Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Life Well-Lived and Full: Eulogy for Colonel Charles James Bauer

note: a few months ago, my father passed away. It took more than 6 months to be able to have a burial service at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, due to reasons I will never understand fully. I was asked by my mother to deliver the eulogy at that occasion, December 10, 2014. 

Welcome family and friends. We meet here today at this hallowed place of national memory to honor and celebrate Charles Joseph Bauer—father, husband, man of faith, soldier, and rags-to-riches American success story—indeed, his a life well-lived and full. We have only hurried moments now to reflect upon this life, but any of us can share a personal observance during the reception that follows our services.

Charlie (many of us knew him affectionately as “Pia”) was a man with a deep sense of FAMILY. Perhaps this strong sense of family was due to his own early life experiences of being orphaned and separated from his siblings in foster care. Along with his dearly departed sister and brothers, he fought to preserve those tenuous family ties, as family meant so much to him. Family times were memorable, parties and holidays filled with laughter. Nothing was more special to him than Christmas—the twinkle in his eye reminded us of Old St. Nick himself—and for one who had so little as a child, he delighted in the giving of marvelous toys and gifts, especially to his children and grandchildren. From one left as an orphan, he forged with Edna a family of six children, and through those marriages, 13 grandchildren, and with one expectant granddaughter in law with child, we await Charlie and Edna’s 6th great grandchild. Truly, a full quiver of descendants, is his and Edna’s legacy to this world.

Charlie was also man of great FAITH. His was a faith that matured over the years, strengthened by reflection on the scriptures and prayer. His was also an active faith, teaching in many churches, helping the downtrodden or the lost, supporting out of his blessings the good works of missionaries around the world. He combined faith and his insight into finance, serving as a treasurer in various churches. In his final days, he shared a quote with me from St. Augustine, who wrote, “A man is what he is before God, and nothing more.” Despite family, financial success, his service to his country, he knew that his life was finally accountable to an almighty, righteous, and merciful Father. We will miss his insights and hearing his prayers, which often graced our table over the years.

Charlie was a man of great FEARLESSNESS in defense of his country. He was willing to place his life upon the altar of ultimate sacrifice, exposing himself to many dangers as an American warrior. Rising in the ranks from an enlisted private through commissioning as an officer through the rank of full Colonel, Charlie led men in battle in Korea and Vietnam. No rear-echelon administrator, he was an exemplar of a commander who led by doing. His Purple Hearts, a Distinguished Flying Cross; a Bronze Star with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Silver Star—some of our nation’s greatest commendations for heroism in combat—soon will be etched in the granite of an Arlington headstone. This stone will memorialize his faithfulness, his genuine love of America’s founding freedoms, and an equal determination to protect them. There are other stories that tell us not only of his courage, but also his essential humanity—one story he shared (and like most warriors, his remembrances of the field of battle did not broadly circulate) was when he emptied an entire stick—a battalion formation of Huey helicopter gunships, of all of their equipment and most of their crews, just to fly them to the only ice cream factory in South Vietnam, in order to load those choppers full of ice cream, and deliver that then otherworldly treat to his men in a sweltering hot jungle landing zone. He was a soldier’s soldier. He loved America, and flew the flag at his home as often as possible, and cherished the deep friendships of men who similarly devoted themselves to military service, including those who today honor us and Charlie’s memory with their presence.

Like his military career, Charlie was also a FORCEFUL presence in the world of commerce. After the Army, he made the decision, along with eldest son Chuck, to form B&B Records Center, a microfilm and records management business, in the early 1980’s. B&B would eventually employ nearly every member of the Bauer family, and itself would take on the characteristics of an extended family to so many who came to work there for the nearly 20 years of its existence. Under Pia and Chuck’s leadership, supported by Edna in the front office, B&B not only survived in a hypercompetitive business environment, it thrived. We appreciate all those B&B family members who grace us today with their presence.

His deep sense of FAMILY, his FAITHFULNESS, his FEARLESSNESS, his FORCEFUL leadership of a successful business enterprise, all speak to the man we remember today. But how could we conclude without remembering Charlie’s sense of humor and FUN, his ability to find humor in the mire and morass of life. No one was quicker with a joke, a funny story or a song—I hope many of us share some of those stories in a few moments at the reception.

So take your rightful place, father, friend, fearless warrior, here among this band of noble heroes in whose company you in honor will forever be joined. Rest proudly here; may your deeds bring you rich welcome by the others who have so nobly served this nation. Take your place among fallen comrades and family long departed. We also know that your journey does not end here, even in this hallowed place. Death is another path, one we must all take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it...white shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise. Stand faithful as from this earthen vessel you walk further to an eternal rest from life’s labors, and heaven’s thunderous Voice gives to you its own welcome: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come and share in the glory of your master.”

We will always remember you, Pia.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Gates of Hades: Thoughts on the Persecution and Martyrdom of 21st Century Christians

Gospel MT 16:13-20

Jesus asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. 
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. 
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. 
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 
Then he strictly ordered his disciples
to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Background…Jesus takes his disciples to Caesarea Philippi, where we have the confession of Christ. Interesting who the people that are referenced by the disciples. "Who do people say I am?" What do the disciples say? "John the Baptist, Jeremiah, one of the prophets." Clearly not some kindly Norwegian guy in a powder-blue sash or something. Kindly Norwegian guys don’t get crucified. But they are in Caesarea Philippi, as close to Mordor as these young disciples have ever been.

