Fr. Bauer's Blog

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

This weekend we begin the season of Lent.   Now as you may have heard me mention before, when I was growing up I used to look forward to Lent with all the excitement of a trip to the Dentist.  (My apologies to any dentists who might be reading this.)  As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve come to realize how important and how good the season of Lent is for our Church, as well as for me personally.   It is a time to step back from the usual activities of life and focus on our relationship with God.   We do this through the primary activities of Lent:  Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.    In our prayer we attend to God.  Through our fasting we deny ourselves what we want to discover what we really need.   And in our almsgiving, we offer from our surplus, to those who have little or nothing.  

Each year on the first Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Temptation of Christ in the desert.  This year we read from the Gospel of Matthew.   The basic details of the temptation are the same in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  In these Gospels Jesus faces three temptations:  The temptation to take care of his own needs (turn stones into loaves of bread); the temptation to a grandiose display of power (throw yourself down from the parapet of the temple); and finally the temptation to worldly authority and might (all the kingdoms of the world I shall give you, if you only worship me).   We all face similar temptations in our lives --- certainly not to the extent that Jesus did --- but temptations that are similar in kind, if not strength and intensity.   Jesus has shown us, though, that God’s grace is sufficient to resist these temptations.    

In our first reading this weekend we read the scriptural account of the temptation of Adam and Eve.   It serves as a counterpoint to the Gospel.   Unlike Adam and Even, Jesus does not succumb to temptation.  

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   It follows the theme of the Gospel and first reading and reminds us that “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so, through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. We all face temptations in our lives. Now certainly the temptations we face aren’t nearly as intense or as powerful as those faced by Jesus.  Would you agree, though, that in one way or another we all face temptations similar to those faced by Jesus?   
  2. Christians did not invent temptation.  We do believe, though, that we have found the remedy for temptation in Jesus Christ. When has God’s grace helped you to resist temptation?  
  3. Why do some people seem better able to resist temptation than others?

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

“Don’t worry.  Be happy.” This was the title of a song made famous by Bobby McFerrin in 1988.   I never liked it.   It always struck me as a bit insipid, if not just plain dumb.   At times we all worry.  At times we are all troubled, concerned, and even anxious.   Yet in our Gospel this weekend for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life………………”    “So do not worry and say:  ‘What are we to eat?’ or “What are we to drink?’, or ‘What are we to wear?’  All these things the pagans seek.  Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”   

What are we to make of these words of Jesus?   We have only to look around us to know that there is much to be anxious about in today’s world.   Is Jesus suggesting that we manifest a naïveté about the troubles that exist in the world, or that we live our lives unconcerned and/or unaware of the evil that often surrounds us?    I don’t think so.  Rather I believe he was inviting us not to give ourselves over to worry and anxiety, but rather to trust in God and to believe that ultimately our future is assured.  A trusting heart will find serenity and peace in God’s presence and grace.   

Our first reading this weekend shares the theme of our Gospel.  Through the prophet Isaiah God reminds us:  “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?   Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”  

Our second reading this weekend once again is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.   In it Paul reminds the people of Corinth how they should view their leaders.   He is clear:  “Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”   Sadly, particularly in light of the sexual abuse crisis in our church, this has not always been the case with some of the leaders in our Church, 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. What causes you worry or anxiety?
  2. Have you ever brought your worries or anxieties to God in prayer?   What was the result?
  3. What would you like to say to those leaders in our church who have not been found trustworthy?   
View of the Basilica nave and sanctuary

Two Words: Time and Prayer

Perhaps it was the nasty tone of this year’s election, or perhaps people are just generally growing less tolerant, but it seems to me that lately people are becoming more and more irritable and prickly. In emails and voicemails people are curt and rude, and sometimes even openly hostile. And when you’re driving, people flash their lights, honk their horns, and more and more frequently use an obscene gesture to let you know they are not pleased with you. 

While the above is bad, worse for me is the fact that I find myself responding in-kind when I think people are being nasty or ill-tempered. It amazes me how quickly I can “go negative” with someone in response to an email or a voicemail that is rude or snarky. I don’t think I am alone in this. In our world today, there seems to be a limited supply of tolerance and giving someone the benefit of the doubt. 

