Fr. Bauer's Blog

A few weeks ago I was doing some cleaning at my cabin and had the radio on in the background. At one point the theme song from Mission Impossible came on. As I listened I was transported back in time as I remembered watching the show when I was growing up. (Yes, I know there have been several movies based on “Mission Impossible,” but I still like the old television show the best.) I especially liked the words that introduced each episode “Your mission, should you chose to accept it is….” I like the well defined purpose and the clarity of knowing exactly what was expected and what needed to be done. There are many times when I long for that same kind of clarity in regard to God’s will in my life. It would be great if God would clearly tell me, “John, your mission should you chose to accept it is….”

Unfortunately, more often than I care to admit, when I am trying to discern God’s will or what God would have me do in a particular situation, I am much like a boat without a rudder.

I pray, but my prayer is often directionless and without focus. I want clarity and direction, and worse I want it now. In my efforts to get God to tell me what God wants me to do, I am impatient almost to the point of demanding. I don’t like it when I get this way, and I suspect God isn’t too happy with me either. 

When I encounter these times in my life, one of the things that is helpful for me is to remember and take to heart a prayer that Thomas Merton wrote many years ago. I have kept this prayer in my Breviary since I was ordained. And on times too numerous to mention I have found it very comforting. “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Discerning God’s will for us, or what God would have us do in a particular situation is not always easy. It can be frustrating, time consuming, and even a little annoying. It would be much easier if God simply told us, “Your mission should you chose to accept it is….” Unfortunately, if God were that direct, it would negate our free will. And our free will is one of the things that defines us as human beings and separates us from other creatures.

And so, at those times when I struggle with discerning God’s will, I take heart and find consolation in the prayer of Thomas Merton. The way I figure it, if one of the premier spiritual writers of the 20th century had trouble discerning God’s will, I should probably cut myself a little slack when I experience the same difficulty. I also take comfort in the knowledge that God will never call me to a mission that is impossible, because with God’s grace all things are possible.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and past it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062115.cfm 

 Our Gospel this Sunday is the familiar story of Jesus calming the storm at sea.  We are told that Jesus was in boat with his disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee and “a violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up.”  Jesus was asleep in the stern so the disciples woke him and said:  “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? Jesus woke up, rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’   The wind ceased and there was great calm.  Then he asked them, ‘Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?’”  

I suspect that most of us can identify with this Gospel.  We may not have been caught in a storm at sea, but certainly there have been storms that have raged in our lives.  It could be a relationship that has ended badly; the loss of a job; the death of a loved one; a health crisis; the list could go on and on.   At these times, like the disciples, we can be tempted to ask:  “Do you not care that we are perishing?” The thing is, though, at these times, Jesus is with us, just as he was with the disciples in the boat.  Their fear, however, prevented them from understanding that even in the midst of the storm, they were not alone.  Jesus was with them.  And just as Jesus was with his disciples, so too Jesus is with us in the storms of our lives. 

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of Job.  In the section we read today God addressed Job out of the storm and reminded him that it was God who set limits to the sea and stilled the waves.   Like Job, we too need to be reminded on a regular basis that God is in charge even, and perhaps especially, when we don’t understand God’s will and ways. 

For our second reading this weekend we read a section of the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.   Paul reminds us that “whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old things have passed away, behold new things have come.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Has there been a “storm” in your life when you wondered if God cared whether or not you perished?  
  2. God had to remind Job that God was in charge even when Job didn’t understand God’s will and ways.  Has there been a time when you have needed to be reminded that God was in charge?
  3. What does it mean to be in a new creation in Christ?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061415.cfm 

This Sunday we return to what is known in our Church as ordinary time.  Ordinary time is that time between the major seasons in our Church year.   We will continue in Ordinary time until November 29th which is the first Sunday of Advent.   

