Fr. John Bauer

Rector and Pastor
Clergy

Serves on the Parish Council, Finance Committee, Stewardship Council and as a member of The Basilica Landmark Board.  Fr. Bauer led the successful merger of 3 parishes (St.Therese, St. Gregory, St. Leo) to become the new Lumen Christi in St. Paul, and completed their major building expansion.  Former Pastor of St. Therese, Deephaven and Associate at St. Patrick’s in Edina. 

(612) 317-3502

Recent Posts by Fr. John Bauer

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A Future Full of Hope

As I write this column, we are coming to the end of 2020. I suspect all of us are exhausted, but at the same time excited that this year has come to an end. We have had to deal with many changes and in some cases accept unanticipated losses. There also have been a seemingly never ending number of adaptations and adjustments we have had to make, often with little or no notice. Tempers are on a short fuse, and the ability to deal with differences and disagreements is almost non-existent. And yet, every now and again, a cause for hope emerges. 

Most recently for me a cause for hope occurred in the form of a note from a friend in her Christmas card. After acknowledging that the year had not gone as planned, my friend said: “And yet, there have been several blessings.” My friend went on to say that she had learned to slow down and enjoy some of the small pleasures that came her way. She had learned to listen better, to enjoy quiet, and to communicate in new/different ways. Additionally she had learned to enjoy and appreciate times with family and friends virtually, or when wearing a facemask. She also mentioned that her prayer life had improved. She found that she wasn’t squeezing prayer in amongst other activities, but rather giving prayer its own time and place in her day. 

I have to admit that my friend’s note was exactly what I needed. Prior to receiving her Christmas card, I had been lamenting everything that had gone wrong the past year. Her note, though, caused me to realize that in the midst of all the difficult and bad things that had happened, there was cause for hope. God is still with us, and is always and everywhere offering us God’s good grace. To be honest, though, recognizing and being open to God’s grace is not always easy. 

Often without choosing or intending it, I can get caught feeling sorry for myself. I take on a “woe is me” attitude and in its worst expression throw myself a little “pity party.” (The upside is that I serve my favorite foods at my pity parties.) When I recognize these times in my life, I have learned that I need to take things to prayer. Prayer doesn’t change the situation, but it does change me and my attitude. And even in difficult situations, I am reminded that there is cause for hope. 

Our God is a God of second chances and new beginnings. Our God is constantly inviting us to new life in those situations where we feel helpless and where things seem hopeless. The thing is, though, that God never forces God’s way into these situations. Rather God waits patiently for us to invite God in and to open ourselves to God’s grace. As we begin this New Year, let us pray that we might to open to the grace that God is offering us that even in the midst of this pandemic that we might see and choose anew, a future full of hope. 

 

 

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The Season of Advent

Being the second oldest of seven children, when I was growing up I spent a lot of time chauffeuring my younger brothers and sisters to various places for various activities. Since one of my grandmothers also did not drive, I often would have to drive her to various events and activities as well. Now I wish I could tell you my motives for being the family chauffeur were completely altruistic. The reality was, though, that it was simply the price I had to pay if I wanted to use the family car on weekends. 

Now to be quite honest, chauffeuring my brothers and sisters around was no picnic. They were almost never ready to leave when they were supposed to be. There were often unplanned stops and/or detours on the way to our destination, and they were seldom ready and waiting when I arrived to pick them up. Worse, though, was that their gratitude was almost non-existent. Occasionally, I’d get a quick thank you, but those times were rare. 

My grandmother, on the other hand, was different. She never failed to be ready when I stopped to pick her up and, in fact, was almost always waiting for me. This same thing was true when I returned to take her home from wherever she had been. Even in cold weather she would be standing either outside or close by the door waiting and watching for me so that I wouldn’t be kept waiting. And she never failed to express her gratitude to me. 

My grandmother was truly an Advent kind of person. She knew how to be prepared and how to wait expectantly. Even when her timetable had to be adjusted, she never complained. I think she realized, perhaps better than most, that time spent waiting does not have to be wasted time. It can be used for quiet reflection or interior preparation. Waiting can be a time when anticipation grows and expectations develop. Or, as in my grandmother’s case, it could also be used for a decade or two of the rosary for some of her errant grandchildren. 

