Fr. Bauer's Blog

The Cross adorned with Yellow Roses

Knowing and Believing

Several years ago I was part of a question and answer session with high school students concerning what we believe about the last things, e.g. heaven, hell, and purgatory. At one point one of the participants asked me how I knew that heaven and hell existed. Now, I’m not sure if they asked this question out of interest, or to see if they could trip me up. In either case, if their reaction was any barometer, I think they were genuinely surprised when I replied that I didn’t really know that heaven and hell existed; rather I believed they existed. 

Pressed to clarify the difference between knowledge and belief, I explained that knowledge is based on personal experience, while belief is based on the witness or testimony of others. For example, I know that New York City exists because I have been there. I believe that Miami exists, not because I have been there, but because of the testimony of others who have been there. 

Now in making the above distinction, I don’t mean to suggest that those things which we are cognizant of because of our belief are any less real than those things we know because we have experienced them personally. Belief and knowledge are often twin sources of inspiration, motivation, guidance, and hope for our lives. Belief is not a poor substitute for knowledge. It has its own unique place in our lives. It has importance and value for our lives, and because of this it cannot be ignored or denied. 

Particularly with regard to matters of faith, I think belief is as important as knowledge. In fact, our beliefs can be as challenging and reassuring as the knowledge which comes from our experience. For example, my belief in heaven is a source of real assurance for me as I live my life, just as my belief in hell is likewise a real source of motivation for me as I live my life. 

In terms of God, I know that God exists because I have experienced God’s presence and grace in my life. My knowledge of God is based on personal experience. I say this because in my life I have experienced God as loving Father, redeeming Son, and inspiring Spirit. In regard to heaven and hell, however, since, I have not yet died and experienced either of them, my belief in them is based on the testimony of others—very specifically, the testimony of Jesus Christ.

For it was Jesus who told us: “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will have eternal life.” 

As we celebrate the great Feast of Easter today, my prayer for all of us is that we might come to experience and know the presence of the risen Lord Jesus in our lives, so that our belief in Jesus’ promise of eternal life might give us courage and hope for our lives. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040118.cfm  

There are several readings that can be used for the Mass of the Easter Vigil, as well as the various Masses on Easter Day in the morning/afternoon.  The readings above are those that are designated for the Mass on Easter morning. 

While the various Gospel accounts of the resurrection may vary somewhat in detail there are some common elements.   1. No one witnessed the actual event of the Resurrection; 2. Those who found the empty tomb were amazed and confused; 3. Ultimately the lives of those who encountered the resurrected Christ were fundamentally and irrevocably changed.   

In John’s Gospel (the last Gospel to be written) Mary Magdalene discovered the empty tomb, but did not enter.  This differs from Mark’s Gospel (the first Gospel to be written) where Mary Magdalene not only discovered the empty tomb, she entered it and encountered an angel who told her that Jesus had been raised.  She was then told to go and tell this to Jesus’ disciples and Peter.   Why this discrepancy?   Well it is possible they simply represent two differing memories.  It might also be possible, though, that by the time John’s Gospel was written Peter’s leadership role in the early church had been established and as a result John thought it fitting to accord him the privilege of being the first to enter the empty tomb.  Regardless of who first entered the empty tomb, the results as noted above, are the same: their lives were transformed by the resurrection of Jesus.   

Our first reading for Easter is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.   In it Peter addressed the household of Cornelius.   He is clear that Jesus has been raised from the dead and he and the other apostles have been “commissioned to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.”

In the second reading for Easter, taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians, Paul reminds us that:  “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Why do you think there were no witnesses to the Jesus’ actual resurrection?
  2. What is different in your life because of Jesus’ resurrection?
  3. What is your image of eternal life?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032518.cfm 

Each year on Palm Sunday we read an account of Jesus’ passion from one of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).  This year we read from the Gospel of Mark.     In place of the customary introduction to the Gospel:  “A reading from the Holy Gospel according to ………..”   the passion is introduced with the stark:  “The passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to ……….”   This change may seem slight or even trivial, but it reminds us of the significance of the story we are about to hear and which will unfold for us during Holy Week.       

Mark’s account of the passion is the shortest of all four Gospels.   At the same time, some scripture scholars claim that Mark’s account of the passion emphasizes the humanity of Jesus the best.   It is not that Mark forgets the divinity of Jesus; rather Mark doesn’t try to “dress up” the emotions Jesus --- and others --- were feeling.   

While we are all familiar with the story of Jesus’ passion, reading (or hearing) it in its entirety can help us appreciate anew, and hopefully at a deeper level the suffering Jesus’ endured for our sake.  

