The Exaltation of Holy Cross Homily-Fr. Andrew

The feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is the feast day of our parish, falls on Friday this year and we have no mass on Friday. I got a special permission to transfer the feast to Sunday so that we all, as members of Holy Cross, can celebrate Exaltation of Holy Cross together as we commemorate the history of our parish and give thanks to God for gathering all of us as one family in the parish.

Do you happen to know when Holy Cross parish started? According to Fr. Ernie’s journal, the original plan of Holy Cross parish was already born back in 1979 and deeply associated with St. Elizabeth Catholic School. Fr. Ernie believed the Archdiocese of Anchorage needed a Catholic High School since St. Elizabeth school only had K to 8th grades, and Archbishop Francis Hurley purchased the current site of Holy Cross parish in 1979 for that purpose. At that time, Fr. Ernie also brought two sisters to start a new Catholic High School on this site and made every effort to improve Catholic education in the Archdiocese. Holy Cross parish was officially established on July 22nd, 1984 by Archbishop Hurley’s opening mass at Abbott Loop Public School. I believe some of you still remember the first mass. Archbishop Hurley was the main celebrant at the 11 am Mass on that day, and Fr. Ernie was officially appointed as the founding Pastor of Holy Cross in that mass. After the mass at noon an 80-pound wooden cross blessed by Archbishop Hurley, was carried by parishioners for almost a mile and then erected in the place where it is now behind the sign of Holy Cross Parish in the driveway. You can still see it when you drive into Lore Rd. from Lake Otis. Please check it out on the way home if you have never seen it. After that first mass of the parish, later in September in 1984, Sunday masses began to be celebrated at Hanshew Middle School.

According to Fr. Ernie’s journal, he pictured a big Catholic complex in this parish site that included a Catholic High School, a Catholic Youth Center, and a parish. And 1989 was the year when he thought his dream would come true. But as the parish grew and had more families registered, the need for a building increased and finally in 1993 the parish building was dedicated. So, this year is 25th year of the dedication of the parish building. Congratulations!! This parish was established with a lot of effort and care that former parishioners made in response to God’s calling. I believe God called Fr. Ernie and gathered a lot of devout families to build a parish family in Alaska. This is a wonderful history of the parish.

And do you happen to know how the parish was named Holy Cross? Our parish was named after an Alaskan village, Holy Cross where the Jesuits built a mission boarding school in 1888. They came north to Alaska two years earlier and devoted themselves to evangelization in the area. An Alaskan Native named Willie Wassilli, graduated from the boarding school of Holy Cross and helped move the school to Copper Valley near Glenallen 70 years later. Now the school building has been demolished for environmental reason. Willie was the one who suggested the name of Holy Cross. Therefore, our parish came to bear a venerable Alaskan name. The name holds a very Catholic mission history in it.

Our founding pastor, Fr. Ernie, was clearly aware of this profound connection of Holy Cross parish with the Alaskan mission history. He said, “Our historic Holy Cross name and our ideal center of the city location gives rise to the hope that we might be able to team up with the Alaskan Jesuits to plan a Catholic high school carrying on the Holy Cross and Copper Valley traditions. 1986 is the Centennial year of the coming of the Jesuits to the Northland. 1988 is the centennial year of their founding of the original Holy Cross mission and its school. May these anniversaries bring for us in Anchorage a Catholic Educational complex comparable to that of our Sister City of Fairbanks! Toward this goal, let us dedicate our time, our talents, and our energies.” Likewise, our parish was established to continue the Alaskan mission that our former missionaries started. We are successors of Alaskan missionaries. And this mission is very venerable and divine.

Therefore, as we celebrate our feast day, I’d like to remind you of how much we all are involved in this venerable mission. The Holy Cross where Jesus was hung is the basis of our faith. We believe God’s salvation has been achieved through the crucified Christ and the evangelium, the Good News is centered upon the cross. In the first reading, the Israelites come across serpents. Whoever looks at the cross is healed and lives. Whenever we are bitten by sin, we are invited to look at Jesus on the cross. We are healed and delivered by our gaze at the cross because God’s salvation flows from there. The second reading sings the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God. This mystery of God’s love for us is fully completed on the cross, the culmination of God’s love. Of course, today’s Gospel talks about how God’s love is incarnated in Jesus Christ and accomplished on the cross. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is not a glorification of suffering, difficulties, pain, and hardship. Jesus suffers to participate in human beings’ limitations, but what we celebrate on the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is a triumph over darkness, God’s glorious victory over sufferings, and Jesus’ resurrection over death. The Holy Cross brings salvation, the Good News to the world.