This city was the world center of worship to the goat god, Pan. People came from all over the world to worship Pan. There is a solid rock cliff with a giant crack in it that the followers of Pan believed that the spirits from Hell would come and go from the earth. The crack was called the Gates of Hell. They built a temple for Pan there and then a court next to it where people would engage with sexual acts with goats during the Pan worship festivals.

And Jesus takes his disciples there! As good Jewish boys, they never would have gone to this place before. It is 26 miles from Galilee, where Jesus and his disciples are from, but it is a different world away. He takes these Jewish hobbits to the brink of Mordor's evil, to show them that this is the kind of world they will have to deal with. Can the gospel reach even these people?

He tells them at Caesarea Philippi that upon this rock—and that rock is Peter—if you think otherwise, study it out, or talk to me afterwards—he is going to build his church, and the Gates of Hell--the very wickedness of Mordor itself--won't be able to stop it.

He doesn't say, “We’re always going to win”, that success and happiness are always going to be there. He says there are going to be difficult times, there are going to be setbacks, there is going to be opposition, and that opposition is going to turn into persecution, and that persecution may turn to martyrdom, but you will not be overcome. Be faithful unto death, and you will receive the crown of life.

We are in a time of great testing in the Church, and many of us do not even realize it.

The 20th century church lost more martyrs for the Christian faith than in all the centuries previous, and it looks like the 21st century is going to be brutal, too.


Living in a country which borders Syria, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Christians in Iraq have faced particularly severe persecution, and their numbers have dwindled as a result of the war. Many Christians have fled the country and those staying have endured the destruction of churches and convents, torture, bombings, death threats, assassinations, kidnappings, murders, and extortion.

No non-Muslim may suggest that a Muslim change his or her religion, and conversion from Islam is punishable by death. The very heart of the Christian communities in Mesopotamia—biblical cities in both Old and New Testament like Aleppo, Damascus, Nineveh—they are gone! The caliphate has made clear its attitude towards the Christians: they are "crusaders," and therefore Islam's number one enemy. In Mosul and other towns with substantial Christian communities, the Islamic State quickly laid down its policy towards these beleaguered people; convert to Islam, pay the jizya tax or be put to death. Initially, they are also being allowed to flee with no more than the clothes on their backs.

Most movements that commit large-scale massacres typically keep their blood-soaked deeds secretive. With the Islamic State, the opposite is the case. The caliphate has placed on the Internet a score or more of videos displaying with boastful pride the mass shootings and beheadings of Shiites in Iraq and Alawite Christians in Syria. The first genocide of the twenty-first century approaches, yet the world displays profound indifference. As we all bear witness to another mass extermination in human history, it is a scathing reminder that the capacity of the human race to forget the lessons of the past remains daunting.

Pope Francis is calling for world governments to take measures to protect Christians driven from their villages in northern Iraq and provide them with humanitarian aid. The Pope's second appeal in as many weeks came Thursday as Iraqi militants from the Islamic State group overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing. In a statement, Francis appealed to the international community to "put an end to the humanitarian drama underway, adopt measures to protect those who are threatened by violence and assure them necessary aid, especially urgent for those who are homeless and depend on the solidarity of others."

A Christian Holocaust is in our midst. We are actually calling this a Christian genocide… Day by day, it is getting worse and worse. More children are being beheaded. Mothers are being raped and killed. Fathers are being hung. Right now, 300,000 Christians are fleeing Iraq and living in neighboring countries. The mainstream media does not tell this story. We get all riled up with phony outrage about Catholics not helping Jews enough in the Holocaust in WW II, but where is the alarm when religious cleansing is going on in our world? These are our brothers and sisters! And our leaders are out golfing? When they are slicing the throats of our citizens?

Consider the atrocities earlier committed in Ma’loula, Syria, an ancient Christian village where the inhabitants still spoke Aramaic, the language of Christ.

According to recent Arabic news media, “a Syrian nun testified to the Vatican news agency that some Christians in Ma’loula were crucified for refusing to convert to Islam or pay jizya” Sister Raghad, the former head of the Patriarchate School in Damascus who currently resides in France, told Vatican Radio how she personally witnessed jihadi rebels terrorize Ma’loula, including by pressuring Christians to proclaim the shehada-Islam’s credo that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger-which, when uttered before Muslim witnesses transforms the speaker into a Muslim, with the death penalty for apostasy should the convert later “renege” by returning to Christianity.

According to the nun, those Christians who refused to embrace Islam were killed in atrocious and violent ways that cannot be described. If you want examples, they crucified two youths in Ma’loula for refusing to proclaim Islam’s credo, saying to them: “Perhaps you want to die like your teacher [Christ] whom you believe in? You have two choices: either proclaim the shehada or else be crucified. One of them was crucified before his father, whom they also killed.”

It is, of course, a documented fact that some Christians in Ma’loula were put to death for refusing to convert to Islam, such as Minas, an Armenian man.

These were declared martyrs by the Syrian Greek-Catholic Church, or as Patriarch Gregorios III explained to Pope Francis in a meeting: “Holy Father, they are true martyrs. Ordered to give up their faith, they proudly refused. For his part, and according to a May 3rd Arabic report, Pope Francis recently said, “I wept when I saw reports saying that Christians were being crucified in some non-Christian countries.”

