Fr. Bauer's Blog

Last fall I made my annual retreat at the Guest House at St. John’s Abbey. I arrived Sunday evening in time to join the monks for evening prayer and then returned to my room to spend some time reading and praying before going to bed. Despite my best efforts to sleep in, I awoke early on Monday, so I joined the monks for Morning Prayer and then had breakfast. After breakfast I decided to spend some time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Now, at the Abbey church the Blessed Sacrament is in a small room near the back of the church. It is one of my favorite spots. The chapel is quiet, intimate and warm and you don’t have to worry about being disturbed by individuals or groups touring the Abbey church.   

Unfortunately, when I got to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel the doors of the Tabernacle were wide open and there was a sign that read: “Damage to the Tabernacle has required removal of the Blessed Sacrament.” As soon as I read the sign my heart sank. My first thought was: “I hope God isn’t trying to tell me something.” As it turns out I needn’t have worried. Actually the sign was a good reminder that God’s presence isn’t restricted to just the Tabernacle. The absence of the Blessed Sacrament challenged me to ask myself where and/or how God might be making God’s presence known to me in other ways. 

I suspect there are times for all of us when we go to the place where we are used to feeling God’s presence—and we don’t feel it. There are dry spells in each of our prayer lives. Sometimes too, Mass is not the spiritual experience it usually is. And sometimes too, it is difficult, if not impossible to recognize God’s presence in our brothers and sisters. For all of us, there are times when despite our best efforts we have difficulty feeling God’s presence.  

Whenever people tell me they are having difficulty feeling/experiencing God’s presence, I always suggest two things. First, I tell them to remember the last places they felt God’s presence and to spend some time in prayer with those memories. If we can remember where we have experienced God’s presence in our lives, that can help us believe that God is still with us, even though we are having difficulty experiencing his presence in the current moment. Our memories are a powerful guide when we have temporarily “lost touch” with God. They call us to remember that as God has been with us in the past, so God is with us now. We just need to keep looking for God’s presence and not give up the search. 

The other thing I suggest to people who are having difficulty feeling/experiencing God’s presence is to look for God in new and unfamiliar places. Trying a different way of praying, or attending a different Mass, or volunteering in a new area, reading the Bible, or simply allowing ourselves to be caught up in the beauty of nature can be great ways of jump starting our spiritual lives and helping us to look for God in new or different places.   

God doesn’t have to break into our world. God is always present to us and to our world. Sometimes, though, for whatever reason, we can have trouble recognizing God’s presence. When these times occur, we shouldn’t panic or feel that our spiritual life has gone off the rails. We simply need to remember that as God has been with us in the past, so God is with us now. We need to trust that God has not abandoned us, and we need to believe that if we continue our efforts, God will help us discover anew God’s abiding and grace-filled presence. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010415.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.   The word epiphany means an unexpected manifestation/revelation or a sudden intuitive leap of understanding.  Our Gospel for this feast is the visit of the Magi from the East to the new born Christ child.  The Magi were Gentiles not Jews, so this Gospel celebrates the manifestation of God in Christ to the whole world.   It reminds us of the universality of God’s savific will --- that God wants everyone to be saved. This was St. Paul’s message in our second reading today from his letter to the Ephesians: “………the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”     The universality of God’s saving will would have been a startling idea for the Jews, as well as for many of the early Christians.   And yet, God planned this from the beginning.   Thus, this feast celebrates not just a past event, but an ongoing reality.  God continues to offer salvation to all people for all time.  

On a tangentially related note, the Gospel story of the visit of the Magi has through time been infused with more details than perhaps any other story in the scriptures.  Over the centuries we have made the Magi all men.  We have made them Kings.  We have said there were three of them, and we have even given them names.  None of these details, however, are part of the original story.  This should remind us that when we read the scriptures we need to be open to what they really say and not what we think or want them to say.  