An example of this for me was an email I received several months ago from someone I considered a friend. I felt personally attacked in the email and as a result, my response was less than pastoral. This started a series of back and forth emails, until it finally dawned on me that while I was inwardly (and outwardly) complaining about the tone and tenor of the emails I was being sent, my responses were no better. I realized that if this kept up there was no way the exchange would end well. Given this, I said that I thought it would be best if we would simply have to agree to disagree and that we should terminate the exchange. I then wished them well. 

Not being very pleased with my behavior I talked to another priest about it. His response was two words: time and prayer. Specifically he suggested that I not respond immediately to emails, voicemails, people, or situations that I find irritating. Instead he suggested I take some time to reflect on why I was feeling irritated or under attack. After I had taken some time to reflect on the situation, he then proposed that I bring it to prayer. He suggested that time and prayer were the ingredients to a healthier perspective. 

I have been trying to follow this priest’s advice for the past several weeks. And while I’d like to report that I have been one hundred percent successful, if the truth be told, I still continue to fall into the trap of responding in-kind to words and behaviors I perceive to be rude or snarky. On the plus side, however, there have been more than a few occasions, when by taking the time to reflect and pray, I have toned down my response and/or given the other person the benefit of the doubt regarding their words and intentions.

While it shouldn’t be that hard to take the time to reflect and pray before we respond to situations and people that irritate or upset us, I think this is something we all too often fail to do. It is something I am trying to put into practice, though. And while they say that “practice makes perfect,” I suspect that it will take a lot more time and prayer before perfection is even a remote possibility.

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

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find Jesus words in our Gospel today to be among his most difficult.   In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples: “offer no resistance to one is evil;”  “turn the other cheek;”  “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow;”  “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you;”   These are hard words to hear, and harder still to live out.  Yet Jesus doesn’t qualify them or offer a context for them that might make them more palatable.  Instead he concludes these remarks by saying:  “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  

What are we to make of these words of Jesus?   Four things come immediately to mind.  1.  Jesus was serious.  He meant what he said.   2.  As disciples of Jesus we are called to give witness to these words by the way we live.   3.  Clearly we don’t always do this. Sin and failure are a part of each of our lives.   4.  Ultimately, it is only with God’s grace that we can live them out.     

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Leviticus.   It shares the theme of the Gospel.  In the section we read this weekend, we are told:  “The Lord said to Moses:  ‘Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: ………………... You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart ………………... Take no revenge and cherish no grudge again any of your people.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”    

Our second reading this weekend once again is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In it Paul reminds the Corinthians that as “the temple of God,” they are called to be holy.    

Questions for reflection/discussion:

  1. If we believe in Jesus Christ, and take his words in today’s Gospel seriously, why do we have such difficulty putting them into practice?  
  2. When you have given witness to these words of Jesus in your life?
  3. Have you ever thought of yourself or someone else as a “temple” of God? 

There is both a long form and short form of our Gospel this Sunday.  The remarks below are based on the short form of the Gospel.  For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.

I suspect we have all encountered people who could be described as “holier than thou.”  This oft used phrase paints a picture of an individual who’s words and actions suggest an attitude of religious superiority and/or self righteousness.   Such were the scribes and Pharisees at the time of Jesus.    They were not necessarily bad people.  The problem was they thought that by knowing and following the law to the letter, they were models of holiness and righteousness.   The difficulty with this was that they had allowed the following of the law to become an end in itself and not a means by which they could grow in and develop their relationship with God.     That is why Jesus’ opening words in our Gospel today are important:  "I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”    Jesus then goes on to challenge those who would be his disciples to go beyond the law in their words and actions.  This continues to be our challenge.   We may not have born false witness or harmed a neighbor, but have we truly tried to love our neighbor as our self.   Following the letter of the law is far easier than giving witness to the law by the witness of our lives.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Sirach.  In the section we read today the author reminds us of the importance of following God’s commandments. The commandments, though, are given to help us live justly and uprightly.   Following them is not an end in itself.  

Our second reading this Sunday is once again taken from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.   It reminds us of God’s mysterious and hidden wisdom.  It closes with the wonderful promise:  “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:   

  1. Has there been a time when you have followed the letter of the law, but have stopped at that point? 
  2. Do you think your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees? 
  3. What do you think God has prepared for those who love him? 

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

“Pass the salt, please.”   How often do we use those words in a given week?   I suspect that even those who are trying to cut down on their salt intake still use these words a fair amount of the time.   Salt is perhaps the most common seasoning.  It is an inexpensive way to give zest and flavor to whatever it is added.  

