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Fr. Bauer's Blog
“Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” These were spoken to me by my spiritual director on a retreat several years ago. He gave me this advice after I had complained that my prayer was feeling a little stale and didn’t seem to be going anywhere. He suggested that perhaps, I needed to be more honest in prayer and not try to put on a “good face” for God. He was right. At that point in my life, things were not going as well as I had wanted or hoped. I was experiencing some stress in my ministry and a couple of relationships were a bit strained. The difficulty was that when I went to prayer, I didn’t bring these things with me. Instead my prayer consisted of reading the scriptures and using a lot of pious words.
My spiritual director suggested that I bring to God in prayer the pain and sadness I was feeling. At first I balked at this idea. After all, this wasn’t the way I was taught to pray. I did follow his advice, though, and as the retreat progressed, so too did my sense of peace and serenity. The situation certainly hadn’t changed, but I realized that God’s grace was being offered to me in the midst of that situation. I also learned that God can handle our questions, our doubts, and our anger.
I don’t think my experience is too unusual. Too often we think we need to “dress up” our prayer and put on a “good face” when we come to God in prayer. We aren’t really ourselves, but rather we put on a façade and pretend to be someone we aren’t. The thing is, though, that God knows us better than we know ourselves. God is not surprised at who we are or what we do. We can’t deceive God, so we might as well be honest with God in our prayer.
Given the above, we never need be fearful of coming to God in honesty and openness, trusting that the God who created us in love will not love us less or reject us for being who we are. When we come to God in prayer, we just need to be ourselves, without pretense and without guile. God knows us and loves us as we are, not for what we think we need to be.
In our prayer, we need to pray as we can and not as we can’t. And we need to trust and believe that in response to our honest prayer, God will give us the grace we need.
Readings: Isaiah 7: 10-14 Romans 1: 1-7 Matthew 1: 18-24
With just a few days before Christmas, our Gospel reading for this fourth Sunday of Advent tells us “how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” Although Mary and Joseph were betrothed, they were not yet married, and yet we are told that Mary was “found with child though the Holy Spirit.” Joseph, who at this point did not know that Mary had conceived through the Holy Spirit, decided to divorce Mary quietly. “Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her ……………… When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”
Because this Gospel is so familiar, it would be easy to fail to appreciate its message. Not only does it remind us of our belief that Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God, but also it reminds us that having faith doesn’t mean that we will always understand God’s will and work, or that our faith will provide the answers to our questions. Certainly this was the case with Joseph.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. From our Christian perspective, it contains a prophecy of Christ’s birth. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”
Our second reading this weekend is the opening verses of the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. Paul begins this letter by identifying himself and his mission. “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, the gospel about his Son, descended from David according to the flesh, but established as Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness……………….”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. I think Joseph is a model of faith in that without understanding he believed. Have you ever not understood and yet believed?
2. Joseph came to know God’s will through a dream. How else might you come to know God’s will?
3. Paul identified himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. With the connotations that the word “slave” has, I feel a bit uncomfortable with this. What about you?
Readings: Isaiah 35: 1-6a; 10 James 5: 7-10 Matthew 11: 2-11
This weekend we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent. And again this weekend, we encounter John the Baptist. This shouldn’t surprise us as John is a major figure during the season of Advent. In our Gospel last weekend we heard John’s message to “repent.” In our Gospel this weekend we find John near the end of his life. He has sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus did not respond with a simple yes or no answer. Instead he told John’s disciples: “Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” As they were going off we are told that Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. His final words are important. “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
There are two things to note about this Gospel. First, it shouldn’t surprise us that John the Baptist inquired about Jesus. John after all is in prison and thus hasn’t had any first hand experience of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ response to John’s query gently reminded him that he was doing the very things that the prophet Isaiah had said the Messiah would do. The second thing to note in this Gospel is Jesus’ words about John. They speak of the respect and love he had for John and they remind us that this same love is offered to all of us.
In our first reading this weekend from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah we find the prophecy that Jesus referred to in our Gospel today. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will speak. Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy………”
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of Saint James. This will be the only time we read from James during this liturgical year. In this reading, James encourages us to “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord ………………… Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- If someone asked you if you were a follower of Jesus what actions would you point to as proof that you were a disciple?
- Where do your eyes need to be opened, you ears cleared and your tongue loosened during this season of Advent?
- Where do you need to be more patient during this season of Advent?
Readings: Isaiah 11: 1-10 Romans 15: 4-9 Matthew 3: 1-12
This weekend we celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent. In our Gospel this weekend we encounter John the Baptist. We are told that “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” Based on this description of his appearance, John must have been a formidable --- if not frightening --- figure. His message was clear: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And we are told that people did respond to him. “At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came for his baptism, however, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” Clearly John was not out to win friends. Rather he saw his mission as preparing the way of Christ and in doing this; he didn’t worry about offending people or hurting their feelings.
Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In the section we read this weekend, Isaiah prophesized about the coming Messiah who would come from the “stump of Jesse.” We are told that: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and f ear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” When he comes, the messiah will bring peace, justice, and concord. Originally Isaiah’s words were meant to give hope to the Jewish people in a time of distress. We believe though, they speak to us of the coming Kingdom of God.
Our second reading this weekend is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. Paul urges people act as Christ. “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keep in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. What do you need to repent of during this season of Advent?
2. What does “fear of the Lord” mean to you?
3. How do you glorify God in your life?