Our Gospel this Sunday contains two parables about the Kingdom of God.   The first is the parable of the seed that is scattered on the land, and it sprouts and grows without our knowing how.   The second is the parable of the mustard seed which “is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.  But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants……………” 

Both of these parables remind us that just as we don’t make the seed sprout and grow by our efforts, so to the coming of the kingdom of God is God’s work.  It will occur according to God’s will and on God’s timeline. There is nothing we can do to make God’s kingdom come.  Rather, our task and challenge is simply to be open to the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in our lives.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.   In the section we read today God --- through this prophecy of Ezekiel --- offers hope to the Jews who are in captivity in Babylon.   “I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.  It shall put forth branches and bear fruit and become a majestic cedar.”   For the Jews this prophecy offered the hope that one day they would be restored to the Promised Land God had promised them.   

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In the section we read today Paul reminds the Corinthians that “we walk by faith, not by sight.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Have you ever been surprised to discover after the fact that God had been working in your life? 
  2. The prophecy of Ezekiel offered hope to the Jews during the Babylonian captivity.  When have you felt someone offering hope to you? 
  3. What does it mean to you to walk by faith? 

At a consistory on Saturday, February 14, Pope Francis created 20 new Cardinals from around the globe. On Sunday, February 15, Pope Francis presided at Mass with these new Cardinals. As part of his homily at that Mass, Pope Francis addressed the 20 new cardinals in the words below.

Dear new Cardinals, my brothers, as we look to Jesus and our Mother, I urge you to serve the Church in such a way that Christians—edified by our witness—will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it. I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is marginalized, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists; to see the Lord in who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper—whether in body or soul—who encounters discrimination! We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized! May we always have before us the image of Saint Francis, who was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast. Truly, dear brothers, the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, is discovered and is revealed!

I was and continue to be amazed at the clarity and breadth of Pope Francis’ vision for our church. He is clear that because no one is beyond the reach of God’s love, so too no one can be beyond the reach of our Church. For Pope Francis, reaching out to the marginalized, the outcast, the excluded is not just a good thing to do, it is essential and fundamental to our Church. 

Now clearly, we have not done this well. At times people have sought to restructure the Catholic Church into what they see as a far smaller, simpler and more spiritual entity. I think this is not just unfortunate, but also and more importantly it fails to follow the example of Jesus. In the Gospels, Jesus was always reaching out to those that others referred to as “tax collectors and sinners”—to the people on the margins. And we know that these tax collectors and sinners not only became his followers, but also eventually became those who would continue the mission and ministry of Jesus and bring his message to the world. 

Clearly it is safer and simpler and it certainly takes less effort to try to restrict our Church’s mission only to those who are already “in the corral,” so to speak. I believe, though, that Pope Francis’ has laid before us a profound and exciting challenge. And challenges can be scary. Our Church, and particularly The Basilica, though, will more clearly be the church of Christ when we strive to reach out to the marginalized, the outcast, the excluded. We don’t have to go far to do this, these people are all around us. They are our relatives and friends, our neighbors and co-workers. They are all those who—for whatever reason—feel at a distance from God’s love. Our call and challenge are to welcome and invite them into our community, and share with them the inclusive, universal and unending love of God made visible in Jesus Christ and given expression in our care and concern.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060715.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.   Those of you who are of my vintage will remember that the Latin name for this Feast was:  Corpus Christi.    This Feast reminds us of our belief that the bread and wine that are consecrated at Mass really and truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.    We refer to this as the “Real Presence.”     We offer no proof for this; we cannot logically reason to it; there is no rationale explanation for it.   As Catholics, it is for us a matter of faith.  We believe that Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist we celebrate and share in his name and memory.   And, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us:  “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for and conviction about things we do not see.”   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Exodus.  In this reading Moses reminds the people of the words and ordinances of the Lord, and then has them re-commit themselves to their covenant with the Lord.    As a sign of their commitment, Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of the sacrifice.   This sprinkling reminded the Israelites of God’s fidelity to them despite their repeated infidelities to their covenant with God.

