Fr. Bauer's Blog

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121618.cfm 

What do you think I should do?   I would guess all of us have asked this question at some point in our lives.  This was the question the crowds, the tax collectors and the soldiers asked John the Baptist in the first part of this weekend’s Gospel.   In his response John didn’t propose that any of these individuals do anything difficult or unusual.  Rather, he told them to do those things they already knew they should be doing.   And so it is with us.  As followers of Jesus we are not asked us to do anything extraordinary.  Rather we are called to live in common care and concern with each other, and to be the face and hands of Christ to those we meet.   

In the second part of this weekend’s Gospel we are told that the “people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.”  John had a clear sense of his mission and role, however, so he was able to tell the people:  “one mightier than I is coming.   I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”   

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah.  In it, Zephaniah reassures the people of Judah that if they remain faithful to God, they will have no reason to fear.  “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.”  

In the second reading this weekend from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, Paul reminds the people of Philippe that: “The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. In our Gospel for this weekend, various groups asked John the Baptist what they should do.   If you were to ask John this question, what do you think he would tell you to do? 
  2. John the Baptist was clear about his role and mission in life.   What do you think your mission in life is?
  3. In the first reading this weekend, Zephaniah told the people the Lord was in their midst.  Paul told the Philippians that the Lord was near.  Where do you find God close to you in your life?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120918.cfm 

This weekend we celebrate the second Sunday of the season of Advent.   Each year as we begin the season of Advent we also begin a new liturgical year; and each liturgical year we read a different Gospel.  This year is year C, (We are on a three year cycle of readings.), so we read from the Gospel of Luke.  (In year A we read from the Gospel of Matthew.  In year B we read from the Gospel of Mark.   We read from the Gospel of John primarily during the Easter Season, although sections of it are also used in year B to supplement Mark, which is the shortest Gospel.)   

The season of Advent has a threefold character.  It is a time for us to remember Christ’s first coming as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.   Also, though, it is a time for us to prepare our minds and hearts as we await Christ’s second coming at the end of the world.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it calls us to be ready to meet Christ as he comes (in a variety of forms) into each of our daily lives.  

Two important figures during Advent are John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary.  John heralded Jesus’ coming, and Mary models what it means for us to recognize and respond to Christ.  

The words most often associated with the season of Advent are:  waiting, anticipation, preparation, longing, expectation, joyful, and hopeful.   The joyful expectation of Advent distinguishes it from the penitential character of Lent.

In our Gospel for this weekend, Luke introduces John the Baptist.  He situates John’s proclamation within a precise historical context: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar………….”    At first this might seem odd, but when you stop and think about it don’t we do the same thing, when we try to locate an event in our lives, e.g. I know we lived on Elm Street and Bush was president when …………..”    Clearly Luke sees John’s proclamation “Prepare the way of the Lord…….” as having world wide importance.   

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Baruch.    We don’t often read from Baruch, who was reported to be the secretary to the Prophet Jeremiah.  This book was written after the fall of Jerusalem and was meant to give encouragement to the people in exile.   “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery, put on the splendor of glory from God forever.”  

Our second reading this weekend is from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.   In it Paul writes from prison to the Philippians to encourage them that “your love my increase more and more….”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. While I try to set aside some extra time for prayer during Advent, I don’t have a lot of other ideas about how to prepare the way of the Lord.   Any suggestions?  
  2. Baruch’s message was one on optimism and hope that ultimately the Lord would restore Jerusalem.   What words would you use to convey this kind of message to someone who was experiencing a time of trial or uncertainty? 
  3. Do you have any special activities planned for Advent, or any special memories of Advents, past?    
     

Our Spiritual Growth

A few months ago, in an email exchange with another priest, he mentioned that he and his siblings had been busy helping their parents pack up their house as they prepared to sell it and move to a senior living facility. For those of you who have gone through this experience, you know that it is bittersweet. On the one hand it can be very sad because it marks the end of something important—not just the sale of a house, but the sale of a home. On the other hand, it is also a time of gratitude as you remember all the good times and the wonderful experiences that took place there. Those memories are precious gifts that help soften the sadness that these endings often bring.

