Fr. Bauer's Blog

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012515.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the third Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Our Gospel this Sunday records the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and the call of the first disciples.  As Jesus began his public ministry his message was clear.  “The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”   And when he called his first disciples his message was equally clear.  “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”   This call must have been compelling for we are told: “…… they abandoned their nets and followed him.”   

Our first reading this Sunday is the story of the call of the prophet, Jonah, to prophesize to the city of Ninevah: “’Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,’   The people of Ninevah took Jonah’s message to heart for  “when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  At the time it was written there was widespread expectation of Jesus’ imminent return.  Given this mindset, Paul’s message is simple.  “I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out ………………… For the world in its present form is passing away.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  While we might like to receive God’s call in a clear and direct fashion, as did the disciples in today’s Gospel, most often God’s call is quiet and subtle.  When have you felt God’s call in your life?
2.  Jonah was given a very specific call to prophesize to the people of Nineveh.   Have you ever felt a specific call in your life?
3.  Since we are still waiting for Jesus’ return, how should this affect the way we live?    

A few months ago Fr. Greg Skrypek’s brother died. For those of you who don’t know, Greg has been a presence at The Basilica for many years, first as an associate, then as a resident in the rectory, and, most recently, for the past several years, as the presider at the 7:00am Mass on Thursday mornings. Since I was away at the time of his brother’s death, I stopped in the sacristy chapel before Mass one Thursday to express my sympathy. Since both of us have lost a brother, there was a certain comfort and empathy in our conversation. At one point, though, Greg said something that really struck me. Specifically, he said: “Grieving is the privilege that comes from loving someone.”

Now I had never thought of grieving as a privilege, but when he said these words, I knew their truth. We don’t experience grief unless we had some kind of loving relationship with the individual who has died. Certainly we can feel sadness and sorrow when someone dies, but I think grief is deeper than sadness and sorrow. Grief is a profound and deep sense of loss. It leaves a hole in our lives and hearts that had previously been filled by a particular person’s presence and love. 

Grief also reminds us how important the individual was to us. It reminds us that even though they have died they continue to have a place in our lives and in our hearts. Grief calls us to remember that the love we had shared with someone is not ended with death, but continues. If we have never loved or been loved, we can feel sadness and sorrow certainly, but I don’t know that we can experience grief. Grief occurs when we experience the loss of someone with whom we have shared love. It is a privilege, because sadly, not everyone is given the opportunity to love and to be loved. 

Grieving is also a privilege for us as Christians because it gives us the opportunity to remember and renew our faith. For it is our faith that tells us that despite the sadness and sorrow that accompany death, we believe there is more. For Christians, it is the promise of eternal life that gives us hope even in the face of death. Now, in saying this, I want to be clear. The promise and hope of eternal life doesn’t take away the grief we feel when someone we love has died. Rather it moderates and tempers that grief. It softens it so it is easier for us to hold and carry.  

The pain we experience when someone we knew and loved has died is real. It is important that we acknowledge that pain. And shame on anyone who seeks to minimize it or take it away. We need to recognize and accept our grief, and remember that grief is only possible because we loved someone. Grieving is a privilege that comes from experiencing love.  

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

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011815.cfm

 

Having concluded the Christmas season, this weekend we return to what is known in our liturgical year as Ordinary Time.   This designation is meant to distinguish this time in our liturgical year from the other seasons of our Church year, e.g. Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.   Our Gospel this Sunday is taken from the Gospel of John.   It records the call of Andrew, who in turn brings his brother, Simon Peter to Jesus.  

 

There are two things to note in the call of these disciples.   First, notice it is John the Baptist who pointed out Jesus:  Behold, the Lamb of God.”   This suggests that sometimes we need others to point out God’s presence in our lives.  Second, notice that the call did  not come in a dramatic or extraordinary manner.  In fact, quite the opposite, it came in the midst of their ordinary lives.  This suggests that we need to be alert, because God’s call doesn’t always come to us in a spectacular manner. More likely it will come to us in the midst of our everyday and ordinary activities. 

 

Our first reading this weekend shares the theme of the Gospel.  It records the call of Samuel.   At first Samuel thought Eli was calling him and so he went to him.  After the third time, however, Eli realized that God was calling Samuel, and so he told him:  “Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”   

 

Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.   In it Paul challenges the Corinthians to engage in correct moral behavior.  He reminded them:  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not on your own.”

 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

 

1.  John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to Andrew who in turn pointed out Jesus to his brother, Simon Peter.   Who pointed out Jesus to you?

2.  Samuel needed Eli’s help to recognize God’s call.   Has someone helped you to recognize the call of God in your life?  

3.  What do you think it means to be a Temple of the Holy Spirit?

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011115.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.   It must seem strange to move so quickly from the celebration of Jesus’ birth to his baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.   The fact is, though, that after the infancy narratives and the story of the finding of Jesus in the temple, there are no biblical stories of Jesus’ adolescence or young adulthood.  Instead, we move immediately to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry with his baptism. 

This year we read Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism.   Mark is sparse in the details he includes in regard to  Jesus’ baptism.   We are told simply that “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John.   On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a  dove, descending upon him.   And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”   

There are two options for both our first and second readings for this feast.  For our first reading we will use Isaiah 55: 1-11.   It anticipates the release of the Israelites from their captivity in Babylon.   Through the prophet Isaiah, God urges the people: “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.   I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David.”   John the Baptist’s preaching echoes these words. 

Our second reading for this feast is from the Acts of the Apostles.  In the section we read this Sunday we hear Peter boldly proclaim:  “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.  Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. “

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  At this baptism Jesus heard the voice of the Spirit proclaiming him God’s beloved Son.  As a baptized Christian do you think of yourself as a beloved son or daughter of God? 

2.  In Jesus Christ we believe that God has entered into a new covenant with his people.  What is the difference between a covenant and a contract?

3. How would you respond to someone who believes that God does show partiality? 

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.   

Pages