In our first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the prophet offers a message of hope.   Jerusalem’s time of exile will come to an end, and the glory of the Lord will once again shine on her.  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  I believe that epiphanies or experiences of God’s presence still occur in our world and in each of our lives.  When have you felt God’s unexpected presence in your life? 
2.  How would you respond to someone who suggested that God’s offer of salvation was limited to just a chosen few? 
3.  Were you surprised that in this Gospel, the Magi weren’t Kings, that there may have been more or less than three of them, and that they didn’t have names?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122814.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.  This Feast reminds us that our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born into the human family of Mary and Joseph.  

When I was growing up it used to be very easy to say what a family was.   It was a mom and dad and any number of kids. Through the years, however, I have seen that families come in all shapes and sizes.  As a result, I have had to continually expand my understanding of family. What is most important in regard to families, though, (whatever their configuration) is that they are characterized by loving relationships, that are lived out in care and service of one another and the broader community.   Clearly this was the case with the Holy Family.   

Our Gospel for this Sunday is the story of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple.   We are told  that to fulfill the prescriptions of the Jewish law Mary and Joseph  “ took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord,”  After they had “fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.”  

There are different options for our first and second readings for the Feast of the Holy Family.  For the first reading this weekend we are using the reading from Sirach.   This book offers practical guidelines for the Jewish people of that time.  In the section we read today we are reminded that “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.”    In our second reading for this Feast we use a section of St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.  In it Paul offers practical advice for the followers of Jesus.   “Brothers and sisters:  Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  In our Gospel we are told that Mary and Joseph fulfilled the prescriptions of the law.  Are there any customs/traditions that are followed in your family?  
2.  How do the qualities/characteristics articulated by Paul in our second reading today find expression in your relationships? 
3.   What is your definition of “family?”   

God's Abiding Presence

This past summer my best friend of almost 49 years passed away. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and chemotherapy proved ineffective. In the weeks and days before he died we had a chance to share many memories of our friendship through the years. As we shared these memories, we also talked about the fact that there weren’t all that many people in our lives we could presume on and take for granted—people we knew would be there for us in a difficult situation or in time of need. Other than each other, our respective families, and a few others, there really weren’t all that many people in our lives we could count on absolutely. 

I suspect the above is true for most of us. In each of our lives there are a limited number of people we can always rely on and trust, and know they will be there for us in our times of need. Usually these people are family members and/or friends who have seen the best and the worst in us, and who love us just the same.

We all need those people who are “there for us” no matter what happens. They might not be able to do anything to make a bad situation better, and they might not be able to solve any problems we have, but their presence, their care, their empathy, and their love help us to deal with or get through whatever difficulties or troubles we face. As I said, hopefully we all have these people in our lives. They are the people with whom we share love, and who enhance and nurture our lives.  

Now in mentioning this, I also would like to suggest that God is present in our lives in a way similar to these special people. God is there for us at all times and moments of our lives—both good and bad. God never abandons us or leaves us to face the difficulties and trials of life alone. In and through our prayer, we can feel God’s presence and experience God’s grace. And as a result, we are strengthened and sustained as we go about our lives.

Sometimes, though, for a variety of reasons, we have difficulty recognizing God’s abiding presence with us. It is for this very reason that Christmas is such an important celebration for us. When we celebrate Christmas, we are reminded that God loved us so much that God gave form and flesh to that love in the human person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God has touched and continues to touch our world and our individual lives with God’s presence and grace. Jesus is the preeminent and enduring revelation of God’s love for us. He is the way God has chosen to dwell with us and abide with us always. 

Clearly we do not always live with an awareness of God’s presence with us. But when we can attend to God in our prayer, when we can make room for God in our hearts, this can and will make a difference in our lives. For when we do this, we will come to realize that no matter what, we are never alone. God is with us and for us. And ultimately like other old and good friends, God’s abiding presence gives peace to our souls, life to our lives, and joy to our hearts. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/122114.cfm 

In our Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent we read the story of the visit of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to announce “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”   Mary did not reject the Angel Gabriel’s words or ask for more information. Instead she asked a very practical question.  “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  In reply the Angel Gabriel said: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.   Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”    The confirming sign that God would make this happen is the pregnancy of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, who was thought to be barren.  Mary’s response was one of complete faith.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word.”    