One of my friend’s emails contained an attachment. It was a picture of the pencil marks indicating his height and that of his brothers and sisters at various times as they were growing up. In this case their growth was measured on the inside of their father’s closet. My friend noted particularly the time when he passed his older brother in height (an achievement that time had obviously not diminished). As I looked at the picture, it brought back memories of a wall in the house where I grew up where the growth of my brothers and sisters (and later, nieces and nephews) was recorded. That house was sold many years ago and unfortunately, unlike my friend, I wasn’t smart enough to take a picture of the wall before it was sold. I suspect the new owner’s have long since painted over our wall of growth. 

As I was thinking about this experience, it struck me that in each of our lives there are various ways we measure our growth or aging. Marks on a wall are one way, but it could also be measured by a widening waist line or a receding hairline, or wrinkles. Now, while we have lots of specific ways of measuring and recording our physical growth, there isn’t any instrument or tool (at least to my knowledge) that can measure our spiritual growth. And yet, I would wager that most of us are growing spiritually. 

In reflecting on this, it occurred to me that while there may not be any external way of measuring our spiritual growth, there may be some other markers that could be helpful. Specifically, in regard to our spiritual growth, I think we need to take the long view. We need to ask ourselves on a regular basis: Am I a better person today than I was a year ago or ten years ago? Do I feel closer to God now than I did in the past? Can I identify occasions when I have experienced God’s presence in new and/or different places? Have I been surprised to discover God’s grace in unexpected ways? If we can say yes to any of these things then I think we are growing spiritually. 

While we may not be able to measure our spiritual growth with marks on a wall, I do believe that it nonetheless does occur. We need only take some time to reflect on our life, so that we might discover that perhaps unbeknownst to us we have indeed been growing in our spiritual life, and, as importantly, that God is always inviting us to enter even more deeply into our relationship with God. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120218.cfm     

This weekend we begin the season of Advent and a new liturgical year.   We are on a three year cycle for our Sunday readings, and each cycle features a different Gospel.  This is year C so we read Luke’s Gospel.  (We read Matthew’s Gospel in year A and Mark’s Gospel in year B.  We read John’s Gospel primarily during the Easter season and to supplement Mark’s Gospel, which is the shortest Gospel.)   

In our Gospel this weekend, Luke speaks about the end times.  This type of literature is known as apocalyptic literature.  Usually it was written to people who were suffering persecution.  It uses very vivid, symbolic language to offer people hope during this time of persecution.  It reminded them that despite the sufferings of the present, all eventually would be well.   It also cautioned people not to lose heart but to stay true to God.  This is the message of today’s Gospel.  “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”   

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.   The section we read this weekend offers hope to the people of Israel during a time of when they were being threatened by outside forces.  The words of Jeremiah remind them that God will be true to God’s covenant and the promises God made to their ancestors.  “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah ……………….In those days, Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure.”  

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians.  In the section we read this weekend, Paul prays that the Lord will make the Thessalonians  “increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Why are so many people fascinated with the end times?   
  2. What gives you hope and/or confidence that God will be true to his promises?
  3. What do you think Paul means when he prays that people’s hearts will be strengthened? 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112518.cfm 

This coming Sunday 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 always begins with the Fist Sunday of Advent.)    

Our readings this Sunday have an apocalyptic tone.  As I have said previously, apocalyptic writing is very stylized.   It uses vivid imagery and dramatic language, as well as visionary and prophetic images to make its point.  Apocalyptic language was used in times of trail or difficulty to assure people that despite the suffering of the present moment, God was with them and ultimately would triumph.   Apocalyptic literature is not meant to be taken literally.

