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Fr. Bauer's Blog
It seems to me that in our world today there are often two competing visions of “Christianity.” On the one hand there are those who see Christianity as a set of beliefs and rules that believers are expected to accept and adhere to in order to live a good and righteous life, and so be fit for heaven (this is known as orthodoxy). On the other hand there are those who see Christianity simply as a loving way of life, in which we are called to live in common care and concern for one another (this is often referred to as ortho-praxy).
I think both of these visions, in and of themselves, are incomplete. It is not enough simply to give allegiance to a set of beliefs and rules. Somehow what we believe must have an impact on and find expression in the way we live. Likewise, while it is good and important to manifest a loving way of life, our lives must be grounded in faith, and in a set of beliefs. Without this anchor, it is too easy for a “loving way of life” to become whatever suits one’s fancy at a given moment in time.
Now certainly the above is not a new issue. It has been around since the beginning of the Church. In the letter of Saint James we read: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone may say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works” (James 2: 15-18).
When we talk about a vision for Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular we need a both/and, not an either/or approach. It is too simple to profess a set of beliefs without giving witness to those beliefs in the way we live. I have encountered too many people who were steadfast in the profession of their beliefs, but who were cranky, judgmental, and in some cases, downright mean. On the other hand, I have also encountered people who identified themselves as Christians, and who lived good and loving lives, but who, when pressed, couldn’t tell you exactly what they believed and/or why their beliefs made a difference in the way they lived.
Both orthodoxy and ortho-praxy are good, important, and necessary. We need to remember, though, that they go together. They are inseparable from one another. Whenever we overemphasize one, or worse, pit them against one another, we are going down a dangerous path. Jesus knew this. I think that is why, when he was asked which was the greatest commandment, he gave two and yoked them together. Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular require that we believe and profess our faith, and then give witness to it through our words and actions. This is what Jesus asks of and expects from all of us.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062517.cfm
This weekend we celebrate the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. (Ordinary Time is that time between the major seasons of our Church year --- Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.) In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus instructs “the twelve” about their mission and ministry. There are three things to note in this Gospel. 1. Three times Jesus tells the twelve not to be afraid. 2. Rather, they are to be bold in their witness and fearless in their preaching. 3. For “even the hairs of your head are counted.”
Jesus knew that his disciples would face stiff resistance and even persecution as they sought to continue his mission and ministry. Given this, he wanted to be honest with them in regard to what was to come, while at the same time assuring them, that they would not be alone as they went forth. God would be with them
Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. In the section we read today, Jeremiah has been imprisoned and beaten. He hears “the whisperings of many; “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him” And yet, even in this terrible situation Jeremiah is able to say: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.”
In both our Gospel and our first Reading we are reminded that God never promised us a trouble free life of ease and comfort. God did promise, though, that He would be with us in the midst of our trials and sufferings.
Our second reading today is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In the section we read today Paul reminds us that although sin is a part of our world, “how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- When have you experienced God’s grace in the face of difficulties or trials?
- During difficulties, has there been a time when --- only in retrospect --- that you were able to see God’s grace in your life?
- Where are you called to give witness to God in your 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/061817.cfm
Many years ago when I was growing up, my mother decided she would bake bread and rolls for our family rather then purchase them at the store. This practice stopped when my youngest brother was born. I think with 7 children, one of them being a new born, something had to give. For a few years, though, it was great to wake up to the smell of fresh bread a couple times a week. Even as a child, I knew that making bread was a way for my mother to express her love for us. Given this, it wasn’t difficult at all for me to understand that the Eucharist --- the Bread of Life --- was an expression of Christ’s love for us.
I mention the above because this Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This feast celebrates our belief, as Catholics, that in the Eucharist Jesus Christ is really and truly present. We offer no proof for this belief. There is no rational explanation for it. There is no way to logically reason to it. For us it is a matter of faith. And, as we read in the Letter to the Hebrews: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11.1)
In our Gospel this weekend, Jesus tells the people: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” In these words we believe Jesus has promised to be with his people in the Eucharist that we celebrate and share in his name. Further, we believe that in the Eucharist not only do we share in Christ’s life in this world, but also we are given the promise of eternal life.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the book of Deuteronomy. In it Moses reminded the people not to forget the Lord their God who “fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers.” We see manna as prefiguring the Eucharist.
