturgical year.  (The new liturgical year will begin on November 27th  with the First Sunday of Advent.)    

Our Gospel this Sunday is the scene of the crucifixion.   Jesus is ridiculed by the rulers and jeered at by the soldiers.   We are told that the soldiers taunted him by saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.”   There were also two criminals crucified with Jesus.  One of them reviled Jesus saying:  “Are you not the Christ?   Save yourself and us.”   The other rebuked him, however, and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom.   In reply Jesus said to him:  “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the second book of Samuel.   It recounts the story of David being anointed as King of Israel.  As Christians, we see the Kingship of David as pre-figuring the eternal Kingship of Christ. 

Our second reading this Sunday contains a wonderful Christological hymn (a hymn to Christ).   It is St. Paul’s pronouncement of Christ’s place in God’s plan of salvation.   The hymn really needs to be read in its entirety to fully appreciate it, but it reminds us that:  “He is the image of the invisible God ……………………. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”    

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1.  A friend of mine likes to say that the criminal who asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom was a thief to the end, in that he even stole heaven.   Hearing Jesus’ response to his fellow criminal why do you think the other criminal didn’t also ask to be remembered when Jesus came into his Kingdom?
  2. Jesus’ exchange with the “good thief” gives me a profound sense of hope that the gift of eternal life will be offered to all who are open to that gift.    What do we need to do to be open to that gift? 
  3. What does it mean to call Christ our King? 

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

This weekend we celebrate the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.   As we come close to the end of this liturgical year, (It will end next weekend when we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.) our Gospel reading focuses on the end times.    It begins with Jesus reminding people that: “All that you see here --- the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”   The people naturally ask:  “Teacher, when will this happen?  And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”   In response to this question Jesus tells the people not to follow anyone who comes in his name saying:  “The time has come.” He then describes catastrophes and calamities that will occur before the end times.   He ends, though, with a note of consolation:  “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair of your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”   Notice that Jesus doesn’t promise that his disciples won’t experience pain or difficulties.  He does promise, though, that ultimately God will triumph.   

Our first reading this Sunday is from the prophet Malachi.   It shares the apocalyptic theme of the Gospel. Like the Gospel, though, it also offers a promise of consolation and hope:   “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”  

For our second reading this Sunday, we continue to read from the second Letter of St. Paul to the Thessalonians.  In this reading, Paul reminds the Thessalonians (and us) that while we await the end times, we are not to grow slack or idle. Rather, Paul is clear that we are to work diligently as we await the return of the Lord and “if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. There seems to be a constant ebb and flow in regard to interest in the “end times”   Why do you think this is? 
  2. When have you felt God’s comforting grace in the face of difficulties or pain? 
  3. Has there been a time when you have grown slack or been idle in your faith?   What re-energized your faith?