Our Gospel this Sunday is taken from the Gospel of John.  It is the scene of Jesus before Pilate.   Pilate asks Jesus:  “Are you the King of the Jews?”   Jesus reminds Pilate and us that “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”   While ostensibly Pilate is in charge of this encounter, from John’s perspective (and ours) Jesus is the one who is in control.   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Daniel.   It is part of Daniel’s vision in which he saw “one like a Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” to be present to the “Ancient One.”   We would see this language as prefiguring Christ.   

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Revelation.  It is a hymn of praise for Christ.   “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who had made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. We aren’t big on royalty in the United States.  How would you explain Christ the King to an unbeliever?   
  2. What would you say to someone who takes a literal approach to apocalyptic literature?     
  3. What are the hallmarks of one who tries to live as a member of the Kingdom of God?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111818.cfm    

 

It seems that every few years someone predicts that the world will end on a specific date, or in a particular year.   So far all of these predictions have been wrong, but that hasn’t stopped people from continuing to predict the end of the world. 

 

In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus talks about the end times.  He said: “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the starts will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”   This imagery is vivid and stark.  It reminds us that the end times will come and there will be a summation of the world and a time of judgment. 

 

It is important to remember, though, that at the end of this Gospel Jesus also says:  "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”    These words remind us that while we do believe that the world will one day come to an end, we shouldn’t spend our time wondering and worrying about when it will occur.  Rather, we should live our lives in such a way that we will be prepared whenever it comes. 

 

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Daniel.   It too speaks of the end times.  It also is hopeful, though.  For the closing verse of today’s reading says:  “But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.” 

 

For our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the Letter to the Hebrews.   Today’s selection contrasts the Jewish priests of the Old Testament with Jesus Christ:  “But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God:”

 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Why do you think people continue to predict the end of the world?
  2. If you knew the world was going to end at a certain point in the future, what would you do differently?  
  3. If you would do something differently if you knew the end of the world was coming, why aren’t you doing that now?    

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111118.cfm 

Our Gospel this weekend opens with Jesus sitting opposite the temple treasury.   He watched as people put money in the treasury.  In fact, “Many rich people put in large sums.”   Then “a poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.  Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, ‘Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.’”   

It is easy to be generous when we have a surplus.  As Christians, though, the challenge for us is to give from our hearts, not from our surplus.   We are called to share generously --- whether it be our money, our time, our possessions, our care and concern, whatever it might be --- we are called to share simply because we are able to do so.   As followers of Jesus we are to share our blessings because we recognize that we have been blessed.   

Our first reading this weekend from the first Book of Kings shares the theme of the Gospel.  We are told that Elijah went to the home of a widow in the town of Zarephath.   He asked her for a cup of water and a bit of bread.  She told him that she had “only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug.”   Elijah told her not to worry to “make a little cake and bring it to me……………For the Lord, the God of Israel says, ‘The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’”   As a result of her generosity in sharing what little she had, “She was able to eat for a year and her son as well; the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.”    

We continue to read from the Letter to the Hebrews in our second reading this weekend.   It reminds us “so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:  

  1. Can you recall a time when you shared/gave more than you had anticipated?   What motivated you to do this?
  2. Why does sharing seem to be easier for some people than for others? 
  3. How would you describe salvation to someone who comes from a non-Christian background?  
     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.   
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110418.cfm 

Our Gospel this Sunday is very familiar.  For this reason it would be easy not to give it a lot of thought or attention.  It is such an important Gospel, though, that I would hope we would take a few moments to really listen to it so that we can realize anew its important message.   

As this Gospel opens we are told that “one of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him.  “Which is the first of all the commandments?’”   Now this would not have been an unusual question.  At the time of Jesus there were over 600 commands, precepts, and prohibitions in the Jewish law.  Rabbis were often asked about the relative importance of these various commands.   What is unusual is Jesus’ answer.  Jesus does not give just one commandment:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” but two: “The second is this:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  At this point, we are told that the scribe who originally approached Jesus told him these two commandments are “worth more than all burnt offering and sacrifices.”  Jesus then said to him:  “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”    

Now certainly both of these commandments had always been part of the Jewish religion.  What was unique in this instance is that Jesus yoked them together.  In essence he was reminding people we can’t love the God we do not see, if we don’t love the neighbor we do see.   