This is our faith. This is our church. These are in our church. They are our brothers and sisters. This does not minimize those other minorities who are being persecuted and killed.

But this must end.

And this must end now.

“Oh, but we’re weary of war.”
“Oh, but I want some narrative of my presidency that I was a peace lover, and we all got along.”

Well we don’t have that luxury in the face of ethnic cleansing, and if it were not Christian ethnic cleansing, let’s say it—Catholic ethnic cleansing—we would be doing something about it. Where are our elected officials in the face of this massacre? They are on vacation! And where are we? We are whining about the economy, whining about regulations, whining about Obamacare, whining about how people who want to have abortions don’t like us. That’s the way it is, folks! In this world you will have trouble. We need to stop whining, and start making a difference.

What would happen if each of us wrote or called our elected officials and said "this holocaust must end!"

Read Romans 12, read your just war theory from Augustine to Aquinas, read the Catechism—yes, you won’t get this stuff and the neighborhood feel-good places of worship—and realize that there is honor in protecting the defenseless, that there is justice in rescuing the helpless and the innocent. There is a just way to protect these innocents.

And this will get worse—at home and abroad.

12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 13 But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Timothy 3:12–13 (NASB95)
That’s why the typical American prosperity gospel is so repugnant…name it and claim it, God wants you to be happy, perky, and eternally young and healthy….what a load of skatos (that’s the Greek word for the day--and St. Paul used it in exactly the same context). From bad to worse. The state of American Christianity today is bleak, weak, foolish. Some guy in Texas with some sweet bleach blonde wifey talking about how Jesus wants to make you rich. And our brothers are dying! I guess they need to just have a little more faith, doggone it, and smile!

In  few weeks, we will be taking an offering for the church in Iraq, those brothers and sisters of ours who are displaces, who are refugees from the violence, who have suffered the loss of their homes and their livelihood, all because of their faith. I urge you to pray about these brothers and sisters, and to give generously when we have that 2nd collection.

We love the gospels, and the promises of peace that Jesus gives—peace I leave you, my peace I give you...but in this world you will have trouble, but take heart—I have overcome the world.

But our world is becoming more and more like the world of the ancients, like our brothers and sisters in the first and second generations, who faced opposition and persecution and even death. I read of a pastor in a refugee area in northern Iraqi Kurdistan with is running 12 refugee camps to feed and clothe and protect these people—and like here in Colorado, it’s starting to get cold at night. For him, he shared about how the world is becoming like the scriptures, particularly the first few chapters of the book of Revelation, written not to predict some war in Israel or some rapture in the 21st century, but to encourage those saints “about what must soon take place.” In the midst of the persecution of the roman Empire, they were given strength to be faithful—even to the point of death. And for them, the letters in the Book of Revelation, the letters to the 7 churches, are indeed becoming true all over again. And some of these cities are very near to the events that we are reading about today. 

But while there is difficulty, there is faith. And where there is suffering, there is witness. And where there is beating and crucifixion and death, there is redemption, faithfulness, and a powerful message of love.

I’ll close with a few words that the exiled John wrote in the Revelation, from the isle of Patmos, not too far from the northern highlands of Iraqi Kurdistan:

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: 9 ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), 10 ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:8-11)

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: 13 ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. (Revelation 2:12-13)

‘But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. 25 ‘Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. 29 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 2:24-29)

‘But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 ‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 6 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ (Revelation 3:4-6)

Deacon Rick Bauer, Out Lady of the Pines Catholic Church
Black Forest, Colorado
(references compiled from Internet news sources)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

“but God meant it for good.” My life story and spiritual journey

by Deacon Rick Bauer

I was baptized and confirmed in a nominally Catholic home. My dad’s 33-year career in the U.S. military and the diplomatic service led us overseas among many moves as our 6-child family grew up, spending years in Panama, Cuba, and Colombia. Despite a Jesuit education into high school, by the time we returned to Washington, D.C. in the late 1960s, I was a high school student growing rapidly disillusioned with my faith and with the Catholic Church. If you remember, the American Church was in what I now understand as its “post-Vatican II phase”, and our parish in suburban Washington, DC was particularly “loopy”; on one memorable Easter Sunday, the pastor drove a VW bug up the main aisle of the church, dressed in a bunny suit. By the time I was a cadet at West Point, I had come to describe myself as an agnostic, but perhaps more for the fact that I enjoyed sleeping in on Sunday mornings instead of attending mandatory religious services.

The Church of Christ

A few years later, I decided to leave the Army and West Point, and started attending an informal, evangelical Bible Study as a grad student at the University of Florida in Gainesville. This led me to the Crossroads Church of Christ, where I rededicated my life to Christ. The Crossroads Church was leading a breakaway movement from the traditional Churches of Christ in the 1970s, which led to its eventual estrangement from this denomination, but I learned all this later. Like many Churches of Christ, it embraced a goal that energized me—to take seriously the primitive beliefs and practices of first-century Christianity. The congregation had a large and active campus ministry, with hundreds of college students, and thousands of members — one of the few biracial churches in the Deep South.
I later made the decision to pass up law school and enter the Christian ministry, and prepared in the church’s training program. After several years of training, I was hired as a campus minister at the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson, Arizona, near the University of Arizona campus. I took classes in Old Testament archaeology and biblical languages at U of A, and led a campus ministry that grew from one lukewarm student to over 400 students in four years (mainly through outreach to unchurched students on campus). I was later promoted to evangelist, and our church continued to grow from about 250 members to over 1000 people. There were definitely challenges and turmoil in this small congregation, especially with the rapid growth.  Many of my wounds, however, were the self-inflicted kind. I was often thoughtless and rigidly insistent on my own way (as a spiritual leader, it’s easy to confuse your own insight with divine will); my arrogance and brashness hurt many people. I have apologized many times for those early mistakes and sins over the years; my actions no doubt turned some away from Christianity, which I deeply regret. 

