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/101214.cfm   

R.S.V.P.  Re’pondez  s’il vous plait.   This seems like such a simple request, and yet, so often it is ignored.   Certainly this indicates a lack of social grace.  The people in our Gospel parable today, however, were guilty of more than just a lack of social graces when they ignored the invitation to the wedding feast.   We are told they not only “refused to come to the feast,” but in some cases “laid hold of and mistreated the King’s servants and even killed them.”   What kind of people would do this?   Well, I suspect they differ from us in only in degree. They were people who had become so self-absorbed that they couldn’t recognize the gift/invitation that was being offered to them.        

While the angry response of the King seems exaggerated, it is tempered by his largess and generosity in sending his servants to invite to the feast whomever they could find.    This reminds us that no one is beyond the reach and embrace of our God’s love.   But what about the person who was ejected because he didn’t wear a wedding garment.   Well, since guests frequently came from a distance over dirty and dusty roads, the host often provided an opportunity for them to clean up, as well as a fresh garment for them to wear.  The guest’s refusal to comply with this custom went beyond rudeness and would have been insulting to the host.   The message in this is clear.  It is not enough just to show up.  Something more is required.  

Our first reading this weekend from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, speaks of the lavish banquet that God has prepared for his people.   But, as in the Gospel reading, it is necessary that people respond to God’s invitation to this banquet. 

In our second reading this weekend from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians, Paul reminds us that in every situation and circumstance he “can do all things in him who strengthens me.”   

Questions for Reflection:

1.  Looking back can you see where you have failed to respond to or even rejected an invitation from God?
2.  Have there been times when you’ve just shown up in response to God’s invitation, without doing anything else?  
3.  In our second reading Paul talked about living in widely divergent circumstances.   He then said:  “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”   Can you think of a time when you were strengthened to do something that initially you didn’t think you could do?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.   
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/100514.cfm

In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus told the chief priests and elders of the people a story and then asked their opinion.  The story is simple. We are told that a landowner “planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.  Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.”   Unfortunately, when vintage time drew near and he sent his servants to obtain his produce: “The tenants seized the servants and one they beat another they killed, and a third they stoned.”   The landowner sent more servants, “but they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them thinking; ‘They will respect my son.’”  But when the tenants saw the son, “They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”   At this point, Jesus asked the chief priests and elders of the people: “’What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?’”  They answered him, ‘He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants.’”  Jesus concluded this exchange by saying:  “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”   

Clearly the chief priests and elders were the target of this parable.  They, like the tenants, had rejected the messengers (i.e. the prophets) that had been sent to them and ultimately had rejected God’s Son, Jesus.   The parable challenges us not to reject those messengers God sends into our lives.  

Our first reading this Sunday from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah shares the theme of the Gospel.  It speaks of a vineyard that, despite the loving care of its owner, yielded only “wild grapes.”  In the Old Testament, the “vineyard” was a symbol of Gods people.

 
For our second reading this Sunday we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians.   In the section we read today Paul urges us by prayer and petition to make our requests known to God “Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1.  Has there been a time when you have rejected the “messengers” God has sent into your life?
2.  Can you identify people in your life who have been messengers of God’s love? 
3.   When have you experienced the peace of God that surpasses all understanding? 

Several years ago I decided to make my annual retreat at a Trappist Monastery in Conyers, Georgia. In making this decision, I thought I could kill three birds with one stone. First and foremost, it would give me a chance to make a retreat a quiet and prayerful place. Additionally, though, since I was going on retreat in January it would afford me the opportunity to get away for a week from the cold winter in Minnesota. Finally, at the end of the retreat I could spend a couple days with one of my brothers and his family who live north of Atlanta.  

Now, while the monastery was indeed very conducive to prayer, and while I enjoyed the time I spent with my brother and his family, the weather did not cooperate. A couple of nights the temperature hovered around the freezing point and while there was sunshine during the day, you definitely needed a sweater and coat if you were going outside. This caused me to spend more time in the chapel—which was not a bad thing. 