The first and second readings for Palm Sunday remain the same every year.   The first reading is taken from that part of Isaiah known as the “songs of the suffering servant.”   From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have seen these songs as referring to Christ, the suffering servant par excellence.  

The second reading for Palm Sunday is taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  It is in the form of a hymn and it speaks of Jesus’ journey from heaven to earth and back to heaven.  Its simple eloquence reminds us that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” for us.   And because of this, “every knee shall bend in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord………..”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. I suspect that for many people the “cross” is more ornamentation than symbol of Christ’s suffering and death.   Do you agree or disagree? 
  2. What part of Jesus’ passion and death is most disturbing for you?
  3. Can you think of a time when you “emptied” yourself for another?   

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031818-year-b.cfm  

“Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”  This request was made to Philip by “Some Greeks” at the beginning of this Sunday’s Gospel.   After learning of their request Jesus didn’t respond directly.  Instead he said: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”   He then went on to talk about the hour which was coming, and this being the purpose for which he came.    He then prayed: “Father, glorify you name.”   We are then told that a voice came from heaven saying: “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”   Jesus then told the people:  “This voice did not come for my sake, but for yours.  Now is the time of judgment on this world;  now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself”   

Now given the above, this Gospel would seem to be a bit disjointed, without a logical progression of thought.   The thread that ties this passage together, though, is found in the question posed by the Greeks: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”   Often times in the scriptures, people want to “see” Jesus.  They are comfortable seeing him from a distance.  Jesus, though, is clear he doesn’t want people to stay at a distance from him.  He wants them to follow him.  And if they chose to follow him, he also wants them to come to know him.  Jesus is also clear, though, that knowing him won’t guarantee a life of ease, or a life free of difficulties or trials.  Rather his followers are to give up their way, and follow his way.   In this regard, in our Gospel today Jesus is clear; “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am there also will my servant be.  The Father will honor whoever serves me.” 

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.   In it God tells the people that because their forbearers broke the old covenant, He will make a “new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”   The terms of the covenant are stated clearly.   “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  

In our second reading this Sunday the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds the people that Jesus, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:  

1.  The request of the Greeks: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” suggests to me that often we want to stay at a distance from Jesus.   As a friend of mine puts it: “at times we more admire than strive to imitate Jesus.”    Do you agree or disagree? 

2.  In the first reading God told the people of Israel that He was making a new covenant with them.  What does the word “covenant” mean to you?

3.   What does it mean for you to “obey” Jesus?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031118-year-b.cfm 
 
When the camera scans the crowd at football or baseball games, often times there will be at least one person in the crowd holding up a sign that reads:  John 3:16 “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, taken from this weekend’s Gospel, remind us that our God loves us so much that God gave form and flesh to that love in the human person of Jesus Christ.   More than this, though, God’s love is so great that God wants to share that love with us not just in this life, but in eternal life.   This love is offered to us freely, completely and without hesitation or qualificaiton.  It is a love that is beyond belief and without reason.  
 
I believe the message of God’s undeserved, unending and immeasurable love for us is one that we can’t hear too often.   I say this because there are many people who want to limit the embrace of God’s love to a chosen few, or who would have you believe that somehow we need to earn God’s love.   Both of these ideas are fundamentally wrong.  God loves us as we are, simply because we are.   There are no limits to God’s love.   And the only barrier to God’s love is the hardness of our own hearts.  God never forces God’s love on us.   It is offered freely and willingly.   We only have to accept it.   And whoever accepts God’s love does the works of God and is given the promise of eternal life.   
 
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the second Book of Chronicles.  It tells how the priests and the people of Judah had turned away from God, despite the fact that “Early and often did the Lord, the God of their fathers, send his messengers to them, for he had compassion on his people and his dwelling place.”  Because of their infidelity, God allowed them to be conquered and led into captivity in Babylon.   
 
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians.   In it Paul reminds the Ephesians, and us, that God is rich in mercy and that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.”   
 
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
  1. When have you felt God’s love in your life?
  2. When have you refused to accept and live in God’s love?
  3. What would you say to someone who tried to tell you that you that God’s love was limited to a chosen few, or that you had to earn God’s love. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/030418-year-b.cfm     

Our Church has always taught that Jesus is true God and true man.  In this Sunday’s Gospel --- the familiar story of the cleansing of the temple --- we get a glimpse into Jesus’ humanity.  We are told that Jesus “found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep and doves, as well as the money changers seated there.  He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these out of here and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.’”   