As we approach the celebration of Christmas, our Gospel today reminds us that we are called to imitate Mary, to be open to God’s work in our lives and to make a home for Christ in our hearts.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the second Book of Samuel.   King David “was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from his enemies.”    Since David was settled in his palace, he wanted to build a suitable place for the Ark of God.  God, though, had other ideas: “Should you build me a house to dwell in?”   God wanted to be clear that God was in charge and that it was by God’s doing that David’s kingdom would endure.  “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,………………Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;  your throne shall stand firm forever."   

Our second reading this Sunday is the closing verses of the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.   In is a hymn of praise.   “To the only wise God, though Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever.   Amen."   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

1.   Like Mary, have you ever felt that God was calling you to do something? 
2.   What do you need to do to make a home for Christ in your heart this Christmas?
3.   What causes you to give glory to God?

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121414.cfm 

This Sunday we once again encounter the figure of John the Baptist.   Last Sunday we read Mark’s account of John’s mission.  This Sunday we read from the Gospel of John.   While there are similarities between the two accounts, each evangelist also has their own theological perspective in regard to John the Baptist.   In John’s account some priests and Levites were sent to John to ask him: “Who are you?”   As in last week’s Gospel, John is clear in his response:  “I am not the Christ.”  He also indicated that he was not Elijah or the prophet.   Instead he said:  “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert.  Make straight the way of the Lord.”   Some Pharisees then asked him: “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”   John answered them, “I baptize with water, but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”   

Clearly John knew his place and his mission.  He was sent to prepare the way for Christ --- the one who was among them, but whom they did not recognize.  

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  It is a prophecy of comfort as the Israelites return from the their captivity in Babylon.   Isaiah announces that he has been called to “announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.”   

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians.  Paul urges them to “Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1   When asked who he was, John the Baptist was clear in regard to his role and mission.  How would you respond if someone asked you who you were? 
2.   When have you failed to recognize the presence of Christ in your life?
2.   What do you think Paul meant when he told the Thessalonians to rejoice always and to pray without ceasing.   

On more than one occasion, I have discovered that sometimes people assume that because we share the same religion, we share the same understanding of what our religion requires of us. While most of the time this is the case, it is not universally true. Within our church there are differences with regard to the acceptability of the death penalty and our obligations to the poor and marginalized. And if you really want to see differences, just bring up the issue of immigration among a group of Catholics. 

Now I believe it is important that we not gloss over our differences or pretend they don’t exist. It is equally important, though, that we don’t allow our differences to be a source of division and anger. In this regard, Jesus is a good model for us. In the Scriptures, we often see him disagreeing with people—particularly the Scribes and the Pharisees. For his part, though, he never let these disagreements become a source of bitterness or hostility. Sadly, the same thing cannot be said of the Scribes and the Pharisees. Most often they were very antagonistic to Jesus. What accounts for the difference between Jesus and the Scribes and the Pharisees? Well, clearly it helped that Jesus was divine. I think, though, that as important, Jesus most often had recourse to prayer when he encountered difference and disagreements.  

In my life, I have discovered that prayer changes things—and the thing it changes most is me. When I have a difference or a disagreement with someone, and I take it to prayer, this often helps me to see things from a different perspective or to take into account new information. Now as I say this, I need to be clear. I don’t always take differences and disagreements to prayer. There are times when I want to hold on to my anger and resentment. There are other times when I take them to prayer, and my prayer is more a monologue about why God should see things my way. When I am able to honestly and humbly take things to prayer, though, it does make a difference. 

