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Fr. Bauer's Blog
A few months ago while driving to a friend’s cabin, I drove past a couple of houses that had been abandoned, and appeared ready to be demolished. The windows that remained had been broken, the doors had been removed from their hinges, and the grass around the houses was overgrown. It was clear at a glance that those houses would never again be home to anyone. I slowed down as I drove past, hoping to get a sense or an indication of how they had come to such a sorry state, but I quickly realized they were simply empty and abandoned, with no indication of why. They certainly had a past, but there was no future for them.
As I continued on to my friend’s cabin, I couldn’t help but think about these houses. There must have been excitement and happiness at their beginning. Clearly someone had made them their home. Perhaps the people who lived in them had dreams and expectations of a bright future. Perhaps they even had hopes that the houses would provide shelter and security for a lifetime. Yet, at some point things changed. The houses that once were new and fresh began to age and show signs of deterioration. And as the years went by, the lack of care and attention began to take its toll until finally they ended up abandoned, and waiting to be demolished. At some point the optimism and excitement with which these houses had been built had faded and eventually died.
As I reflected on this, I wondered what could have happened to cause the dreams with which these houses had been built to die. I suppose it was possible that their owners had simply grown old and tired, and were unable to maintain them. Perhaps, though, a tragedy or an unexpected chain of events had led to their disrepair. Whatever the reason, the hope with which they were built had died and the result was a sad and sorry end for them.
Hope is not just a good thing, it is essential for life to survive and flourish. More importantly for us as Christians, hope is an absolutely necessary virtue in our lives. As Christians, hope calls us to believe that there is something beyond this world. This belief does not come from mere desire or longing on our part. Rather it finds its roots in Jesus’ promise:
“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 never die.”
When I was in grade school I remember having to memorize the Act of Hope —along with the Acts of Faith and Love. While I didn’t remember the exact words to the Act of Hope, when I looked it up, the words came back to me.
“O my God, relying on Your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, though the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.”
Given all that is going on in our world today, this simple prayer seems increasingly important. For now—perhaps more than ever—is a time when we need hope.
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/092417.cfm
It’s not fair! Growing up in a family of seven (five boys and two girls) these words were common in our house. They were automatic response to every perceived injustice or sense of preferential treatment. I suspect these words were on the lips of the laborers in today’s Gospel parable. This parable, found only in Matthew’s Gospel, tells the familiar story of a landowner who went out at various times throughout the day to hire laborers for his vineyard. When it came time to pay the laborers, however, those who were hired late in the day received the same pay as those “who had bore the day’s burden and heat.” This just doesn’t seem fair.
In order to understand what this parable has to say to us, we need to remember that parables are simple stories that Jesus used to tell us something about God or about our relationship with God. They were not meant to be taken literally. Rather, they challenge us to ask what they are telling us about God. In today’s parable we are reminded that salvation is freely offered by God to all people, regardless of when they arrive in the vineyard of faith. Such is the way of God. It is certainly different from the way we often act. And when you stop and think about it, isn’t that good for us.
Our fist reading today shares the theme of the Gospel. In it God, speaking through the Prophet Isaiah, reminded the people that “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”
After reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans for the past twelve Sunday’s, today we switch to St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. In the section we read today Paul acknowledges that he would like “to depart this life and be with Christ.” He also realizes, though, that for now it is “more necessary for their benefit” that he remain in this world.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Many people believe that only a limited number will be saved. Today’s parable would seem to argue against this. Why do you think God is so generous and undiscriminating with God’s love and offer of salvation?
- Have you ever experienced that God’s ways are not your ways?
- We all live with the hope of heaven, yet we know that we are all put on this earth for a purpose. How do you know when you have accomplished your purpose?
- Why, at times, is it so hard to forgive?
- What helps you to forgive?
- What does it mean to live for the Lord?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091017.cfm
Our Gospel this weekend comes in two parts. In the first part, Jesus gives some practical directives as 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 in this section, though, is Jesus’ last words: “treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.” And as we know from Jesus’ ministry, he welcomed these people and treated them with respect and love. These are very challenging words.
In the second half of today’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 weekend 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 weekend 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:
- In this weekend’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?
- How do you know when it is appropriate to confront someone, and when it is better simply to accept their faults?
- What is a practical way to love someone as you love yourself?