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews.  It reminds us that Christ is the “mediator of a new covenant.”   Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ no other sacrificial offerings are needed.   

Finally, in our Gospel this weekend we read Mark’s account of the institution of the Eucharist.    Mark’s account is sparse, but it reminds us that because of Jesus Christ we have a new covenant with God, a covenant that cannot and will not end.    

Questions for Discussion/Reflection:

  1. How would you explain the “Real Presence” to someone who isn’t Catholic?
  2. We believe that the Eucharist strengthens us and nourishes us in this life, but also that it is the foretaste and the promise of eternal life.    If we believe this why do studies show that people are attending Mass less frequency?   
  3. All three readings this weekend remind us that God has made a covenant with us.   How is a covenant different from a contract?            

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.         
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/053115.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.   This celebration reminds us that the God we worship has revealed God’s Self as Creating Father, Redeeming Son and Sanctifying Spirit ---- three persons, yet one God, undivided and of one essence.   The preface for this Feast states:  “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God.  For with your Only Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit you are one God, one Lord; not in the unity of a single person, but in a Trinity of one substance.”   While we may not be able to explain how this can be --- that it can be has been our faith since the beginnings of the Church.  

Our Gospel for this Sunday is the last four verses of Matthew’s Gospel.   In it Jesus commands his disciples:  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”  

In our first reading this Sunday, from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people of all that God has done for them.  He then says:  “This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  It reminds us that we have received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”  This reminds us that God is not removed from our world and our lives.  Rather, because of Jesus Christ, we are able to call on God with the intimate term of “Father.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
    1.  In the seminary, we had to take a class on the Trinity.   Despite this, (or maybe because of it) at times I still struggle for words to explain/describe the Trinity.   What words would you use to explain/describe the Trinity?  
    2.  In the first reading this weekend, Moses reminded the people of all God had done for them.  What has God done for you?
    3.  When does it mean for you to call on God as “Father?” 

I sometimes catch myself fantasizing about how wonderful it would be to be a monk in a Trappist monastery where I could spend lots of time in prayer and reflection. In this fantasy, I would be much holier, much more tolerant and understanding, and certainly kinder and more caring than I am. The reality is, though, that most likely within a couple of months at the monastery, the Abbot would be calling me in to his office to chastise me for talking excessively and breaking silence, sleeping in and missing Lauds, and hiding a cell phone in my room. While some people are called to be a Trappist monk, I am not one of them. And my fantasy about being a better and holier person if I were a Trappist monk is just that—a fantasy. It is my way of justifying those times when I fail to live and act as a follower of Jesus.  

I suspect all of us have our own version of the: “I would be a much holier and better person if only ----” (You can fill in the blank). In part, these fantasies are understandable. There are times for all of us when pettiness, meanness, or even spitefulness finds expression in our lives, and we tell ourselves that it would not have happened—“if only.”  

The above is not a new problem. It has been around at least since the beginnings of our Church. We even have a name for it. We call it sin. Now we need to be clear. Christians didn’t invent sin. We do believe, though, that because of and in Jesus Christ, we have found the remedy for sin. In Jesus Christ, God is continually offering us the grace we need to resist sin and/or to repent of our sins. The only hitch is that God never forces God’s grace on us. Rather God offers us God’s grace. It is always our free choice to accept that grace or to reject.

To be a better and holier person we only have to accept the grace God offers us. Now some days, I do this fairly well. There are other days, though, when it is a real struggle. I suspect the reason for this is that there is a certain attractiveness about sin. The reality is, though, that the attractiveness of sin is short lived, and it merely distracts me from the more difficult task of accepting my faults and failings, and acknowledging my need for God.  

I don’t have to become a Trappist monk to be a better person. I do need to be open, though, to the grace God is continually offering me. I used to think this would get easier as I got older, but sin runs deep in our lives and isn’t easily rooted out. God’s grace, though, is constant and ever present, and this gives me hope that some day I will be that better person I want to be. 