Prayer can help us understand that while our differences and disagreements are real, they don’t have to be a source of anger and division. Rather, with Jesus as our model, and prayer as our weapon of choice, we can remain in contact with each other and engage in a dialogue that is frank, honest, and ongoing.   

We may share the same religion, but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily share the same understanding of what that religion requires of us. This doesn’t have to separate us, though. Through prayer and respectful dialogue we can challenge each other to hear anew, and strive to live out the challenge of Jesus to love our neighbor as our self.

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120714.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Second Sunday of our Season of Advent.   In our Gospel this Sunday we encounter the figure of John the Baptist.  We are told that he “appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.”   John was clothed in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist.  “And this is what he proclaimed; ‘One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”   

Clearly John knew both his place and his role.   He knew he was not the Messiah; rather he was to prepare the way for Christ.   On this Second Sunday of Advent, John challenges us not just to repent of our sins, but also to prepare our hearts that Christ might find a welcome home there. 

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   It is prophecy of comfort and hope for the Israelites who were in captivity in Babylon.  “Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!  Here comes with power the Lord god, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him.”  

Our second reading this Sunday is from the second letter of Saint Peter.   At that time, people were expecting the imminent return of Christ.   In the section we read this Sunday Peter reminds them (and us) that the delay in Christ’s return is for our benefit.  “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  What do you need to do this Advent to prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas?  
2.  When you hear Isaiah’s prophecy, do you feel a sense of hope and/or comfort?  
3.  Have you ever felt that God is “delaying” in response to your prayers?   

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/113014.cfm

This Sunday, as we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, we also celebrate the beginning of a new liturgical year.   The focus of the season of Advent is on the two comings of Christ --- the first at his birth and the second at the end of time.   The promise fulfilled and the promise of what is yet to come are both part of our Advent celebrations.  

Our Gospel for this first Sunday of Advent is from Mark.   In the section we read this Sunday, Jesus tells his disciples:  “Be watchful! Stay Alert! You do not know when the time will come.”   This might seem like a call to be spiritual insomniacs or to always be on the alert.   Jesus, though, follows these words with a parable about a man traveling abroad who takes care that his house is properly cared for and guarded while he is away.  This parable reminds us that if we are diligent and prepared, we will be ready to meet the Lord whenever and in whatever manner he comes.   

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.   It shares the theme of the Gospel.  It is a prayer for God to reveal God’s self.to the Israelites who are being held in captivity in Babylon.  Isaiah also prays that the people would be properly disposed for God’s revelation.  “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in all our ways!”  

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In the section we read today, Paul gives thanks for the gifts of God that have been manifested in the Church at Corinth.   “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  What helps you to be prepared to meet Christ?
2.  In retrospect have you ever realized that you missed recognizing the presence of Christ?
3.  Where have you seen the grace of God at work in your life?  

For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112314.cfm

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King.  This Feast closes the current liturgical year.  Next Sunday we begin a new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent.  The Feast of Christ the King 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.  

Our Gospel this Sunday is the last judgment scene from Matthew’s Gospel.  We are told that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.  And he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”   Those on the right were told they would “inherit the kingdom prepared or you from the foundation of the world”  because when they offered food, drink, welcome, clothing, and care to those in need, they did it for the Lord. Those on the left were sent off to eternal punishment because “what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”  

An element common to both groups is their surprise:  “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?”   This reminds us that we are called to serve those in need not only because they are in need, but also because we recognize Christ in them. Perhaps more importantly, though, we are called to respond to those in need because our salvation depends on it.  We don’t get to pick and choose who is worthy of our charity and love.   

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.   Ezekiel reminds us that the Lord God is our Shepherd and he will “look after and  tend his flock,” but he will also “judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.”     

Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Paul is clear about the necessity of Christ. “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.”    

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.    Have you ever recognized Christ in one of your least brothers or sisters? 
2.    When have you failed to respond to the needs of one of your least brothers or sisters?
3.    How are people brought to life in Christ?  

Pages