One of my favorite memories of that retreat occurred each morning when I would join the monks for Morning Prayer. I suspect the chapel was one of the first things the monks built when the monastery was founded. I say this because the heat for the chapel came from a central source, and was not dispersed via a ventilation system throughout the chapel. Thus, the further you got away from that central source the colder you were. In the morning, the younger monks would bring four elderly monks who were in wheelchairs to the chapel. These monks would have their capes and robes wrapped tightly around them to keep warm. When they were brought into the chapel, though, instead of going to the pews these monks would be positioned in front of the central heating vent where it was warmest. When the fan for the heat kicked in and the warm air began to fill the chapel, these monks would open their capes to capture the warmth and draw it into themselves. I looked forward to watching this each morning.  

As I reflected on this experience during the retreat, it struck me that it was a wonderful metaphor for welcoming God into our lives. Often times we can be wrapped up tightly by different things that are going on in our lives. Sometimes past hurts keep us bound up and closed off. At other times it could be our fears or worries. Sometimes it can be excessive busyness or addictive behaviors. At these times, it is difficult for us to be open to God and the grace God wants to offer us. If we can open ourselves to God’s grace, though, it can and will make a difference.  

The issue, though, is where do we find God’s grace? Well, I think we can take a hint from the monks at that Trappist Monastery. They knew that if they went to the source of the heat, not only would that be the warmest place, but when the heating fan kicked in they would be flooded with warmth. In a similar way, when we are feeling bound or at a distance from God’s grace, if we can go to where we have felt and experienced God’s grace in the past, eventually we will find and feel God’s grace anew. And if we open ourselves to it, it will flood over us and warm our souls.  

There are times in each of our lives when we feel bound, or stuck, or at a distance from God’s grace. When these times occur, we should not retreat into ourselves. Instead we need to remember and go to those places where we have felt close to God or where we have experienced God’s grace in the past. In my own life when I have done this, I found God patiently waiting there for me and inviting me to let his grace wash over me and warm my soul.  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092814.cfm 

In our Gospel this Sunday we read the story of a man who had two sons both of whom he asked to go and work in his vineyard.  The first one said he wouldn’t, but then changed his mind and did go and work.  The second said he would, but then didn’t go and work.  Jesus then asked the chief priests and elders:  “Which of the two did his father’s will?  They answered, ‘The first’.”  

Whenever I read this Gospel the words that come to mind are “Actions speak louder than words.”   Many years ago I worked with an individual who was very amiable and most pleasant whenever we discussed an issue or concern in their work area.   They would agree to a certain course of action, or to follow through on something and then ……………………….. nothing.   Actually there was something:  excuses, rationalizations, and promises to do better next time.   Unfortunately, the next time the same thing would happen.  We would talk; they would agree on what needed to be done; and then ………………….. nothing.  This person reminds me very much of the second son in our Gospel this Sunday.   He said the right words, but his actions didn’t correspond to his words. 

In one way or another all three of our readings for this Sunday remind us that there needs to be a correspondence between our actions and our words.   It is easy to say the right thing.   It is much harder to say, and then to do the right thing.   And the right thing for us as Christians, as St. Paul reminds us in our second reading today, is: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion 
1.    Has there been a time when your words were bold, but your actions have been inadequate?  What were the consequences?   
2.    In the Gospels, Jesus seems to focus a lot of time and energy on two different groups:  The Scribes and Pharisees, and the Tax Collectors and Prostitutes.   Why do you think that was?  
3.    In regard to the second reading, what does it mean for you to have the same attitude as Jesus 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/092114.cfm

I think this Sunday’s Gospel contains one of Jesus’ most difficult parables.  It is the parable of the landowner who went out at various times of the day to hire laborers for his vineyard.  When the time came to pay the workers they were all paid the same, even those who were hired late in the day.  When those who were hired first complained about this the landowner said:  “My friend, I am not cheating you.  Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go.  What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?  Are you envious because I am generous?”

Now as I have mentioned previously parables are not meant to be taken literally.   They are simply stories that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God.   The point of a parable occurs when our sense of what is right or proper is troubled.  In the case of today’s parable that point occurs is when everyone is paid the same.  We need to understand that this parable was not meant to tell us something about laborers or wages.  Rather it is a story about God’s love.  It reminds us that God’s love is different from human love.  God loves all of us freely, equally, and without measure. It doesn’t matter when we come to God or let God into our lives.   