The column below was submitted as a letter to the editor for the Catholic Spirit. It was written in response to two letters to the editor that appeared in the August 10 edition of the Catholic Spirit.
I hate waiting in lines. Unless there is just a single line for people who want to check in/out; get gas; pay for their groceries, or whatever, I always choose the wrong line. I inevitably end up behind someone who is sure they have the exact change—if only they can find it; or someone who can’t find their credit card; or someone who doesn’t quite understand why they can’t use a coupon that expired three weeks ago.
Given my abhorrence to waiting in lines, you can perhaps appreciate how surprised I was to read the letters to the editor in the August 10th Catholic Spirit. (The newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.) The issue they were writing about concerned an Illinois Bishop’s decision to prohibit Catholics in same-sex marriages from receiving communion or having their funeral in a Catholic Church. One of the writers was clear that God “does not have a place in heaven for those who decide his rules are outdated and don’t fit the current whims of individuals.” Another suggested that: “Those who claim they are loving others by allowing forbidden practices may just be loving them into hell.” As I read these comments I couldn’t help but think that these writers had found a way to expedite the judgement line at the end of world.
This is pure genius. I am surprised that no one thought of this before. By narrowing down the issues that Jesus articulated in Matthew 25:31-46 to a single question: “Did you question/wonder about/believe in same sex marriage?”—in effect, by doing some pre-judging in this world—it will save God time at the end of the world. In fact, the line at the judgement at the end of the world should move along quite swiftly. We won’t have to worry about whether or not we fed the hungry; gave drink to the thirsty; welcomed the stranger; clothed the naked; comforted the ill; or visited the imprisoned. Of course, though, if we narrow down the criteria for judgement to a single issue/question, it does make it difficult to explain why Jesus told that parable in the first place.
We need to be clear. The idea that we can save God time at the end of the world by doing some pre-judging here is complete nonsense. God searches our hearts, our minds, and our souls; and God—and God alone—is the only One who is qualified to do any judging. And while I can’t say for sure, I suspect God is not all that appreciative of those who think it is right and proper to save time at the end of the world by doing some pre-judging here.
As for me, I am grateful that judgement belongs to God alone, and that it is something God doesn’t need any help with—however well intended. I am also hopeful that at the end of the world God will grade on a curve. I say this because the older I get, the more I realize how much in need of God’s mercy I am.
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/090317.cfm
“No crown without a cross.” A former parishioner used these words whenever she encountered a difficulty in her life. It was her way of saying that life wasn’t always going to be easy, but by staying true to Christ, she believed that heaven would await her. In our Gospel for this weekend, Jesus told his disciples that “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.” Peter responded: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus, though, reminded Peter that “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus then went on to tell his disciples that “Whoever wished to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” No one could accuse Jesus of false advertizing. He is clear. The cross --- in one form or another --- is a part of the life of every Christian.
Our First reading this weekend shares the theme of the Gospel. In it Jeremiah, the prophet, laments that he has been “duped” by the Lord. Because he has prophesied in the name of the Lord, he is mocked and the object of laughter. He vows: “I will not mention him, I will speak his name no more. 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 being a prophet has caused Jeremiah pain and ridicule --- this is his cross --- but he cannot turn away from his prophetic calling. Instead he submits to the will of God knowing that ultimately God will vindicate him.
In our second reading this weekend from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, Paul urges the people: “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:
- What cross(es) have you been called to carry?
- What has helped you to carry your cross(es)?
- Like Jeremiah, have you ever felt that you have been “duped” by God?
For this Sundays readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082717.cfm
I would guess that at some point in each of our lives, someone has asked us for our “honest” opinion about something. What would you do, if you were me? Do you think I’m wrong? What’s the worst that could happen? Something akin to this happened in our Gospel for this weekend. In that Gospel Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of May is?" His disciples must have been proud to be able to fill in him on the local gossip: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus, though, wasn’t satisfied with knowing what others thought of him. His next question was: “But who do you say that I am?” In reply Simon Peter said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then told Peter: “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
Jesus was clear with his disciples. He didn’t want them simply to know about him. He wanted his disciples to know him. This same thing is true for us. Jesus wants us to know him, not just to know about him. And the way we come to know Jesus is by spending time with him in prayer.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In the passage we read this weekend, “Shebna, master of the palace,” is demoted for something he had done, and in his place Eliakim is promoted: “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder.” The emphasis in this passage is that, just as Peter was proclaimed “rock,” so too it is by God’s authority that Eliakim is given a position of responsibility and authority.