After my first year in Arizona, I returned to Florida and got married back at the Crossroads Church, and my wife returned with me to Tucson. Let me just say I did not realize how little we knew each other until after we had been married. I cannot describe the struggles and difficulties we both suffered along the way in what was a very rocky relationship. Years later, and after much difficulty and struggle, my wife finally left the marriage, filed for divorce, leaving me to care for our two boys. This marriage would be annulled years later, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Disillusionment and departure

We moved from Tucson and eventually were hired by the Boston Church of Christ, where I edited a church magazine, led a campus ministry, and trained to be their theologian in residence. I completed a master’s degree in Old Testament theology from Harvard Divinity School. My time at Harvard was an opportunity for personal reflection. In addition to my formal studies, I began a serious pursuit of the Eucharist in the early church and began to recognize the sorry state of mainline Protestantism. From the biblical texts to those of the fathers and doctors of the church, it was growing clearer to me that there was an unmistakable distinction between the early church they described and the church of which I was a minister. There came a point where I could no longer preach and teach with conviction that when we observed the Lord’s Supper, we were supposed to be only remembering the death and Resurrection of Christ. I saw in the words of the earliest Christians that something more profound was going on in the experience of Holy Communion. I can still recall staring at the communion tray — neatly filled with cups of grape juice — as it passed by me one Sunday, and wondering just how far that experience was from Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘drink of it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant’” (Matthew 26:26-28). The Church of Christ’s goal was the restoration of original Christianity; it was becoming apparent to me that we were denying our own religious history. Furthermore, if we were wrong in this basic teaching, could there be other errors in our theology?
I also became more concerned that the severely regimented behavioral expectations in the Crossroads Church of Christ were becoming even more extreme and abusive in the Boston Church of Christ. I started speaking and writing about this phenomenon, a type of “Christian cultism” that combined the classic behaviors of religious cults with a veneer of a conservative Christianity. After a number of years of wrestling with all of these issues, both theological and behavioral, I finally made the decision to resign from my ministry in Boston. The decision caused a fair amount of controversy, as I had developed a profile as an author, preacher, and speaker worldwide within Churches of Christ. I finally began to speak out about our experiences in what was rapidly becoming an unhealthy group, eventually being interviewed by The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and such television programs as ABC’s 20/20, the Sunday talk shows, and other news shows. With a background in Old Testament apocalyptic theology, I began to realize there were many other cult like groups that had a Christian worldview, many of which were apocalyptic in their worldview. I began a ministry to help people who had been recruited into these groups and their families. I served as an advisor and consultant for law enforcement dealing with such groups, notably serving (unpaid) with the FBI in the Branch Davidian group activities in Waco, Texas, in the early 1990s, and the Heaven’s Gate group later that decade. Through this ministry, we helped hundreds of people get their children back from destructive cults, but it took a toll. The legal, security, and psychological costs were considerable. I also relocated my family from Boston to the Washington, D.C. metro area and began working fulltime in technology. To this day, I am thankful to this day that there was an opportunity for me to retrain my skills to support my family in a new career. 

Consolation for the onward journey

How I kept a Christian faith in the midst of a divorce, a change in career, and the loss of any religious community is still something I wonder about. I now realize it was only through the comfort and guidance of the Holy Spirit. I also came to deeply appreciate the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis (which was first story I had ever learned to read in Hebrew) and adopted that story as my own. As many know, the Joseph story is one of abuse, imprisonment, alienation, and evil that happens to Joseph, but he keeps his faith, does not surrender to bitterness and discouragement, and eventually ends up as a key leader in Pharaoh’s Egypt. Ironically, he is able to help the very family members who had sold him into slavery years before. At the end of the narrative, there is that poignant moment when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, and they are terrified that he now stood with all the power of the kingdom, even the power to sentence his brothers to death. Joseph finally says, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, and for the salvation of many” (Genesis 50:20). 
Looking back on my life to that point, I could only reflect with great sadness on all the things I had lost and suffered — a wife, a marriage, the humiliation of having to end my career in Christian ministry. It was almost overwhelming, but each of these trials served to refine a faith that needed to mature. When all the religious trappings disappear, you discover just how real God’s presence and comfort can be. As my life went through these changes, I again returned to some foundational questions: Is my faith in God worth keeping? Where is the Church of Jesus Christ on this earth? Steadily, almost imperceptible in progress, through Bible reading and prayer, I felt a growing desire to reinvestigate the Catholic Church. 

Meeting others who have made the journey

When my sons grew up and went to college, I moved to Colorado, reenergized in my search for God and His Church. Several visits to other Protestant churches convinced me that I wanted something deeper. I yearned to find a group of people who believed Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (6:53). I knew that my former practice of merely commemorating the sacrifice of Christ, however noble and good-hearted, was not sufficient to fulfill Christ’s command.
With hesitant steps, I started attending Mass and was rediscovering my Catholic heritage. Like many who leave the Catholic Church in their teens and early 20s, I did not really know that much about my Faith — especially how scriptural it is! One particular event stands out in my memory as pivotal. While reciting the Creed at Mass, my mind was reformulating each “I believe” declaration as a mental checklist. As each statement was recited, I mentally affirmed that propositional truth, as if checking it off; “I believe that”, “I agree with that,” etc. At the end when we said “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic”, I knew I was not far in belief from the Catholic Church. 