Since we bear God’s venerable mystery through the cross, our faith is already triumphant over darkness, sin, and death. Since we each hold the history of the Alaskan mission, we should devote ourselves profoundly to the mission of spreading God’s unconditional love over hatred, conflicts, divisions and disunity. Since Jesus already dwells within us, we are supposed to sing God’s victory over depression, frustration, and despair. This is the way we continue the Alaskan mission that the former missionaries started. This is our mission as members of the Holy Cross family.

In order to encourage you to keep dedicating yourselves to this mission, I’d like to wrap up my homily with Fr. Ernie’s letter to Holy Cross parish written in October, 1986. We never stop this venerable and divine mission despite trials and difficulties in life. Fr. Ernie’s letter fully acknowledges the Holy Cross will lead us to glorious triumph over our difficulties and obstacles. “By early Spring, I hope we can publish a booklet with our dreams and plans, much of which we have already spoken of. It will be a binding experience in unity, but it will also open doors of painful confrontation with all the powers of church and state. But come, let us walk this new road together, with heads up and a song in our hearts. We will carry with us the happy memories of the past as we pass on to the trials and hardships to come. God’s love and His peace will sustain us.”


The 21st Sunday Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

Although the clergy misconduct in the diocese of Pennsylvania was made public, the Church continues to face this new challenge. What priests, deacons, and church leaders representing the Church did to victims was totally wrong. The fact that bishops tried to cover up these abuses is inappropriate whatever reasons they might have had. As a quick and proper response to these misbehaviors, our Archbishop Etienne invited every member in the archdiocese to a mass and a prayer service for penance and healing on Wednesday last week. The archbishop apologized to every victim and family and everyone who was affected by the abuse. And he also prayed that the church would overcome this ordeal through faith in Christ. I was impressed by a prayer that we had in the prayer service Wednesday night. “Dear God, we pray for all victims of violence and abuse. Be with them in their confusion and pain. Give your power to the powerless, your fullness to the empty of spirit. Heal their wounds, free them from fear, restore them to true health and give them strength to face the future with faith in you. Grant your Church and all your people the courage and strength to fight this spiritual battle against the evils of abuse of power and violence. We ask this through Jesus your Son, who was himself a victim of abuse and yet in his resurrection, triumphed over all. Amen.” Recognizing their pain and wounds is the first step to healing. Praying for the victims and their families’ recovery as well as their spiritual and physical health is part of the continual process of healing. Let’s pray for them and the Church.

Pope Francis also immediately released a proper letter to the faithful on the abuse in the Church and expressed his sorrow and pain for the victims. “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little one’ we abandoned them…Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit.” Along with this pain of repentance and penance, we, as the Church, are supposed to make an effort together to build a safe environment to protect the dignity and the image of God that every member of the Church has, especially children and vulnerable adults.

As we accomplish this mission and duty in the Church, we are required at this point to remember St. Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question in today’s Gospel. Jesus asks, “Do you also want to leave?” Many disciples left while thinking Jesus’ discourse is nonsense. What does Peter reply? “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus is asking us, “Do you also want to leave?” Jesus demands we decide whether we faithfully follow Jesus or leave Him. We ask ourselves today, “Are we courageous enough to be able to say, ‘Jesus Christ, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?’” Jesus had eternal life and there is nowhere else to go.

The Israelites end up being asked the same question in today’s first reading. Joshua is the one great leader helping the Israelites settle in the Promised Land. He is soon to die. He summons a plenary assembly of Israel for a solemn act of recommitment to God. From now on, the people will be dwelling among other nations with other gods and will be tempted to give their allegiance to them. Therefore, Joshua feels the necessity to ask the Israelites to recommit themselves solemnly to serving God alone. He stands up and asks them to make a decision. “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.” They all reply “We too will serve the Lord.” They decide not to leave God who saved them from the slavery, led them to Canaan, fought against peoples, and finally settled them in the Promised Land. They know there is life in God and they don’t leave God.