For this Sunday’s reading click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052415-pentecost-day.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost.  This Feast reminds us of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the early church.    It also celebrates our belief that the Holy Spirit continues to guide our Church. 

There are different options for the Gospel and the second reading for this Feast.   The first reading, though, is always taken from the Acts of the Apostles.  It recounts the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first disciples.   “And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.   And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…………”  

The Gospel we will use for this Feast is a resurrection appearance by Jesus.   We are told that Jesus appeared to his disciples and said to them:  “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.   And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”   

The first reading reminds us that sometimes the Spirit comes to us in a powerful and dramatic manner, but our Gospel reminds us that sometimes the Spirit comes in a more subdued and quiet manner. Regardless of how the Spirit comes, it is given to us for a purpose.  This was Paul’s message in our second reading today from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.  To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. When and/or how have you felt the Holy Spirit working in your life?  
  2. When have you seen the Holy Spirit working in someone else’s life?
  3. What gifts of the Spirit have you been given? 

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

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051715-ascension.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord.   Both our first reading and our Gospel tell the story of the Ascension.   In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we are told that “………. as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”   Similarly, in our Gospel today we are told that:  “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God.”  

Now while this Feast celebrates Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, it is also celebrates what the disciples did after the Ascension.  Both our reading from Acts and our Gospel tell us of the commission that Jesus gave his disciples before he ascended into heaven.   In Acts we are told:  “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  And in our Gospel Jesus told his disciples:  “Go out into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”    And we know that empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, this is just what the early disciples did.   The task of being witnesses of Christ and proclaiming his Gospel now falls to us.   

Our second reading for this Sunday is from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians.  In it Paul prays for the people of Ephesus “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the  surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Who was the first person to tell you about Jesus Christ?
  2. What is one concrete and specific way you could be a witness for Christ and proclaim his Gospel?
  3. I love the words: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened.”  What do these words mean to you?   

I have been using the same books to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (formerly the Breviary) for over 35 years, and yet on a regular basis a word in the psalms or scripture readings, or one of the prayers, will catch me by surprise and be a source of prayer and reflection for me. Most recently this happened with one of the prayers of intercession for Thursday of the fourth week of the psalter. The prayer was simple:  “Grant, Lord, that we may see in each person the dignity of one redeemed by your Son's blood, so that we may respect the freedom and the conscience of all.” 

As I reflected on this prayer it struck me how easy it is for me to not to see the dignity in each person, let alone respect their freedom and their conscience. More often than I care to admit I view someone do something or I hear someone say something, and I assign a negative meaning to their words or actions, without ever bothering to check to see if there was any accuracy to my interpretation.    

Perhaps I am looking for company in this particular failing, but I suspect this is something we all do—at least occasionally. Someone will say something or do something and we take offense, without bothering to check to see if our interpretation of their behavior or their words was correct. When we do this, we fail to see in that person the dignity of one redeemed by Jesus’ blood. And instead we have sat in judgment of them.  

In addition to respecting the dignity of others, though, it is also important to remember that even if we disagree with their behaviors and/or words, we are still called to respect their freedom and their conscience. In saying this there is a need for clarity. Respecting someone’s freedom and conscience does not mean we are giving assent to their behavior or words. Nor does it mean that we can’t voice our disagreement. Rather, respecting someone’s freedom and conscience means that we must strive to see and love in them what God sees and loves in them. Certainly this is not always easy. And clearly from time to time we all fail at it. As followers of Jesus, though, it is a task from which we cannot shrink.     

Christ did not come to redeem only a select few. He came to redeem all of us. None of us by dint of our own effort can achieve our own salvation. We all stand in need of the salvation that is offered us through Jesus Christ. This is one of the fundamental truths of our faith. I believe we only begin to understand the depth of this truth when we are able to see in each person the dignity of one redeemed by Jesus’ blood and respect the freedom and the conscience of all. 

 

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