13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily - Fr. Joseph Mc Gilloway 2016

There are days and dates in our lives that get burned into our memories - 9/11 is a big one; or the day JFK died, for those old enough to remember that historical moment.

The thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time may not seem significant, and there is no reason why it should be to anyone here other than myself - so I need to tell you the story.

In the monastery where 30 of the monks were priests, we always knew in advance which Sunday we would be preaching - there are only 52 weeks in the year so divide that between 30 priests and we didn't have to preach very much.

So there I was, suddenly having to say Mass on the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, unprepared.  I opened the Gospel to take a look at it, and my heart sank - so I did something a priest is not allowed to do, I changed the Gospel.  I just couldn’t say these words of Jesus to my particular congregation:

‘Jesus said, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”’

My heart sank because I did not know how to explain those words of Jesus to the congregation that was my family, all gathered together in the hospital with my father.  He had become ill just a few days before and was dying - and he died later that same day, aged 62 years.

If the Gospel was to be  ‘Good News’, I just could not read that particular Gospel passage to my family on that day as we celebrated Mass together in the hospital chapel.

Our scripture readings, as you know are on a three year cycle.  And so every three years that reading comes back to me as a memory of the day my father died.  It was this 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, but on July 1st that year, 2007.

And every 3 years that Gospel passage has had a particular significance that has stayed the same for me, until this year.  This year I am the father who is leaving and those words from the same Gospel bring me comfort rather than distress.

“The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

It’s time to move on: for me, and for you. 

Holy Cross has been a very happy place for me, and I am sad to go. But the Lord has plans for all of us, plans perhaps we cannot see right now.  However as I  have learned over time, we should take every moment as a chance to grow in faith - and not too long after my father died I found out what Jesus was  really saying to the man in today’s Gospel.

You see that man’s father was not dying - he was alive and well.  That man was using the excuse of caring for his parents to prevent him doing what God had planned for him.  “I’ll follow you later” would have been an equally good statement, and a little bit less confusing for us listening in to the story.

Jesus would not be harsh with us, we know he comforted the bereaved, healed the sick, forgave the sinner - he was not being harsh with the man, just laying out what God’s plan for him was, but the man couldn’t see it.

So it’s time to move on and you and I must trust that God - who would not be harsh with us - will take care of us.

As you know before I came here I was very moved by the prayer you had been praying over a long period of time:

“Loving Father, send us a pastor - to lead us in holiness, to teach us your ways and always be faithful to your word.”

I wanted to do that, and I tried to do that.  But sometimes in the process I forgot the words of another great influence in my life St Benedict.  Saint Benedict says about the father of the community,

 "In administering correction he should act prudently and not go to excess, lest in seeking too eagerly to scrape off the rust he damage the vessel.” (Rule of St Benedict Chapter 64)

For anyone I may have hurt in my time here I am truly sorry.  I am not aware of any unresolved problems, but sometimes they go unspoken, I hope - should that be the case - we can part in peace with each other.

Finally I want to thank you for your love and support over the past 2 and a bit years.  It should be obvious that I was happy here by the very fact that I have decided to make Alaska my home.  Mountains and wildlife and even salmon can only bring you so far, it is the people - you people - who made it home for me, thank-you!

You will grow to love Fr Andrew - he is a really good man - please be as kind to him as you have been to me, and in only a few weeks things will feel like normal again.

I’d like you to know that from the money you gave me I set some aside and ordered an icon of St Herman of Alaska another monk who made his home here and I will bring it with me to Wasilla so that I will remember you in prayer in the years ahead. 

And in thanksgiving for your kindnesses I am offering all the Masses this weekend for the people of Holy Cross Parish. 

God be with you!  Amen!


12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily - Deacon Bill Finnegan 2016

There is an expression, which is probably a hold-over from the 1960s, that states, “Inquiring minds want to know.”  This expression comes to my mind every time I come across something that I do not understand in the Sunday readings.  I just can’t pass it by, I have to “know”!  So it is with the statement about the “mourning” described in our First Reading from the Book of Zechariah.   Therefore, I had to “google it”, to use a more modern expression.