Again this weekend, our second reading is taken from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. In it Paul reminds us: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Who do you say that Jesus is?
- The giving of keys was mentioned in both the First Reading today and the Gospel. I suspect this was a sign of authority. Has anyone ever entrusted you with their keys? How did you feel about that?
- More often than I care to admit I have discovered anew that God’s judgments are inscrutable and God’s ways unsearchable. Has this also happened to you?
For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/082017.cfm
Our Gospel this weekend presents us with what --- at least initially --- looks like an unflattering picture of Jesus. We are told that a Canaanite woman came to Jesus and called out: “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” We are told, though, that Jesus “did not say a word in answer to her.” Jesus’ disciples want him to send her away. Jesus told them, though: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman “came and did Jesus homage, saying Lord, help me.” Jesus tried to brush her off with the rather abrupt response that: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” In reply the woman said: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Jesus responded to her by telling her: “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
What are we to make of this strange conversation? First, it must be noted that historically Jews had little to do with Canaanites. Jesus’ response, then, would have been in line with the spirit of the times. Second, while eventually Jesus commissioned and sent his disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations, initially he thought their mission should begin with the Jews. Thirdly, though, and perhaps most importantly, Jesus, as he does elsewhere in the Gospels, responded to the woman’s obvious faith. It is the woman’s faith that is the most important element in this Gospel.
Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It shares the theme of the Gospel. In it Isaiah prophesizes: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord ………. All who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer………. for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
For our second reading this weekend, we continue to read from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans.
In this section, Paul, while identifying himself as the “apostle to the Gentiles,” also preaches to his fellow Jews and reminds them that “the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- When you have prayed about something, have you ever felt that initially your prayer was rebuffed?
- Has your faith ever drawn you to deeper prayer?
- If God wants God’s house to be a house of prayer for all peoples, why do some want to limit access?
- In the Gospel and in the first reading for this weekend God is found in unexpected places. Where have you found God’s unexpected presence in your life?
- Has there been a time when you were afraid or fearful, and then suddenly realized God’s presence?
- Paul lamented that some people had refused to accept the Gospel. What would you say to someone who had rejected the Gospel?
A few weeks ago I spent my day off with another priest. For lunch we bought some sandwiches and beverages, and found a park where we had an informal picnic. A few yards away from us, two small children were having a great time playing on the grass, laughing, and enjoying each other. I assumed they were related or that their parents were friends. At one point, though, their mothers came to collect them, and when they arrived at the spot where the boys were playing, they introduced themselves to each another. I was surprised that they didn’t know each other, and that the boys weren’t friends or relatives. It then occurred to me that such is the innocence of youth. When we are young, we don’t have a lot of preconceived ideas about others. We don’t have to know much about them to interact with them and enjoy their company.
As we move along the road of life, though, at some point things change. We move from a childlike openness to people we don’t know, to being suspicious of them and/or their motives. On the one hand, there is some merit to this. If we naively assume that everyone is good and kind and nice, we are going to be disappointed, and even hurt. On the other hand, though, when we lose an openness to others, we can fail to see them as God sees them—as a beloved son or daughter.
It seems to me that we need to strike a balance between these two approaches. More importantly, in trying to find this balance we need to be willing to err on the side of love. In our world today there is much that can cause us to be suspicious and even anxious. And sometimes without even realizing it, and without it becoming a conscious choice, these feelings can move into animosity and hatred. At these times, we need to remember that in the parable of the last judgement, (Mt. 25:31-46) Jesus taught us that He is to be found in every encounter we have with the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the needy, the stranger, and the forgotten. We may not recognize him, but he is there.
Recognizing the presence of Christ in others is a challenge. In my own life I fail at it more often than I succeed. We need to remember, though, that God created us in God’s image and likeness, and because of this, we are all beloved sons and daughters of God—no exceptions, no exclusions, no omissions. If we allow ourselves to be guided by our better angels and if we are open to God’s grace, I believe we are more apt to recognize the presence of Christ in one another. And if we are able to do this with others, maybe, just maybe, others might recognize the presence of Christ in us.