Now I mention this today because in these waning days of the season of Advent, while the world around us seems to speed up and become busier than ever, this season calls us to slow down and wait—to wait in joyful hope and faith filled expectation. And even though we know what it is we are waiting and preparing for, there is (or should be) a sense of newness and excitement about it. For the great miracle of the Incarnation did not happen once long ago only to exist now as a pleasant memory. Rather, it is an ongoing event. God continues to touch the world with God’s grace and God’s love. At times, though, we can become so busy that this most basic fact of our existence can recede into the background, or worse, be forgotten altogether. 

As modern day believers, we need to be reminded on a regular basis that the Incarnation—the Word becoming flesh—is a wondrous and ongoing miracle. My prayer during these last days of Advent is that we might use these days as a time of remembering, a time of quiet preparation, a time of waiting in joyful expectation, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, that we might welcome him with love and be open to his grace. 

 

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Openness and Attentiveness

A few weeks ago someone contacted me to arrange a time to meet with them. I suggested that we meet via Zoom. They thought this would be great and we agreed on a time and a date. They said they would send a link to the Zoom meeting. Now, since the pandemic began, I have somewhat reluctantly become very familiar with Zoom, so I automatically set up a Zoom meeting on my own. When the time for our meeting came, I dutifully started the Zoom meeting I had set up. After about 10 minutes, I received an email from the person informing me that they were at the meeting waiting for me. I immediately remembered they had said they would set up the meeting, and so I joined them at the Zoom meeting they had set up. I apologized for my tardiness and explained that I had mistakenly set up my own Zoom meeting and had been waiting for them. Fortunately they were able to see the humor in my gaffe and we had a good laugh over it. 

As I reflected on this experience, it occurred to me it was a good analogy for what sometimes happens in my prayer life. More times than I care to admit when I go to prayer, I am in one place waiting for God, and God is in another place waiting for me. Most often we eventually sync up, but other times we are like ships passing in the night. 

Of course, while I’d like God to shoulder some of the responsibility for the above, the reality is that it is entirely my fault. God does not operate on my schedule and God definitely isn’t at my beck and call. Having acknowledged this, however, it is also very important to note that God is always present and available to us, but it is on God’s terms, not ours. 

Given the above, the obvious question is: how do we become aware of God’s presence and availability to us? I believe the answer is found in two words: Openness and Attentiveness. God is always and everywhere present. We need to be open to that presence, whenever and however it occurs in our lives. One of the ways we can do this is by putting aside our expectations of how and where God should be present, and simply be open to the many and surprising ways God comes into our lives. Attentiveness helps us do that. Attentiveness is nothing more, but also nothing less, than simply putting aside our agenda, our preconceived ideas, and our sense of how things should be, and just resting and trusting in God’s presence, and opening ourselves to God’s grace.

Being open to God’s presence and availability is not easy. It requires patience and practice. And sometimes we end up in one place waiting for God and God is somewhere else waiting for us. When we get it right, though, we will find peace and hope in the tender embrace of our God’s love. 

 

Are you a practicing Catholic? That was the rather impertinent question a friend on mine was asked by another guest at a dinner party. They had been discussing “Church” issues and my friend had shared her opinion that married priests and women priests might not really be harbingers of the end of the world. The other guest responded to my friend’s declaration with the question: “Are you a practicing Catholic?” My friend, who is much quicker on her feet than I am, replied: “Yes, and I’m going to keep practicing until I get it right.” 
 
Now if the truth be told, I don’t think the person who asked my friend if she was a practicing Catholic was really interested in her answer. Rather I suspect she did so to suggest that somehow her ideas disqualified her from being a “real” Catholic.
 
Perhaps it is my imagination, but it seems to me that more and more often in our Church today people think it is okay, not just to question someone’s thinking, but also to question their faith in general, and more specifically their loyalty to the Catholic Church and their “bona fides” as a real Catholic. Frankly, this disturbs me. 
 