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. In it Paul reminded the people of Corinth that “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- How was the Eucharist explained to you as a child? How do you understand it now?
- How would you explain the Eucharist to someone who does not come from a Christian background?
- What is your strongest memory of receiving the Eucharist?
A few months ago I got together for dinner with a friend. During our dinner conversation he told me that on a recent trip to the East coast, he had seen GOD’S truck on the highway. Since I am not one to be easily taken in, I asked him what he meant. He said that while he was driving to the East Coast to visit some relatives and friends, in the distance ahead he saw a truck with the word G O D written in large letters across its back doors. He went on to say that as he got closer to the truck he realized that it wasn’t really GOD’S truck after all. Rather it was a truck with very large lettering that announced: Guaranteed Overnight Delivery. As he told this story we both had a good laugh. I then suggested that he get his eyes checked relatively soon.
As I reflected on my friend’s encounter with GOD’S truck, it occurred to me that perhaps there was a message in this experience. Specifically, it struck me that for most of us when we pray to God we often expect “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery” in response to our prayers. We expect God to hear our prayers, to understand the wisdom, goodness, and unselfishness behind them, and then to respond to them completely, swiftly, and preferably overnight. The reality is, though, that God doesn’t operate according to our timeline and/or agenda.
Certainly this can be frustrating and it can cause people to wonder why many times their best and most unselfish prayers go unanswered. In some cases people can begin to wonder if they aren’t saying the right prayers, or if they aren’t praying hard enough, or if they just aren’t holy enough. Sadly, for some people, it can even cause them to give up on prayer all together.
The reality is, though, that it is fairly presumptuous of us to expect that God’s response to our prayers should take the form of “Guaranteed Overnight Delivery.” God is not under any obligation to respond to our prayers according to our timeline and in exactly the manner we want. This doesn’t mean, though, that God doesn’t respond to our prayers.
More times than I can count I have realized (most often in retrospect) that God had responded to my prayers, but in ways I hadn’t imagined or in ways I hadn’t been open to at the time. Often times too, instead of doing things for me, I have discovered that God has given me the strength, the courage, ability, and the grace to do something I had been praying and asking God to do.
God never promised Guaranteed Overnight Delivery in response to our prayers. If we can pray with open hearts and minds, though, and if we can trust and believe that God does indeed hear and respond to our prayers, we will discover that God has responded to our prayers. This response may not occur in the way we had wanted or hoped, but most certainly in the way we need.
For the readings for this Sunday click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/061117.cfm
Three = One. Huh?
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. This Feast celebrates the ONE God who has revealed God’s Self as Creating Father, Redeeming Son, and Sanctifying Spirit. The Preface for this feast (The Preface is that part of the Mass that leads into the Holy, Holy, Holy.) declares: “For what you have revealed to us of your glory we believe equally of your Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Our readings this Sunday speak of the relationship of humans with God, beginning with the Israelite people. In the first reading from the book of Exodus, Moses on Mount Sinai encounters God. We are told that God passed before him and cried out: "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindess and fidelity."
In our second reading this weekend, from the letter to the Corinthians, Paul states our Trinitarian belief succinctly: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God , and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you."
Finally in our Gospel reading we are reminded that “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."
All three of our readings for this Feast remind us that the God we worship today is the same God who chose the Israelites, who was fully revealed to us by Jesus Christ, and who continues to abide with each of us and with our Church today.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- I think sometimes the Trinity is perhaps best grasped through analogy, rather than through theological language. So think of your mother. To you she is mother; to her mother she is/was daughter; to her husband she is/was wife. She is one and the same person, yet viewed in different ways at different times. What analogy has helped (or still helps) you to understand the Trinity?
- We often use words to describe the different Persons in the Godhead. What words would you use to help distinguish the different Persons in the Triune Godhead? Hint: some people use Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.
- What do you think is the biggest stumbling block to belief in a Triune God?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060417-day-mass.cfm
This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost. Along with Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is really the third great Feast of our Church year. Unfortunately, coming as it does at the beginning of summer, Pentecost doesn’t get nearly the attention that Christmas and Easter do. And yet Pentecost, because it celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church, is very important.