It was about this time I also became aware of the ministry of The Coming Home Network International, and the work that Marcus Grodi and other Protestant-clergy-turned-Catholic were doing. I felt as if there were a fellowship of believers “coming home” to the Catholic Church, and I received great encouragement through e-mail, phone calls, and access to recommended literature. There were others before me who had taken this journey — I was not alone. In many ways, similar to those whose conversion stories I would read, it was as if I had to learn about the Catholic Church for the first time, clearing away misconceptions, doubts, and misinformation about Catholicism. Some doctrines were challenging to wrap my head and heart around. The Catholic doctrine of Mary was difficult — I had been raised in South America and found some of the excesses of Marian practice there to be disturbing. In Panama and Colombia, there seemed to be no real distinction between Mary as the Mother of God and Mary as a co-equal with God, reminiscent of the male-female pair of gods that is typical in some primitive South American religions. I had to clear away some presuppositions and experiences and be willing to look again at the biblical record.

Even with my own confusions about Catholic doctrine lingering, I faced what was happening in my own denomination during my lifetime. Though the Churches of Christ claimed to be restoring the early church, their growing friction, factions, splits, and divisions were disheartening. It was clear to me that there must be a different organizing principle other than individual opinion employed to keep believers together. While the early church that I read about in the New Testament had its differences — some of them quite profound — there was a leadership and a structure that nevertheless kept them together as one.

Healing wounds

Moving to Colorado Springs in 2004 saw many doors reopen that I felt had been permanently closed. With some encouragement from my college-aged sons, I started dating again. Wow, was that terrifying! I was granted an annulment from my first marriage. I met a wonderful woman who was a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Colorado Springs (and, of course, to this recovering Protestant, you know she had to be named “Mary”—who says that God doesn’t have a sense of humor?), and we began to attend Mass there regularly as we fell in love. In a moment that still brings tears to my eyes, Fr. Damhorst, a Jesuit priest who had tenderly and patiently guided my thinking, my study, and my steps back into the Faith, received me formally back into the Catholic Church. Prior to my confession and acceptance into fellowship, “Fr. Joe” and Mary encouraged me to take a 3-day Ignatian retreat to clear my head, make certain of my decision, and reflect upon God’s guidance and direction of my life.
So many things that had been lost were now found and reborn in redemptive ways. Without Mary’s encouragement, I never would have made it. In addition, family and relatives who had been alienated by my Protestant Bible-thumping were now quietly encouraging our progress. After I had been Mary for some time, we were married on August 4, 2006 by Fr. Damhorst at St. Patrick’s. 

Finding my ministry as a lay Catholic

Along with Fr. Damhorst, the pastor of St. Patrick’s, Fr. Noonan, began showing me a vision for ministry as a lay Catholic. With encouragement from Mary, we explored the possibility of training to serve as a deacon in the Church. The priests at St. Patrick enthusiastically supported my candidacy. Fr. Noonan gave me materials to answer my voracious questions. When he shared Dei Verbum with me, I devoured it, marked it up, and came away even more certain of the clear, scriptural foundation of the Catholic Church.
The confidence of Father Damhorst and Father Noonan that there was still “something left in the tank” rekindled my own vision for greater service as a Catholic. It would take five more years of difficult study and formation, as there was a lot for me to “unlearn.” The formation process challenged my preconceived notions about the Scriptures, the Church, and how much I really knew about ministry. This biblical scholar had to learn that the ministry is about service to people, being tender and not full of self, and washing the feet of many, instead of prattling on about what some word means in Greek or Hebrew. That distance from head to heart can be a million miles, and it might take decades to travel.

     But God is merciful and patient, abiding in hesed — meaning steadfast love and loyalty. Sharing the formation experience with Mary made the challenges easier to face. In June of 2011, I was ordained as a deacon in the Catholic Church. God had not only led me home, but He had also placed upon me a wonderful and humbling ministry. After all the mistakes and failures, no human agency would (or should) have trusted me with such a task — and every day I am reminded that I am not its equal.

I am grateful to Bishop Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, who not only had a vision for my service, but who ordained — and continues to encourage — me as a deacon. It is also humbling to be a part of the Permanent Diaconate Formation Program in our diocese, serving as an instructor in the Sacred Scripture classes that the candidates and their wives receive. Our formation director, Fr. Larry Brennan, has been a genuine vessel of grace. Every time I reflect on why I should ever be in this position of great trust as a teacher, he usually says something like “Rick, sometimes people who come back have a better appreciation than those who never left.” He models so well for me what grace in action is all about. His love for the Catechism — it is the heart of our formation program — has inspired a greater love and respect for this great treasure of teaching that we have been given. 