I am increasingly concerned by those who choose certain issues and make them a litmus test for whether one is a practicing Catholic, or even a Catholic at all. Personally, I don’t know anyone who is 100% in accord with the Catholic Church 100% of the time. Certainly even the most saintly among us had gotten angry, or made a judgment about someone, or had failed to share with those in need, or had a jealous thought, or ………… you name it. 
 
We are all flawed and imperfect human beings who try hard to live rightly and in accord with the beliefs and tenets of our faith. Often, though, for a variety of reasons, we fail in our efforts. Does that really mean, though, that we aren’t practicing Catholics? Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d like to think that we are all practicing Catholic, and like my friend that we will keep practicing until we get it right.

Many years ago I used to give a talk to seminarians about taking responsibility for their spiritual growth after their ordination. One of the recommendations I offered them was that when they prepared their homilies each week they spend some time reflecting on the scriptures for the coming Sunday with some of their parishioners. 

My reasoning was that the scriptures—as the inspired word of God—speak to each person differently. I reminded them that as celibate males it can be helpful to hear how the scriptures speak to women, to those who are married, and those of different ages. I also told them that over the years, I have been continually and pleasantly surprised—and often humbled—by the insights and wisdom of parishioners as they shared how a particular scriptural passage spoke to them. I always closed by telling them that it was the height of foolishness and hubris for a priest, deacon, or bishop to think that in preparing a homily they can’t benefit from the insights of others. 

Now, I know most people reading this column aren’t preparing to become preachers. But you do participate in the homily each week, by listening to it and reflecting on how it affects or reflects your life. Given this, your insights are important and can provide a grounding in reality for the homilist. 

I would hope parishioners would feel confident and comfortable enough to let a preacher know when he has missed the mark and failed to tie the homily to your lived experience. A good preacher can learn from feedback from his parishioners. That doesn’t mean just telling a priest his homily was “good” or “bad.” Instead it may involve telling the priest about a specific point that resonated with you or raising a question about something you didn’t understand. 

Preaching is an art not a science. Preparing a homily takes time and effort, and an openness to God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In my experience, however, priests often face three major pitfalls in regard to preaching. 1. Superficiality; 2. Splitting; and 3. Spilling. Let me say a word about each of these. 

Superficiality occurs when the preacher spouts glib bromides and tired maxims instead of taking the time to do background reading and research, prayerful reflection on the scriptures, and welcoming and listening to the insights of others. It may be easy to be sweet and sugary in preaching, but the people in the pews deserve better. 

Splitting occurs when the preacher tells people how they should live and act, but isn’t living and acting that way himself. In its worst form, this has occurred with abusive priests, but it also occurs when a preacher is telling people to be good, kind, forgiving, generous and loving, and isn’t doing this in his own life. People pick up on this almost immediately. It takes a certain amount of humility to be able to say: We need to do these things and I struggle with them in my own life. This is a vital aspect of preaching. 

Spilling in preaching is perhaps the worst offense for preachers. Spilling occurs when a preacher decides to talk about their personal issues, or uses the pulpit to express his own opinion on a political issue. For example, when I was growing up I remember hearing a homily on the evils of chlorinated water. I also have heard priests preach about how poorly they have been treated by people in their parish. 

To this day, I have no idea where these priests found these themes in the scriptures, but nonetheless they preached on them. These are good examples of spilling. At base, spilling is an abuse of the power of the pulpit. The person who is spilling may use the scriptures as a springboard, but in reality all they are doing is using the pulpit to promote their own ideas and agenda. It is always and everywhere, wrong. 

The power of preaching is not to deliver holy truth from on high, but to connect people’s everyday experience with the extraordinary experience and presence of God. Preparing and giving a homily should be an opportunity and an occasion for spiritual growth. Most priests I know take preaching very seriously and work hard at it. I suspect, though, that there have been times when we have all been guilty of superficiality, splitting, or spilling. And unfortunately, some do this on a regular basis. One of the best ways to prevent this is to take the time and make the effort to listen to what the scriptures are saying to others, to consider the lives of the people in the pews, and to connect God to their everyday live. That can help us hear more clearly and keenly what God has to say to us in the scriptures. 

 

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