Recently a survey was done about why more Catholics are leaving the faith. The survey is released by St. Mary’s Press of Minnesota, in collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The nearly 1,500 young people responded and showed their different reasons why they left the Church. The survey team identified six major root causes from the research. 1. An event or series of events leading to doubt, 2. Increased cultural secularization, 3. A new sense of freedom after abandoning religious belief, 4. A rejection of a faith that they believe was forcibly passed on to them, 5. The conviction that it is possible to live an ethical life without religion, 6. A willingness to reevaluate their faith if presented with rational argument or evidence. Overall, they don’t take the values that the Church preserves; they fall into doubt, secularization, freedom from ethical life, and so on. They abandon faith because they don’t value Christian life. They probably don’t understand the Eucharistic life that Jesus suggests like the majority of the crowds listening to Jesus in today’s Gospel. They just say, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Jesus turns around and asks us the same question today: “Do you also want to leave?” What do you answer? How do you respond to Jesus’ request to follow His Eucharistic life? Jesus is finishing up His “Bread of Life Discourse” today. He has been telling people and convincing them that He is the bread of life from heaven. Whoever eats His flesh and blood will have eternal life. But people leave. They think it makes no sense. They don’t value the life that Jesus is granting. They abandon Jesus’ teachings. What about you? Are you leaving too? We are invited today to recommit ourselves to the Eucharistic life like the Israelites gathered in front of God and asked to choose God. Even though the Church is challenged and suffering, are we faithful enough to say, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This way we become more committed to Jesus and the Eucharistic life which is sacrificial for people in pain.


19th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily - Deacon Bill Tunilla

To be, or not to be" that would be the question is the opening line of a soliloquy spoken by Prince Hamlet in the "nunnery scene" of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet.  In today’s Gospel from the John I think the opening phrase should be, “To believe or not to believe, that would be the question”. 

We are now at the halfway point of the 5 weeks of the Gospel of John; the Bread of Life Discourse.  Two weeks ago we heard the Gospel of the multiplication of the fish and loaves.  Last Sunday the people were looking for a sign and Jesus tells the people, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  This Sunday Jesus tells them, “Amen, Amen I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life”.  “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.

I think the critical verb in today’s gospel is believe.  The word believe means to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something.  Not to believe would be not to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or reliability of something.

There are many examples in the both the Old and New Testament of those who didn’t believe.  For example in Genesis 18, Sarah didn’t believe when the three visitors told Abraham this time next year Sarah would have son.  Sarah just laughed to herself.  In Genesis 19 Lot and his family were warned not to look back when fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. In Luke Zechariah failed to believe the Angel Gabriel when he told them his wife shall have a son and was made a mute.

Likewise there are examples of those who believed.  There was Noah who believed when God told him to build the ark.  Mary believed when the Angel Gabriel came to her and told her she was to be the Mother of God.  Then we have the healing of the Centurion’s servant.  The centurion tells the Lord, “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed”.

At this point in of the Bread of Life Discourse, John tells us, “The Jews were murmuring because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  The people didn’t believe Him.  After all is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary? 

I think the people preferred to think of God as being in heaven, not someone who is physically present right before their eyes.   

They judged things by human values and by external standards. Their reaction to Jesus was that he was a carpenter's son and that they had seen him grow up in Nazareth and they were unable to understand how one of His background who came from a poor home could possibly be a special messenger from God. 

Jesus doesn’t want us to argue about his origin.  He wanted the people and us to believe in him and in what he teaches.  Three Sundays ago Jesus and apostles were headed across the lake for a little deserved R and R.  When the crowd saw them leaving they raced to the other side of the lake and were waiting for Jesus and the apostles.  Deacon Bill, the elder who was preaching topped it off nicely when he said, “When you find the truth, you have to run to it.”

How many of us believe and run to the truth?  I think many run to Google or Facebook faster than to God, the saints or the church looking for the Bread of life, the truth.  People today murmur just like the Jews did and don’t want to believe Jesus is in the Eucharist as the Bread of Life or as a matter of fact people don’t want to believe in God at all.

Jesus is the Bread of Life; which means that He is the essential for life; therefore to refuse the invitation and command of Jesus is to miss life and to die.  The Eucharist frees us from death.  This might be a hard pill to swallow because we know we die to this life, at least, to life as we know it.  The life and death of Jesus, his humanity, is the subject of faith as well as the source of life. 

In few moments we will come forward to receive the Eucharist and we can meditate on the foreshadowing of this spiritual gift by the manna in the desert.  That is to say the manna given to our ancestors prefigured the Bread of Life come down from heaven, which is the Word made flesh.  This is the pinnacle of our faith, the source and summit of the Christian life. 

To believe or not to believe?  That is the question….


The 18th Sunday Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

As I told you last Sunday, today we continue to read another part of “the Bread of Life discourse,” taken from the Gospel of John, ch.6. Today the Church also pulls out the Old Testament reading and the Letter of St. Paul that are associated with the Gospel reading. As you all heard today’s readings, the first reading, the second reading, and even the responsorial psalm are focused on the fact that God feeds His people by Manna, the bread from heaven, Jesus is the bread of life from heaven, and whoever believes in the work of God will have eternal life. This is the main theme in today’s readings.