Our first reading this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  Now usually the first reading and the Gospel reading share a common theme.   (The second reading may continue that theme, but more often it is a continuous reading usually from one of Paul’s letters.)   I think the link between the first reading today and the Gospel is found in the words from the first reading.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”   

Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians.  In the section we read this weekend, Paul rejoices that Christ will be glorified whether he lives or dies.  He then urges the Philippians: “Only conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

1.  The laborers in this Gospel today grumbled against the landowner because they didn’t think he was being fair.  Have you ever grumbled against God?
2.  Through the prophet Isaiah God told the people that God’s thoughts were not their thoughts nor their ways God’s ways.  Has there been a time when you haven’t understood God’s ways and/or thoughts?     
3.  What does it mean for you to conduct yourself in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ?  

Many years ago, when my older brother was in first grade, he fell on the school playground and broke his arm. In those days, Anoka only had a small hospital and certainly no emergency room, so when my dad was called, he picked up my brother and took him to the Doctor’s office. As my dad told the story, the doctor was trying to get the broken arm back in its proper position so he could put a cast on it. At one point in the process, however, the doctor must have done something that cause a spike in pain, because my brother let out a yelp and with tears in his eyes looked at my dad and said, “Don’t let him hurt me anymore.” My dad told me that it was at that moment he realized what it meant to be a parent.

When my dad told me this story I had just graduated from college, and I think he was trying to make the point that there are certain moments in life when a realization we had previously missed, suddenly dawns on us. In this particular case, I think my dad was trying to help me realize that since I had graduated from college, I was “grown up” and needed to get my act together.

I suspect in each of our lives there are similar kinds of moments of realization—moments when we realize what it means to be in love, or what I means to be a spouse or a parent, or what it means to be a friend. The list could go on and on. I would like to suggest, though, that in addition to these singular moments of realization, there also should be ongoing realizations in our lives. From my perspective, one of the ongoing realizations in our lives should be the realization of what it means to be a Christian.

On a regular basis, we should realize that being a Christian means that we can’t always do or have what we want. For example, on a regular basis, I think we should be struck by the realization that if we are going to call ourselves Christians, we have to work at forgiveness. On a regular basis, we should realize that we can’t always put our own needs first. On a regular basis, we should realize that judgment is God’s business and not ours. On a regular basis, we should realize that we are called to care for those who are less fortunate. And on a regular basis, we should realize that being a Christian means that we are called to love our neighbor as our self.

If we are never caught up short by the realization that we have failed to live and act as a follower of Jesus, I would suggest that we have made being a Christian far too easy. Being a Christian shouldn’t always be easy or convenient. At times we will fail. This realization should be a regular and reoccurring experience in our lives. Once we understand this, I believe we are on our way to an adult and mature faith.

 

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

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091414.cfm 

 

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.    This Feast is always celebrated on September 14th, and when September 14th falls on a Sunday it supersedes the usual. celebration of that day --- in this case the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  

Our Gospel for this Feast is a section of Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus.  In the section we read today Jesus tells Nicodemus:  “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”    These words remind us that for believers the cross is a sign of hope and life, not death.  It is a symbol of God’s love and the promise of eternal life. 

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of Numbers.  It prefigures Jesus’ words in the Gospel.   We are told that as punishment for their grumbling and complaining, the Lord sent “saraph serpents which bit the people so that many of them died.”  When Moses prayed for the people, the Lord said to Moses: “Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.”    

Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians.  It is a Christological hymn that reminds us that “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped ……………….. He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” 

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. Do you think the cross has lost some of its meaning/impact because so many people wear a cross as a form of jewelry? 
2.  How would you explain the cross to a non-Christian? 
3. What does it mean to you that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and past it into your browser.
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090714.cfm 

Our Gospel this Sunday comes in two parts.   In the first part, Jesus gives some practical directives in regard to how to deal with disputes.   “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone ……….. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you ………. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.   If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.”   Sadly, all too often we reverse this process, going first to others and only last to our brother or sister.   The really important thing to note, though, is Jesus’ last words in this Gospel: “If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.”   And as we know from Jesus’ ministry, he welcomed Gentiles and tax collectors, and treated them with respect and love.   These are very challenging words. 