In our Gospel today for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus tells his disciples that they are “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.”   In these familiar words Jesus reminds his disciples that they are to live in such a way as to have an impact on the world around them.   Jesus is clear.  No one “lights a lamp and then puts it under a bushel basket;  it is set on a lampstand, where is gives light to all in the house.”   But we aren’t to be “salt” and “light” so that others will think highly of us.   Rather we are to be salt and light so that people “may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father.”   

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.    In it Isaiah exhorts the people to “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.  Then your light will shine forth like the dawn.”    Clearly being a “light” requires some concrete and specific actions, not just good thoughts.   

Our second reading this weekend again comes from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.    In it Paul tells the people of Corinth that he “did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom …….... so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.”  

Questions for discussion/reflection:

  1. When have you been salt or light to those around you?
  2. When has someone been salt or light to you?   
  3. When has your faith been encouraged not by someone’s words, but by someone’s actions?  

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

“It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with cancer that I realized how many people loved me.”   A former parishioner said these words when I visited him in the hospital many years ago.   While no one enjoys it when bad things happen to them, these situations often do help people realize how much their family and friends care for them.  Given this, in a certain sense, perhaps they could be regarded as a blessing.       

In our Gospel this Sunday for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we read Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes. (Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes differs from Luke’s in that in Matthew’s account has 9 blessings, while Luke’s account contains 4 blessings and 4 woes.)   While the Beatitudes are very poetic and beautiful, if we’re honest I suspect that if we didn’t know they were the words of Jesus, most of us would regard them as illogical or even absurd.   Who would believe that those who experience the conditions mentioned in the Beatitudes are “blessed?”   In the Beatitudes, though, Jesus suggests that these are qualities of his disciples.  As importantly, while these conditions are not of themselves occasions of grace, Jesus is clear that, in them, his disciples can find and know God’s grace and love.

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah.   We don’t often read from Zephaniah, who was a prophet during the 7th Century B.C.E.   In today’s reading, Zephaniah exhorts the Israelites to remain faithful to the Lord, to observe the law, and to seek justice and humility that they “may be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.”     

Our second reading this weekend is once again taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.   In it Paul echoes the theme of the Gospel when he tells the people of Corinth “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something……...” 

Questions for discussion/reflection:

1.  When have you discovered a blessing in what was originally a misfortune?
2.  Which of the Beatitudes speaks most clearly to you?  
3.  Why is God so fond of the lowly and meek?   

Just before Christmas, Fr. Welch, one of our weekend presiders, sent me an email that contained a picture that had been published in several newspapers. The picture was that of a 21-week-old unborn baby named Samuel Alexander Armas. The baby was being operated on by a surgeon named Joseph Bruner. The reason for the surgery was that the baby had been diagnosed with spina bifida and would not survive if removed from his mother's womb. Samuel’s mother, Julie Armas, is an obstetrics nurse in Atlanta, and had heard of Dr. Bruner’s remarkable surgical procedure—a procedure in which Dr. Bruner performs these special operations while the baby is still in the womb. 

During the operation, the doctor removed the uterus via C-section and made a small incision to operate on the baby. As Dr. Bruner completed the surgery on Samuel, the baby reached his tiny, but fully developed hand through the incision and firmly grasped the surgeon’s finger. Dr. Bruner was reported as saying that when his finger was grasped, it was the most emotional moment of his life, and that for an instant during the procedure he was just frozen, totally immobile. 

The photograph that accompanied the email captured this amazing event with perfect clarity. The editors titled the picture, “Hand of Hope.” The text explaining the picture began, “The tiny hand of 21-week-old fetus Samuel Alexander Armas emerges from his mother’s uterus to grasp the finger of Dr. Joseph Bruner as if thanking the doctor for the “gift of life.” Samuel’s mother said they “wept for days” when they saw the picture. She said; “The photo reminds us pregnancy isn't about disability or an illness, it’s about a little person. Samuel was born in perfect health, the operation 100 percent successful.”

Now I mention the above because this Sunday, January 22 we celebrate the 44th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. And while many herald this anniversary as a once and for all victory for those who advocate abortion rights, I have to ask, whether in light of the changes in the care we can now offer during pregnancy, and especially given the fact that we can operate on a child while it is still in the uterus, isn’t it time we revisit the issue of abortion? 