In addition to being a good example of Jesus’ humanity, what are we to make of this incident?   First, it would be wrong to use this incident to justify our own outbursts of anger.  I say this because Jesus’ anger was directed at a situation, not a person.  It was not hurtful or vengeful.  It was very controlled, specific and limited in duration.  And its purpose was not to offend or put down.   Rather, the point and purpose of Jesus’ anger was to call people back to the reason they came to the temple.  The temple was not a place to conduct business; rather it was a place where people could worship and attend to their relationship with God.   Jesus’ anger reminded them (and us) of this fundamental truth.   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of Exodus.  It is the story of God giving the Ten Commandments to the Israelites.  And as we all know, the third commandment is “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.”  Clearly the people in today’s Gospel were not heedful of this commandment.   

Our second reading this Sunday is taken from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In blunt and stark terms, Paul reminds us that “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.”    

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. Have you ever used Jesus’ display of anger to justify your own anger?
  2. How do you keep holy the Sabbath day? 
  3. I suspect that for people who don’t come from a Christian background, the idea of a crucified Savior could be a stumbling block.  How would you explain Jesus’ crucifixion to a non-Christian?  

 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022518.cfm 
 
Each year on the 2nd Sunday of Lent we read one of the accounts of the Transfiguration of Christ.   The various parts of the story are well known.  Jesus led Peter, James and John “ up a high mountain,” his “clothes became dazzling white,” then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were “conversing with Jesus.”   Peter announced “it is good that we are here,” then a cloud overshadowed them and from the cloud came a voice proclaiming: “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”   After the experience Jesus charged them not to tell anyone what they had seen “except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”   
 
All these various details are important.  The high mountain and the dazzling garments suggest the presence of God.   Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets, the two most important elements of Judaism.  The voice from heaven affirms that it was a divine experience.  And the admonition not to tell anyone until the Son of Man had risen from the dead was meant to incite hope in the disciples that the glory that was revealed in Jesus would also be his after his death.    
 
I believe that in each of our lives, we have “transfiguring” moments ----- certainly not as profound or as deep as the transfiguration the disciples experienced -----  but moments nonetheless when we experience God’s presence and grace --- God’s love and life.  They give us hope in the face of life’s pain.  They help us believe that if we hold on to God, God will hold on to us.   This was Paul’s message in our second reading this Sunday from the Letter to the Romans.  In that reading Paul is clear:  “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  
 
Our first reading this Sunday is taken the Book of Genesis.   It is the story of God putting Abraham to the test by asking him to offer his only son, Isaac, as a holocaust.   While the story is grim, the point is that at times God can ask much of us, but the God who calls us also gives us the grace and strength to respond to that call.   
 
Our second readning this Sunday is from St. Paul's letter to the Romans.   In the opening sentence Paul reminds us of a basic tenent of our faith.  "Brothers and sisters:  If God is for us, who can be against us?"
 
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
 
  1. When have you had a “transfiguring” moment in your life? 
  2. In what way has the grace of that moment helped you to face any difficult situations you encountered later in life?
  3. When have you felt God asking you to do something difficult or something you didn’t want to do?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and past it into your browser. 
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021818.cfm 

This weekend we begin the season of Lent.   For the next six weeks, through our acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we will try to show our desire to “repent and believe in the Gospel.”   Each year on the first Sunday of Lent, we always read one of the accounts of Jesus’ Temptation in the Desert.   This year we read Mark’s account.   Now since Mark’s was the first Gospel written and also the shortest, it doesn’t include the details that Matthew and Luke include in their Gospels.  Mark merely says:  “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.  He was among wild beasts and the angels ministered to him.”   The lack of details is not meant to minimize the reality of the temptations Jesus faced in the desert.   They were real and Jesus struggled with them.  For Mark, though, the important thing was not the temptations Jesus faced, but that fact that he overcame them and afterward began his public ministry by proclaiming: “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel.”   

In each of our lives, we too face temptations, but because of Jesus, and the grace he offers us, we are can overcome them and follow the way of Jesus.  

Our first reading this weekend is from the Book of Genesis.   It takes place immediately after the story of the great flood.   The flood waters have receded and God establishes a covenant with his people.  We are told:  “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you; I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”   

Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of Saint Peter.    In this reading, Peter reminds us that the great flood “prefigured baptism, which saves you now.”  

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. While we all face temptations in our lives, some people seem to resist them more successfully than others.  Why do you think this is? 
  2. Where do you need to repent this Lent?
  3. I take great comfort in the fact that God has made a covenant with us.  At times, though, I also worry that I am not living up to my end of the covenant.   Have you ever felt this way?  

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. 
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/021118.cfm 

In our Gospel this weekend, we read the story of a healing of a leper.  Now at the time of Jesus, leprosy was a terrible curse.   It was a disfiguring and crippling disease.   There was no cure for it, and since people didn’t know how it was spread, lepers were forced to live apart from others in isolation and loneliness.   Thus, the leper in our Gospel today took a great risk in even approaching Jesus.   Yet we are told that “A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said: ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.”    We are then told that “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him and said to him, ‘I do will it.  Be made clean.’”   The leper was cleansed.  Jesus told him to tell no one and to go show himself to the priests so that they could certify that he was no longer a leper.    Instead of remaining quiet, however, the leper went off and began to “publicize the whole matter.” 