If we are honest, I think another reason why Pentecost doesn’t get the attention it deserves is that the Holy Spirit is the least understood member of the Trinity. In fact, when I was growing up the Holy Spirit was referred to as the Holy Ghost. And if you think understanding the Holy Spirit is difficult, you can only imagine what it was like for a teacher to explain the Holy Ghost. And yet, the work of the Spirit is experienced in a variety of ways both in our Church and in our individual lives. In this regard some of the words we use to speak of the work the Spirit are: Animator, Counselor, Advocate, Guide, and Comforter. We also speak of the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit. While we may not have the precise clarity of understanding we would like in regard to the Holy Spirit, what is clear is that the work of the Holy Spirit is essential to our Church and our individual lives.
Our readings for this weekend speak clearly of the work of the Spirit. Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us of the very first Pentecost. The gift of tongues, so that all people could hear of the “mighty acts of God” in their own language, reverses the “babel” that resulted when the people in Genesis tried to build a tower to the heavens. The Gospel reading recounts the gift of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples. And the Second reading from Corinthians reminds us that there are “different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- How would you describe the Holy Spirit to someone who didn’t come from a Christian background?
- How have you felt the Spirit working in your life?
- What gifts of the Spirit have you been given?
In a few weeks, from June 18 - June 22, the priests of our Archdiocese will gather at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester for our biennial Presbyteral Assembly. Every other year, for many years now our Archbishops have asked the priests of our Archdiocese to set aside their parish or institutional responsibilities and gather together for a few days to talk about some specific areas of our lives/ministries. This year the various speakers will focus on the Spirituality of the Diocesan Priesthood; Priestly Fraternity; and Affective Maturity. (I’m not at all sure what that last topic means.)
These gatherings are good and important. As priests, we gather in all our diversity and with all our differences, and spend time together in fraternity. During our time together we are well aware of the things that unite us as well as those things about which we disagree. And often times the things about which we disagree are brought up in very public ways. In fact, in the years I have been attending these assemblies, I have often been reminded of an old Phyllis Diller line from many years ago: “Never go to bed angry. Stay up and fight.”
We priests are very much like most other Catholics. We don’t always agree with each other. In fact, if the truth be told, we differ; we disagree; and sometimes we argue. But through it all we stay together. We don’t walk away from each other. I believe the reason for this is that we realize that, at root, the things that unite us are more important than the things that might divide us.
Disagreement and tension have always been a part of the life of our Church. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul fought with Peter over the issue of Gentile converts. Moreover, through the centuries, disagreement and dissension have been part of more than one Council and/or Conclave. Yet through it all our Church not only has survived; it has thrived. I think the reason for this is twofold.
First, we believe that the Spirit of God has guided and continues to guide our Church. And with the guidance of the Spirit comes the promise and gift of Indefectibility. The gift of Indefectibility tells us that because the Holy Spirit leads and guides our Church, the Church cannot and will not deviate fundamentally from the truth of the Gospel, from the Mission of the Church, or from the Life of Faith. The guidance of the Holy Spirit ensures that despite disagreements that might arise, despite any appearance of division, our Church cannot deviate in fundamental and essential ways from the Gospel, the Mission that Christ entrusted to it, or from the Life of Faith.
The second thing that has ensured that our Church has thrived through the centuries is the grace of God poured out on the Church as a whole, and upon each individual member. I am more and more convinced that God’s grace has enabled and continues to enable us to identify, to discuss, to work through, and/or accept the differences and disagreements that exist within our Church. It is the grace of God that allows us to see beyond the differences that would divide us, to the many and foundational things that unite us. Our Church, both locally, as well as internationally, is very diverse. But diversity does not necessarily need to lead to division. Nor does diversity mean that we can’t stand on the common ground that is foundational for us and that ultimately unites us with God.
“Big God, Big Church” is a phrase that is really a mantra for me. It reminds me that the embrace of our Church cannot be anything less that the embrace of our God’s love. Occasionally all of us—even priests—need to be reminded of this fact. The things that unite us are far more important than the things about which we might differ or disagree. The challenge for all of us is to rely a little more on God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and a little less on our own ideas and biases. As followers of the Lord Jesus this must always be our hope and our goal.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser: https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/052817-ascension.cfm
This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. When I was pastor of a parish with a school I loved celebrating Mass with children on this day. After the Gospel I would stand in front of the altar and stare up at the ceiling. Within a few seconds every child in the place would also be staring at the ceiling. After about a minute of this, I would tell them that they were dong the exactly the same thing Jesus’ disciples did when Jesus ascended into heaven.