I think it is time for us to advance the discussion 44 years and look at the issue of abortion with fresh eyes and open hearts, and not allow it to be discussed simply as a private matter involving freedom of choice. At a minimum and as a starting point, the many advances in medical science demand that we raise and respond to the vital question of when life begins. 

Now, from our Catholic perspective the answer to the above question is clear. Life begins at conception. From our perspective, human life is a precious gift from God. Each person who receives this gift has the responsibility to protect and nurture human life at every stage of its existence. This belief flows from ordinary reason and from our faith’s consistent witness that life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception. 

Legalized as a private act, abortion remains a very public issue. As such it deserves a new discussion, not one that is 44 years old. As Catholics, as people who are pro-life, I think we need to take the lead in this discussion. In doing so, we need the courage and honesty to speak the truth about human life. We need the humility to listen to both friends and opponents. We need the perseverance to continue the struggle for the protection of human life. And we need to ask God for the prudence and grace to know when and how to do all of this. 

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

In our Gospel this Sunday we read Matthew’s account of the call of the first disciples.   We are told that: “As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting their nets into the sea; …………He said to them, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.’  At once they left their nets and followed him.  He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the Son of Zebedee, and his brother John,………..He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.”   

There are two things to note in the call of these disciples. First, notice the immediacy of the disciples’ response.  There was no hesitancy or questions.   Such must have been the power of Jesus’ presence that they responded without hesitation to his call.   Second, notice that they left everything behind to follow Jesus.   Now despite the immediacy of the disciples initial response to Jesus, we know that later they did have some questions and reservations.  In this, they serve as a reminder that for most of us the decision to follow Jesus is seldom made once and for all, but needs to be made again and again and again.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   It was chosen because it contains a prophecy about the restoration of the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali.  These lands are also referenced in the opening verses of today’s Gospel.   We believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah.  

For the next several weeks our second reading will be taken from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.   In the section we read today, Paul pleads for unity among the people of Corinth “so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”    

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. When have you heard the call of God in your life?
  2. Looking back, can you see where you were too preoccupied or busy, and may have missed God’s call? 
  3. Why is unity (not uniformity) so important in the Christian community? 

This past All Souls day, I spent some time reflecting on those family members and friends who had died these past few years. I then commended them to God in prayer. In some cases their lives were long and full, and there was much to remember and celebrate. In other cases their passing—at least from my perspective—occurred too soon. There was much that was left unsaid and undone. 

As I continued to reflect on the lives of those people who had touched my life and whose passing occurred much too soon, I found myself feeling not just sad, but also a little irritated. I couldn’t get out it of my mind that they had died before their time. As I continued to pray, though, suddenly two thoughts occurred to me almost at the same time. 

The first was something the Irish pastor I worked with for six years used to say. Specifically he would say: “Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense.” This was his standard response when something happened that he didn’t understand or that seemed nonsensical. I think it was his Irish was of saying that God’s ways are not our ways. And the surprising thing was that once he said it, he was able to let go of whatever it was he couldn’t understand. It was as if having given voice to his lack of understanding, that was all he needed to do. He could let it go and move on. 

The second thought that occurred to me as I prayed were the simple words: “Remember the Blessings.” While I had been caught up in the sadness of loss, these words reminded me that I needed to focus instead on the blessings these people had been in my life. Now in saying this I don’t think I was being called to deny or try to block out the sadness I was feeling. Instead I also needed to remember the blessings these people had been in my life, and then let the healing balm of those blessings sooth and console me. And when I was able to do this, I did find comfort and consolation. 

When we encounter situations that are painful, sad or difficult, we need to remember that God’s ways are not our ways. It is not for us to understand the ways and work of God in this lifetime. Sometimes we will just need to acknowledge and accept this. At these times it may help us to say as my Irish pastor did that: “Sometimes the Lord uses poor sense.” Additionally, though, when we encounter situations that are painful, sad or difficult, it can be helpful to “Remember the Blessings.” The memory of the blessings we have experienced and enjoyed can bring healing and hope to the sometimes difficult and painful situations we encounter. 

In this lifetime none of us can escape having to deal with situations that are painful, sad and difficult. Accepting the fact that we don’t have to understand them and remembering that even in these situations there are blessings that can help us move forward in faith and hope, trusting in our God’s grace and great love.