In the second half of this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus appears to make an impossible promise:  “if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.”   In this regard, it is important to note that if two people are really united in prayer, they will also be united in their desire to do God’s will ----- and will pray to do God’s will.  

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.  In it we are reminded that we have a responsibility to try to “warn the wicked” and turn them from their way.   It is not enough simply to be concerned about our own welfare.

Our second reading this Sunday is once again taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans.  In it Paul reminds us that the commandments of the Old Testament are summed up by the new commandment of Christ:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus is clear that we are to go to our brother or sister to try to resolve issues before going to anyone else.  Why do so many of us do just the opposite?
2. How do you know when it is appropriate to challenge someone, and when it is better simply to accept their faults?   
3. What is a practical way to love someone as you love yourself? 

Blocking God's Grace

A few weeks ago I got a call from a priest in another diocese who asked if I had received an email he had sent a month earlier. I told him I hadn’t and asked what email address he had sent it to. He replied that he didn’t have my email address and had sent the email via our website. I checked through my various email folders and finally found his email in my junk email folder. Unfortunately, I also found about twenty other emails in that folder that needed a response. As a result, I spent an entire morning sending apology emails to those twenty emails that unbeknownst to me had been sent to my junk email folder.

When I checked with our IT person, we discovered that any and all emails that had been sent to me via our website were being blocked and unceremoniously consigned to my junk email folder. Since I don’t know how to block emails, I didn’t have any idea how this could have happened. At this point, the problem has been corrected and I am once again receiving emails that are sent to me via our website. And while I tried to be careful when I went through my junk email folder, I hope I didn't miss an email I should have responded to and ended up offending someone.

As I reflected on this situation, it occurred to me that at times we may be aware when something is blocking our communication efforts. On the other hand, there may be other times when we are completely unaware that something is blocking them. I think this is probably especially true in regard to God’s attempts to share God’s love with us. Our faith tells us that God is constantly revealing God’s love to us and offering us God’s grace. At times, though, because of our sins, we may not be open to God’s love and grace. In effect and in fact, our sins block us from being open to God.

The above is exacerbated by the fact that, while there are times when we are aware that we are estranged from or at a distance from God, there are times when our sins have put us at a distance from God, and as a result we are unaware that the grace and love our God wants to offer us is being blocked. This is the corrosive and numbing effect of sin. It can block God’s grace without our being aware that this is happening.

Fortunately, while Christians didn’t invent sin, we do believe that in Jesus Christ we have found the remedy for sin. In chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel, we find the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. Both of these parables remind us that when we are lost—even and perhaps especially when we don’t know we are lost—Jesus seeks us out. And he is not satisfied and won’t stop looking until he finds us.

Sin can block the love and grace God wants to offer us. But in and through Jesus Christ we know and believe that this situation is usually temporary. Because of Jesus Christ, there is nothing—save the hardness of our own hearts—that can block God’s love. Of this we can be sure and because of this we will be saved.

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/083114.cfm

Our Gospel this Sunday follows immediately after last Sunday’s Gospel in which Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?”  Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.   In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus tells his disciples the “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”  When Peter objected to this Jesus told him:  “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”   Jesus then went on to tell his disciples: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. “  

In this Gospel Jesus is clear that his disciples should not expect a life free of difficulties or pain simply because they were his disciples.   Rather, we can expect our reward or punishment at the end of our lives. This is made clear in the last line of this Sunday’s Gospel.  “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”   

Our first reading this Sunday dovetails nicely with the Gospel.  The prophet Jeremiah is upset that his words of chastisement and rebuke have caused him to be beaten and put into stocks.  In a famous lament he says:  “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me and you triumphed.  All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.”   Given this, Jeremiah vows not to prophesy any longer.  “But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”    Clearly for Jeremiah, responding to God’s call was no picnic, yet he realized that ultimately in responding to that call he would find his salvation.

For our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.  It shares the theme of the Gospel and the first reading.  Paul tells the Romans: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. When have you had to take up your cross and follow Jesus?
2.  Have you ever felt like Jeremiah in our first reading?
3. What helps you discern the will of God in your life?  

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