In addition to teaching, it has been a singular honor to serve liturgically at Our Lady of the Pines Parish in Black Forest, Colorado, and deliver to the homilies and teach there, too. The parish members have been patient with me as I figured out that Protestant sermons and Catholic homilies are generally quite different (especially in length!). Every now and then, someone will even say “Amen” during a homily, which I still appreciate. The parishioners have come to love our Sunday Sacred Scripture classes, nudged between the morning Masses. Imagine that, “Sunday School” in a Catholic church! God continues to show us new opportunities for service, and my eventual desire is to serve full time as parish administrator and deacon when I retire from my technology career. 

What once seemed to be only a series of closed doors has been transformed into a wide variety of opportunities and blessings. Mary and I wake up each day more in love than ever; we have the joy of having her father, Norman, living with us, and our participation in all the church activities is a shared joy. Being at church events, writing books and articles, leading retreats, parish missions, and outreach efforts to my separated brothers seem to take up every moment we can find. Though there are times of remembrance that bring sadness God has healed the pain and bitterness of failure, and replaced it with the confidence of knowing that His grace has indeed been poured out on my life. What had been meant for evil, God has truly turned around for good.

Deacon Rick Bauer serves at Our Lady of the Pines Parish in Black Forest, Colorado. Rick was ordained as a deacon in 2011 in the Diocese of Colorado Springs, having formerly served as an evangelist in the Churches of Christ for 15 years. He led congregations in Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, Florida, and Maryland, before returning to the Catholic Church, where he was first baptized in 1955. Among his educational credentials, Rick has a Master’s Degree in Old Testament Theology from Harvard Divinity School, and received his Master’s Degree in Sacred Scripture from the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado. He also has advanced degrees in computer science and technology management from the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School of Business. His focus in the Catholic Church, in addition to his preaching and liturgical ministry in the parish, is on Sacred Scripture, original language studies, biblical interpretation, and the devotional life. Rick has authored 4 religious books, including the popular Anatomy of Calvary: An In-Depth Study of the Cross. Rick is a member of the Permanent Diaconate Formation Program for the Diocese, serving as an instructor in Sacred Scripture. A sought-after speaker for retreats, in-depth expositions in Sacred Scripture, restoring biblical preaching, and other subjects, Rick and his wife Mary live in Black Forest, Colorado, where they are visited by their two sons, their families and (most importantly) their grandchildren. Rick has a secular career in technology management.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 4, 2014: America the Beautiful (Homily delivered at Our Lady of the Pines)

In the summer of 1893, a thirty-six year-old English professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, had taken a train trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to teach a short summer school session at Colorado College. Several of the sights on her trip inspired her, and they found their way into a poem, including the World's Fair in Chicago, the "White City" with its promise of the future contained within its alabaster buildings; the wheat fields of America's heartland Kansas, through which her train was riding on July 16; and the majestic view of the Great Plains from high atop Zebulon's Pikes Peak.
On the pinnacle of that mountain, the words of the poem started to come to her, and she wrote them down upon returning to her hotel room at the original Antlers Hotel in downtown Colorado Springs. The poem was initially published two years later in The Congregationalist, to commemorate the Fourth of July. It quickly caught the public's fancy.
I can think of no better words that those of Katherine Lee Bates to share with you this day, this 4th of July, this Independence Day 2014, here in Colorado Springs.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion: Gospel, Scripture, and Tradition

June 22, 2014--The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)

Today the church universal celebrates and underscores one of the three great mysteries. The first is the nature of God as three in one, a trinity. The second is the incarnation, the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us as Jesus Christ. The third is the mystery of the Eucharist, that by the words of blessing of our priest, bread and wine become transformed in substance, not in form, into the body and blood of Christ.
A lot of times, when we think of the word “mystery”, we are really thinking that there is no answer, or its some kind of dodge.

Something like
we just heard of in Washington by the IRS, “I don’t know how those 7 pc systems all crashed at the same time, and the e-mails were all destroyed….it’s a mystery!
Well, that’s not it at all…the New Testament writers gave the name “mystery” to revealed truths that surpass the powers of natural reason. Mystery in its strict theological sense is not synonymous with the incomprehensible or inexplicable. A mystery is a supernatural truth, one that by its very nature lies above our finite intelligence to fully comprehend.

It’s like either side of the argument about the extent of the universe. Can we believe in one that is truly infinite? Well, w
hat about one that isn’t?

You see, it’s a mysterium…a mystery…something, right now, beyond our knowing.

We’ll look at some statements today about the Body and Blood of Christ. We’ll look in the gospels, we’ll look in some other places in the New Testament, and we’ll track the first 500 years of church history, just to see what the earliest Christians believed. So, we have a lot to cover today; that’s why we’ll use some slides to help us. Let’s look at Gospel first.

John 6:41–58
41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46 “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 “I am the bread of life. 49 “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” John 6:41-58
This is the last gospel written, what we read today, and we see that John is taking it up a step. Not simply content to follow the words of institution from the Last Supper (as Mark and Matthew and Luke have), it is as if John is making sure that no one would be confused about the nature of the need for this Holy Communion.

Look when John was written.
In John’s 
Gospel, where the other gospels have the institution of the Eucharist at the last supper, he has Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Various scholars, the late Father Raymond Brown among them, suggest that John does this because, by the time his gospel was written, perhaps sixty to seventy years after Jesus died, Christians, not unlike today, were already arguing with each other about the Eucharist: How often should it be celebrated? Who should preside? What is its precise meaning? John, in placing the washing of the feet where the other evangelists put the words of institution, is reminding us that washing each other’s feet, service to and humility before each other, is what the Eucharist is really all about. But John also emphasizes another aspect of Eucharist.