As we read the Gospel passage last Sunday, Jesus fed the crowds and left them and went to the other side of the Lake. Today they follow Jesus and have a conversation with Him. But the conversation is not coherent as you notice. Looking at the conversation between Jesus and the crowds, I don’t think the people completely understand Jesus.

About 4 years ago, I was going back and forth to do the Triduum at Our Lady of the Lake in Big Lake and at St. Christopher’s in Willow. Back then, I was in charge of both parishes. I had to say masses in both parishes. St. Christopher’s is a small church of 20-30 families. It is a nice and lovely community. They are like a family. But there was only one server in the parish. When he was in a bad mood like being scolded by his mother, I wouldn’t have a server. He sat in the pews. Anyway it was Holy Thursday mass. He served. We practiced together before the mass. I asked for some volunteers from the congregation for feet washing and started to wash their feet. I had the boy hold the pitcher and pour the water for the holy and humble event in remembrance of Jesus’ wonderful symbolic action. We all went back to the Last Supper table to commemorate the holy and touching moment. I went through the people one by one. Some people’s feet were big and heavy. I was sweating after a couple of people’s feet. But the server was holding the pitcher too high and every time he poured the water, the water splashed everywhere. I stated to be upset by the way he did it. So I whispered to him, “Please bring it down a little bit.” He did it, but he said, “I don’t know what I am doing.” I became more upset in that holy and memorable moment. I thought to myself, “You don’t know what you are doing? Are you kidding me? You don’t understand what you are helping in this wonderful liturgy?” I remember being more upset about him. Looking back on that, we all are like the server sometimes. Like the crowds in the Gospel,  we don’t completely understand Jesus and His words of life

The crowds in today’s Gospel come find Jesus because they were fed by Him. They are looking for bread that is perishable. They don’t understand Jesus’ words of life. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Do you know how many times Jesus says in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel, “I am the bread of life from heaven?” At least 8 times He repeats the phrase in the chapter. It tells us how much Jesus wants to put a stress on that. But at the end of the chapter, many disciples leave Jesus because they don’t understand Jesus. Jesus’ words don’t make any sense to them and they leave. “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” The crowds are looking for food and signs even though they have the Bread of Life and Eternal Sign in front of them. Their misunderstanding is more like lack of faith. The bread of life will be our spiritual nutrition and growth when we have faith and understanding.

The Israelites in today’s first reading don’t understand God’s salvation plan either. That is to say, we see the lack of faith in the Israelites’ request. They are complaining about their meal and saying, “Would that we had died at the LORD's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” They just experienced the marvelous miracles that God has performed in the previous chapter. God took God’s people out of Egypt and led them to the Red Sea, saved them from the Egyptian Army by splitting the Sea, had them walk in the dry land of the Sea, and destroyed the Egyptian soldiers by closing the water. They just got through all these miraculous events but now they are grumbling against Moses, Aaron, and God. Full of hunger and discontent, they languish and yearn for the old fleshpots of Egypt without appreciating their freedom that was given by God. Unable to trust in divine providence, they prefer the chains of bondage. When I reflected on their grievance, I recalled times when I have had a desire to keep a distance from God and go back to the darkness even though I knew there would be light and the life in God. This is because of a lack of faith.

In the Western culture, faith or belief has a strong intellectual character. It is considered primarily to be an act of the mind. Furthermore, faith usually indicates that a person believes something or someone on the basis of authority. Thus, a person, including an actor or impostor, who wears a white laboratory coat with a stethoscope is thought to be “believable.” But in the ancient Middle East tradition, faith or belief is more like a wholistic act of a person’s intellectual, volitional, and spiritual dedication. It also expands to social bonds and solidarity in the culture of the ancient Middle East.

Therefore, when the crowds don’t understand the Gospel, they don’t have intellectual, volitional, and spiritual submission to Jesus’ words that He is the bread of life from heaven. When the Israelites complain about their food with lack of faith in God’s care for His people, they are intellectually, volitionally, and spiritually in the desert. What we need on the table of Manna is the wholistic submission to the Bread of Life. Our knowledge, our will, and our spirituality should be dedicated to the Heavenly Bread that is coming all the time at the Eucharistic table. When we do that, Manna, bread from heaven strengthens our faith. Moses tells them, “this is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.” Jesus tells the crowds, “I am the bread of life.” This Eucharist increases our faith in God because the bread from heaven grows us intellectually, volitionally, and spiritually and gives life in us. Soon enough, we are going to encounter the Bread of Life and be renewed by Eternal Food. Like St. Paul points out, by believing in God’s works, let us put on the new self and be created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth at the table.