We read of Jesus’ Ascension in our first reading this weekend which is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. In that reading we are told that when Jesus gathered with his disciples for the last time after his resurrection he told them: “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?’ This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Our Gospel reading this weekend contains the final verses of Matthew’s Gospel. In it Jesus commands his disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit………” Jesus also reminded his disciples, that “behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Our second reading this weekend is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians. In it Paul prays that the “eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Sometimes I am like the disciples. I stare off into the heavens looking for Jesus, and forget his promise to be with us always, until the end of the age. Is this true for you as well?
- How are you called to give witness to Jesus in your life?
- How would you explain to someone our belief that Christ is both in heaven and yet with us here on earth?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
“Do you love me?” That Tevye’s question to Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. I suspect most of us have asked (or thought of asking) this question at some point in our lives. In our Gospel today, though, Jesus didn’t pose this question. He was more direct. At the beginning of this Gospel he said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” And toward the end of the Gospel he said: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”
In Fiddler on the Roof Golde replied to Tevye’s question by saying: “For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him. Fought him. Starved with him. Twenty-five years my bed is his. If that’s not love, what is?” For Golde love was shown in actions, not words. Jesus asks this same thing of those who would be his followers. We show we are his disciples by keeping his commandments. And Jesus commandments are clear. We are called to love God with our whole heart and soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. For Jesus, love is a verb, not a noun. It is an action more than an emotion.
Our first reading this weekend is again taken from the Acts of the Apostles. In it Philip proclaimed Jesus Christ to the city of Samaria. After they had accepted the word of God, Peter and John were sent to them to pray for them that they might “receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them.” The gift of the Spirit signifies unity with the apostles and the other early Christian communities.
Our second reading this weekend is from the first Letter of Saint Peter. In it Peter challenges us to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you, for a reason for your hope.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
1. What are some concrete and specific ways we can show our love for God and our neighbor?
2. In what concrete and specific ways have you experienced God’s love?
3. If someone were to ask you, what reason would you give for your hope?
A few weeks ago the Gospel reading at daily Mass was John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In John’s version we are told that Jesus fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. We are told further that after everyone had their fill, Jesus told his disciples: “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted. So they collected them and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat.” (Jn. 6:12b-13)
The story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish is the only miracle story that is found in all four Gospels. And while the details differ slightly in each account, there is at least one element that is common to all of them. In each Gospel, after the crowd had been fed, there were fragments left over that filled several wicker baskets. For some reason this detail caught my attention, so I spent some time reflecting on it. As part of my reflection, two things occurred to me. 1) When God is involved there is always an abundance; and 2) When God is involved nothing is insignificant or lost. I think both of these are important.
Often in our world today and especially in our culture, people live with an attitude of scarcity. We wonder whether there will be enough of “whatever” to go around, and so we cling tightly to our “stuff” because we fear there won’t be enough or that we might run out. This can lead us to hold tightly to certain things because we worry they might become a scarce commodity, and if we let go of them, there might not be enough if/when we need whatever it might be.
In regard to God’s love and grace, though, there is always an abundance. We never have to worry that there won’t be enough, or that someone else will get our share. God’s love and grace are not limited commodities. Since God is love and God is also infinite, it stands to reason that there is an infinite amount of God’s love and grace to go around. With God there is always an abundance. We need never fear that there is a limited supply of God’s grace and love.
As importantly, though, when God is involved nothing is ever lost or too small to be of significance. We know this because God has told us: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget; I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name;” (Is 49:15-16) These words remind us that God’s love is so abundant that no one is ever beyond the reach of that love, or too insignificant or unimportant to be loved. God loves us even if/when we don’t love God. No one and nothing is ever lost to God.
Too often, either consciously or unconsciously, we can believe that we are too insignificant to be known and loved by God. Jesus’ concern, though, that the fragments of barley loaves and fish be gathered up, reminds us that nothing escapes God’s notice and no one is ever lost to God. Such is God’s love. It is abundant beyond belief, and because of this, no one is ever beyond the reach of that love.