Let’s look at other scripture. 
In our 2nd reading today…..

 1 Corinthians 10:16–17 (NASB95)

16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.

The word, participation, repeated for both body and blood of Christ, is key here. The original word is koinonia, which means sharing, of partaking in something that is shared by a community. It is not a mental remembering, no matter how somber.  It is not a theological reflection, no matter how deep or thoughtful. It is certainly not inert, inactive, unfruitful. It is a sharing in the very body and blood of Christ. It’s not something you can do by yourself, to yourself.

1 Corinthians 11:23–29 (NASB95)
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. 27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.

Paul is bringing the Church at Corinth back to the original words of institution at the Last Supper; This is a serious charge here—that we examine ourselves.

Well, it is really clear what the scriptures taught. You have to be willfully ignorant to not see this. But maybe things evolved over time. 

Why do we have John’s gospel—more stark and confronting than anything from Matthew, Mark, and Luke? In this gospel we have the command stated in the positive—you must eat and drink the Son of Man—and we have it stated in the negative—if you do not, you have no life in you.

And the teaching of the church—the real church—is that they got it, despite being tempted otherwise. We read from Ignatius of Antioch (an early 2nd century bishop): Referring to “those who hold heterodox opinions,” that “they abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again” (6:2, 7:1). 

Within the first century after John’s death, here we have a church leader, clearly stating that people were having trouble accepting this….
A few centuries later, from the east, the wisdom of St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest commentators on the new Testament, wrote:

“It is not the power of man which makes what is put before us the Body and Blood of Christ, but the power of Christ Himself who was crucified for us. The priest standing there in the place of Christ says these words but their power and grace are from God. ‘This is My Body,’ he says, and these words transform what lies before him.” 

Scores of other citations only underscore a consistent and repeated theme in the centuries following the Apostles: bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. 

And our Catechism unequivocally proclaims this trust, and explains why we so doggedly believe it:

“If from the beginning Christians have celebrated the Eucharist and in a form whose substance has not changed despite the great diversity of times and liturgies, it is because we know ourselves to be bound by the command the Lord gave on the eve of his Passion: “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Catechism of the Catholic church, Section 1356)

In a few centuries, we have scripture, tradition, and Church teaching, all in complete harmony. We have
The blessing and prayer of a priest, transforming bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

Well, what about Catholics today?

4 groups before us, in a survey of 5000 Catholics conducted by Pew Research in 2013. There were all Catholics, but subdivided into believers and unbelievers about the real presence of Christ in communion. In other words, there were Catholics who believed in the real presence of Christ, and those who did not.

But it goes deeper. There were two groups of believers and unbelievers. There were Catholics who believed in the real presence, 46% who knew the church taught this, and they accepted it by faith. There were 4% who knew that the church taught this, but did not believe it.

There were 33% of Catholics who did not know the church taught the real presence of Christ in communion, and did not believe in the real presence. There were 17% of Catholics who did not know the church taught the real presence of Christ in communion, but believed it all on their own.

This is really astounding. You add 33% and 17%, and fully 50%--half—of all Catholics do not know about the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion. Why does our catechesis stop at age 13? Why do the cults and aberrant religious groups pick off our children when they are in college? It’s because somehow we decided, someone decided, that it wasn't important enough to keep teaching people. We have to repent and get about the business of teaching, of catechesis….and this isn’t some esoteric thing about some saint or a holy day—this is one of the central truths of our faith!

At least we can say about the members of Our Lady of the Pines—no one here can walk out of Mass and say, “well, I didn't know that the Catholic Church taught that.  

We've looked at Gospel, other Scripture, and Church Tradition today, and I plead with you if you do not accept this, to ask yourself “why not?”

Belief is not always a matter of the intellect, it is more a matter of the will. I pray that you will wrestle with these truths until they become yours.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mashed Potato Love

Mashed Potato Love

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

(note: today, the homily lasted about two minutes. following the homily, Deacon Rick, dressed in a chefs hat and apron, gave a live demonstration about love and unity using potatoes and his grandmother's cooking. It loses a lot in the translation, but areas in yellow are an attempt to describe what was going on)

The original idea for this homily came from pastor Juan Carlos Ortiz, who preached a sermon on unity using the illustration of mashed potatoes. I have expanded the idea greatly, but wanted to give credit to my brother Juan Carlos Ortiz. 

Today our readings have the theme of love and unity.

In the first reading from the Book of Leviticus we read:

“You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Right there, in the book of Leviticus, we see a standard of love, tolerance, and involvement that challenges us. No hatred for anyone in our community. 

In the 2nd reading, Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, which was ripped up with pride, with spiritual exaltation, with selfishness and with spiritual elitism….and to realize how much they already had….

And then, in case we didn’t get it, we have our gospel reading….in Matthew 
After talking about turning the other cheek, going the 2nd mile, that eye for eye was not enough, Jesus closes out this part of the Sermon on the Mount with the following challenge:

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what benefit will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

You want to be like God? You want to be children of your Father? Jesus says love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, but more than anything else, love them—because that’s what God does.
Jesus says, you want to be perfect, love like this! Love that goes beyond brother love, love that is perfect, complete—love that is like God.

Jesus said in John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This is more than pagan love, more than tax collector love, more than neighborly love, even more than brotherly love. It’s Agape love, a will-directed decision to love everyone in our lives. Not a feeling, but a decision to surrender our pride and our arrogance and our delight in being in the right group and our need to always win the argument—and just love. This is the authentic mark of a Christian—everyone will know it.