The 17th Sunday Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

I don’t know if you notice this. Today’s Gospel passage, so called the multiplication of the loaves, is taken from John’s Gospel. We read Year B Gospels, Mark’s Gospel this year, but for a couple of weeks from today, we hear “The Bread of Life Discourse,” followed by the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves from John’s Gospel. The reason why the Church chooses the miracle story from John’s Gospel is that the same passage from Mark’s Gospel is shorter and simpler. And furthermore, the Church wants us to know how important this miracle is when we are fed and nourished by the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The Church encourages the faithful to reflect on direct accounts of Jesus about the Eucharist since we receive life from Jesus on the Eucharistic table.

Like I said, there is no question that today’s readings prefigure the Eucharist where all are nourished and fostered by Jesus Christ. In today’s first reading, the prophet Elisha feeds a hundred hungry people with 20 barley loaves. This story from the Old Testament is heartwarming and astounding because the miracle meets the basic need of people. But the story is surpassed by the Gospel accounts. In this sense, the Elisha account of the multiplication of the twenty barley loaves prepares us to appreciate more deeply the abundance and sacramental significance of the five loaves of barley bread and two fish multiplied by Jesus to feed the 5,000 hungry crowd. Both stories focus on satisfaction of the basic need of human beings.

Human beings have different levels of needs. According to a theory put forth by a psychologist, Abraham Maslow, there is a hierarchy of needs. He insisted that healthy human beings have a certain number of needs and that these needs are arranged in a hierarchy. This ‘hierarchy of needs’ is often presented as a five-level pyramid. On the bottom of the pyramid, there are physiological needs such as food, water, warmth, and rest. Once this level of needs has been met, people move on to the next level which is safety needs like security of environment, employment, resources, property, etc. As people progress up the pyramid, needs become psychological and social like the need for love, friendship, intimacy, family, etc. Further up the pyramid, the need for personal esteem and feelings of accomplishment take priority like confidence, self-esteem, achievement, respect, etc. On the top of the pyramid, there is a growth need. He called this ‘self-actualization’ which means achieving individual potential such as morality, creativity, problem solving, etc.

Considering the psychological research, we can have more understanding of what Jesus does in today’s Gospel. He takes care of our basic physiological needs. We need food, water, air, and clothing. Without them, we can’t live. These elements are essential and necessary to our life. Like we acknowledge Jesus’ indispensable blessings by singing today’s responsorial psalm, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs,” Jesus is the one who satisfies all of our physical needs.

What is the first thing that Jesus asks Philip in today’s Gospel when the crowd comes to Jesus? “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He pays attention to people’s basic need and satisfies the need by multiplying the five loaves and two fish that a little boy brings to him. And then “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.” In the Gospel, He distributed the bread and the fish, and now He gives Himself out in the form of bread and wine in the Eucharist. The most amazing point about the Eucharist is that Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist and feeds us and sustains us and grows us and takes care of our basic and indispensable desire. This is why Jesus is the Master and Provider of our life.

But today’s Gospel has more than feeding the hungry and satisfying basic needs. It is more than a magical miracle of multiplication of bread and fish. The miracle reveals who Jesus is. It unfolds God’s plan of salvation. It prefigures what salvation is like at the heavenly table. Like the 5,000 hungry people who sit down together and share the loaves and the fish, Jesus gives us the food of eternal life at the heavenly table; we recline with Him and share the eternal manna together. The miracle points out that God feeds us forever and gives us salvation in Jesus Christ. This Eucharist is basically the ultimate right answer for unsolved questions we have on earth. Elisha’s servant asks, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” Philip asks, “Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” Jesus answers these questions by performing the miracle and having us experience God’s table in advance. We got all the answers at the Eucharistic table.

By answering the questions and prefiguring God’s table, Jesus also shows God’s dominion over humanity, over the bread, over the world. To feed the hungry in the Church is more than a charity. It’s a revelation of God’s dominion over the world. We bring human activity up to the level of divine reign and transform it into the communion with God. Today’s Gospel shows us how Jesus brings human beings’ needs to the level of God’s salvation. This is what we need to do every time we feed the hungry.

One more thing I’d like to point out is that Jesus doesn’t provide food from heaven. The food doesn’t fall down from heaven. He could’ve done this in a miraculous way: bringing food from heaven. But He chooses to perform this miracle through a boy’s small offerings. It means our charitable activity is to show our solidarity. It’s not only the solidarity of human beings, but also a solidarity with God. It’s because this is a moment when God’s desire and human desire encounter and bear fruits. The Eucharistic abundance is a place where God and human beings meet together and share the table together. This is what we are having today. And this is what is happening right here at this table.