Our first reading this Sunday from the Book of Deuteronomy, provides the background for the Gospel.   In that reading Moses told the people:  “Hear O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!  Therefore you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heat, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Our second reading this Sunday is again taken from the Letter to the Hebrews.  It contrasts Jesus, our high priest, with the priests of the Old Testament: “He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people;   He did that once for all when he offered himself.”    

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. It is easy to say we love God, but how do we know when we really love God?  
  2. Why is it so much easier to love the God we cannot see, then to love the neighbor we do see? 
  3. I love the image of Jesus offering himself for us.   How would you explain this concept to someone who doesn’t come from a Christian background?    

     

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102818.cfm

In this Sunday’s Gospel we encounter Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, who on hearing that Jesus was near began to shout:  “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”    Several people rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he was undeterred.  He kept calling out all the more; “Son of David, have pity on me.”  When Jesus heard him, he called him over.   In response we are told that Bartimaeus “threw aside his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus.” Jesus then asked him: “What do you want me to do for you?”   Bartimaeus’ response was immediate and clear.  “Master, I want to see.”   Jesus then healed him, and Bartimaeus “followed him on the way.”    

There are three important moments in this story.  The first is Bartimaeus’ persistence in calling out to Jesus.  This reminds us that we too need to be persistent when we cry out to Jesus in prayer.  We need to remember, though, that persistence in prayer always needs to be combined with an openness to how God might respond to that prayer.   Second, I believe the fact that Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak is important.  For a beggar a cloak was vitally important.  Not only was it the target where people could throw their alms, but it was his shelter during the cold night.   By throwing aside his cloak Bartimaeus was clear that he didn’t want anything to hinder him from coming to Jesus.  Third, notice that after he was cured, Bartimaeus did not go his own way, but rather “followed” Jesus on his way.     The encounter with Jesus was so life changing for Bartimaeus that Jesus’ way became his way.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.  It announces the return of the Israelites from the Babylonian captivity.  “I will gather them from the ends of the word, with the blind and the lame in their midst.”  

In our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the Letter to the Hebrews.  In the section we read this weekend we are reminded that Jesus was chosen by God to be our high priest and to intercede for us: “it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the One who said to him: You are my son; this day I have begotten you;”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Bartimaeus would not let anyone deter him from calling out to Jesus.  Have you ever let anyone or anything keep you from calling out to Jesus? 
  2. In the Gospel Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak so that it would not hinder his effort to get to Jesus.  What do you need to throw aside in order to follow Jesus?
  3. What does the phrase “high priest” 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/102118.cfm   

Some times it takes us a while to “get it.”   That was certainly the case with the disciples in our Gospel for this weekend.   In the verses immediately preceding this Gospel Jesus has told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem where the chief priests and the scribes will “hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him and spit at him, flog him, and finally kill him.”  These are difficult words, made more so by the fact that this is the third time Jesus had predicted his passion and death.   And yet his disciples, in particular James and John, still don’t “get it.”    Even after hearing these words we are told in our Gospel for this weekend that “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’    Jesus replied, ‘What do you wish me to do for you?’  They answered him, ‘Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left’”    
Jesus rebuked them and then reminded them that his disciples will find their greatness in suffering and service.    

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah.   As was the case several weeks ago, the section read this weekend is part of the Song of the Suffering Servant.   This “song” provided an important basis for our Christian understanding of the mystery of Christ’s suffering and death.  The section we read this weekend reminds us that life can come out of suffering.   “Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days, though his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.”  

For our second reading we continue to read from the Letter to the Hebrews.   It reminds us that, although  Jesus is our high priest, he is able to “sympathize with our weakness” because he “has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. How would you respond if someone asked you why innocent people suffer?
  2. Have you seen life, or some other good, come out of suffering?
  3. Do you believe that Jesus can sympathize with our weakness?  

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