Jesus says: All you need is love!

Be perfect, as the heavenly father is perfect.

Amen. (end of homily; rick moves over to the center of the church, with a rolling cart covered with a white table cloth)

(move to the center of the altar)

so the homily is over, but I want to illustrate it a bit more clearly….

For me, I learned a lot about love from my Grandma’s kitchen. She was Sicilian, and if you ate, she loved you. If you didn't eat, and didn't eat a lot, something was terribly wrong with you. She taught me a lot about cooking, and a lot about love, and every day she walked to Mass up the street and prayed for her 6 children. And through her example and through her deeds, she deeply loved.

I want to illustrate love the way my granny illustrated love…from the kitchen, and with complex carbohydrates.

(take off the cover)
Love is like potatoes 

(hold up bag of potatoes—“Catholic Church Potatoes”)

We think we are all right with God because we are all in the same sack, and with the same brand…man, I am a Catholic potato, and I am in the right bag, in the right church, in the church of the apostles….

(hold up little bag of Protestant Evangelical Potatoes)

Yes, we are glad that we are not in the wrong bag of potatoes…those Pentecostal potatoes….do you know this week that our Holy Father interrupted an evangelical Pentecostal convention, where Kenneth Copeland and a lot of the prosperity Pentecostals were gathered, made a live phone call, and instead of telling them that they were in the wrong potato sack, he asked these preachers and leaders to do one thing—to pray for him. That sounds more like love, and that sounds more like unity. The world sees all these sacks of potatoes, all claiming to be the One True Potato, and they say, you can’t even agree with each other, and you want me to jump in your bag?

(note: a link to the video that Pope Francis recorded is here)

But it’s more than that….sometimes we say….”I’m a big potato (hold up a big one)…you are…what? (little one) you are small potatoes. In fact, you are a …wait for it…(pull out some fries) a small fry! I’m not sure you are even good for my health…

But it can get worse… see, I am a white potato

(hold up big white potato)….

you are red, or brown, or yellow. I am a legal Potato! 

(see, I am from Colorado…..), 

you are from some other land….Mexico, or even Idaho…you can’t be in my bag coming from there. You have to self-deport yourself and go back to where you were born.

Sometimes we run into potatoes who are completely different than “us regular potatoes”…they tell us, I can’t help being this kind of potato…I was born this way…..and instead of welcoming that potato into our bag, we want to tell him how wrong he is to be a ….

(hold up the sweet potato)

…..sweet potato. We want to pass a law to prohibit people who are not in our Catholic potato group from living their lives, or to force them to believe or behave how we believe of behave. And the last thing we want to do is love those potatoes, those people, pray for those people, and be Jesus to those people. We want to make sure they understand how NOT like us they are. 

Our love has to go deeper than this.

Jesus says, “don’t the pagans do that?” “don’t the tax collectors do that?” If we love those who are just like us, we are no better than the IRS Potatoes or the Pagan Potatoes……

We are talking about more than neighbor love, more than brother love, more than “we’re all in the same group” love—we are talking about a self-willed decision to strip away our pride 

(start peeling a potato)….

to strip away all the things we hold on to that make us different, to peel away our prejudices, to peel away our love of the possessions that are America’s way of keeping score, and to voluntarily make ourselves servants of one another…..

This is painful (start cutting the big potatoes)….

if we pray for this, God will use events and people to cut us down to size….until here we are….all together, all one, being in the same bowl….praise Jesus! We are one, and there is no Jew of Greek, male nor female, slave, free…we are all one in Christ

Look at that!

(hold up a glass bowl of sliced and peeled potatoes)

We are all one—we are all the same.
Well, God’s not done yet. He wants agape, He wants unity, He wants oneness.
Beyond all that, until we start to recognize that every human being on this planet was created in the image and likeness of God 

Beyond being in the same sack kind of love

Beyond being in the same bowl kind of unity

We are talking about mashed potato love!

(start the mixer)

Mashed potato love? 

But I don’t want to do mashed potato love! 

I’m better off with being a baked potato…yeah, that’s my gift!

I am going to lose my identity if I start loving like this. What will become of me? Someone will take advantage of me? Someone will get too close to me—nope, it’s mashed potatoes….

You start praying that prayer to be perfect, to love like Christ commands, and you will find all kinds of ways to get involved with each other….sometimes that takes some getting used to….which is why we need the sacraments….

The sacraments are that milk poured into our lives that take away the lumps, that butter—the oil of gladness—that makes us fluffy and light—that dash of salt—Paul says to let our speech be seasoned with salt—oh yes…..and those little graces—like the sour cream and the bacon bits—oh yes! 

We are talking about mashed potato love….and if you could ever cook like my grandmother, about this time you would start smelling something that smells like wonderful …you would smell something that smelled like love, something that smelled like family, something that would cure all the hatred in the world, all the bitterness and anger, something that would make us more that brothers, that would make us family, and nothing smells like lovin’ that something from Jesus’ oven—love as I have loved you….

Hold up a hot fresh thing of potatoes….walk to the front pew)

(now, doesn’t that smell good?) –too bad we don’t eat before communion…..but can I let you smell it just a moment….I’ll put it with the doughnuts after mass this morning…..

But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,.
. . . So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”