There are three things to note in this Gospel.  First, the leper came to Jesus in complete honesty and clear desperation.   He knew he needed Jesus, and his request conveyed his raw, naked need.  Second, Jesus knew the leper needed to be healed, but he also knew he lived apart and alone in isolation without any human contact.   I believe it is for this reason that Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.   Jesus knew that he needed human contact as much as he needed to be healed.   Third, I believe the leper went and publicized his healing after Jesus told him to tell no one because he had been touched in a profound way by God’s grace.  When this has happened to us we just can’t keep it to ourselves.   

Our first reading this weekend provides the background for our Gospel.  It is taken from the Book of Leviticus and it details how lepers were to be dealt with.   They were to make their abode “outside of camp,” and they were to cry out “unclean, unclean” when someone approached.   To understand this treatment it is helpful to remember that at that time illness or hardship were believed to be the result of sin.  Something bad happened to you because you had sinned.   

In our second reading we continue to read from the first letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.  In the section we read today, Paul reminds people to “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Have you ever approached Jesus in prayer with the raw need of the leper?
  2. Jesus knew that the leper needed to be healed, but he also knew he desired simple human contact.   He offered the leper both.   Has Jesus ever given you something you didn’t realize you needed?   
  3. What is one concrete thing you can do to imitate Christ?                                   

                                                                 
Just after Christmas, I spent three days retreating and resting at the Guesthouse at Saint John’s Abbey. Staying at the Guesthouse is a wonderful experience. It is quiet and private. The rooms are simple, but very comfortable. The food, like the rooms, is simple but very tasty, and there are always options to choose from. Perhaps the aspect I like most about staying at the Guesthouse, though, is being able to take a short walk over to the Abbey Church to join the monks for prayer. Their usual schedule is: morning prayer at 7:00am, mid-day prayer at noon, Mass at 5:00pm, and evening prayer at 7:00pm. Now, with all the activities going on in a parish, it would be difficult to keep this rhythm in a parish setting. (I often find myself using my phone to pray evening prayer before a meeting.) This structure of prayer works well at the Abbey, though, and for retreatants especially it makes it easy to schedule other times for reading, private prayer, walks, and reflection. 
 
Now as much as I enjoy joining the monks for prayer, there is one drawback. As a diocesan priest we use a four volume Liturgy of the Hours. Two of the volumes are for Ordinary Time, and the other two are for the Advent/Christmas season and the Lent/Easter season. And the best part is that you only use one volume at a time. As importantly, it is very user friendly and easy to follow. 
 
On the other hand, the monks at Saint John’s have six books of psalms and scripture canticles, and three hymn books. And at any given prayer time you could be using four out of nine of those books for prayer. Fortunately, the monks always seem to be able to spot an inexperienced person shuffling though the various books trying to find the ones s/he will need for prayer. In these cases, one of the monks will come over and in a very kind and an uncondescending manner ask if they can help. Now just so you know, usually by day three I have learned to decipher the notations on the hymn board, and have gotten to know the various books well enough that I don’t look like such a rookie. It is great to know, though, that I only need to paste a confused look on my face and one of the monks will come and help me. 
 
There are times when we all could use some assistance. It could be with something relatively simple (like finding the right prayer book) or it could be with something more serious or important. As Christians, when we see someone in need our response is clear. 
 
Jesus has told us that we are to help those in need, simply because they are in need. The scene of the Last Judgment in Matthew’s Gospel reminds us of this. In that parable, Jesus has told us: “Whatsoever you did for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
 
Not only are we called to provide help and assistance to those in need, but this help is not contingent on whether we know and/or like the person, or think they are deserving of our assistance. Similarly, it is irrelevant whether they are close to us or at some distance. We are called to help people whenever we become aware that they are in need. As importantly, the assistance we provide needs to be concrete, specific, and practical, and not just good thoughts and kind words. 
 
Do we always do the above well? To be honest, I know I don’t. There are times when I put my own needs and wants ahead of those who need assistance. And there have been a few times when I turn a blind eye to those in need. There are other times, though, when I get it right. There are times when I respond to my neighbor in need spontaneously, generously and without reservation. I wish this were always the case, but my selfishness and sinfulness often get in the way of living as Christ has called me to live.  I am challenged though, by the example others set for me. And as importantly, I take comfort in the belief that God never calls us to do something God doesn’t give us the grace to do.  

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