The mourning described in the first reading refers to the mourning that followed the death of King Josiah in the year 609 BC at the battle on the plain of Megiddo (mee-GIH-doh), north of the Sea of Galilee, not far from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up.  King Josiah is often described as “The Last Good King” of Judah.  While searching the internet, I even found a bible video for children about the good King Josiah.  It is a story that would be of interest to children since he became king at the age of 8!  He is called “good” because, even as a teenager, he called the Jewish people back to the God of David, and away from the worship of false gods.  He began the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem so the people could return to the proper public practice of their faith.

He ruled Judah for 32 years, and soon after his death the Jews experienced the Babylonian Captivity.  The Prophet Zechariah was actually born in Babylon.  He is one of the minor prophets.  The Book of Zechariah is next to the last book in the Old Testament.  Zechariah is second only to Isaiah in prophesies that relate to the coming of the Messiah.  Today’s reading is one such messianic prophesy.  He is writing about Jesus when he says that the mourning over Him in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for King Josiah at the time of his death.  He writes about the one “pierced”, “an only son”, “a firstborn”.

In Ps. 22 we read, “they pierced my hands and my feet” - John ch. 19 states, “one soldier thrust his lance into His side and immediately blood and water flowed out”,  and a few verses later, “They will look upon Him whom they have pierced” - Jesus is the one “whom they have pierced”.  In the Nicene Creed that we will soon pray, we speak of Jesus as the “Only Begotten Son of God”.  St. Paul in his Letter to the Colossians says that Jesus is the “firstborn of all creation”.  So clearly Jesus is the one for whom the people of Jerusalem will be mourning and grieving.  This prophesy, by the way, was given over 500 years before the time of Christ.

Today’s readings also include another prophesy about the death of the Messiah, given by the Messiah, Himself.  This prediction comes less than three years before His death.  It comes almost half way through Luke’s Gospel, as we just heard, right after St. Peter identifies Jesus as “The Christ of God”.  Jesus scolds Peter, the reading says, and the others not to tell anyone else that He is the Messiah, and then says, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected ..., and be killed and on the third day be raised.” 

I don’t know about you but when I hear either of these readings, these prophesies, I immediately think of the Crucifix.  The Holy Cross upon which Jesus was pierced; the Holy Cross on which Jesus was killed for our salvation.  I think of the Crucifixion, even though neither of these readings make any reference as to how Jesus will die - only that He will be “pierced” in one, and that He will “suffer greatly” in the other.

Maybe we Catholics make the connection to the Crucifix because it is always here before us - and because we know that He did, indeed, die on the Cross for each one of us.  These days we gaze upon the Crucifix and pray before it with hope and joy, no longer mourning our loss but rather celebrating what we have gained in Christ Jesus.

Jesus, in the Gospel reading, does later mention a cross, but it is not His Cross, it is my cross, it is your cross.  He says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  In the past, I have preached about the “crosses we bear”, in the traditional understanding of burdens of some sort.  Those burdens could deal with health issues, financial problems, relationships, just about anything.  I remember my mother, and my grandmother as well, always saying that we should join our crosses to the Cross of Christ, and we will be unburdened.  Still good advice if you feel burdened down.

Today I would like to treat the cross we bear as a symbol of our faith.  Many women and girls here (even men and boys) wear a cross around their neck.  I hope that it represents, not some personal adornment, but a symbol of your Catholic faith - on display for all to see.  Likewise, many of you have a rosary in your pocket or purse with a crucifix attached to it, carrying your cross where ever go.  Still others pray the Way of the Cross regularly, following along in the steps of Jesus on His way to Calvary.  I have always been impressed with Good Friday Faith Walk here in Anchorage where families from all over the city carry large crosses and converge on downtown - again demonstrating their faith for all to see.  The Cross we “bear” can be seen in the Faith that we “bare” to the world.

To bring this symbol closer to home, here at Holy Cross all of the ministers at Mass wear a Cross of some sort as a symbol of their ministry.  Often before Mass the sacristan will announce to the ministers, “Don’t forget to pick up your cross.”  Those words could as well be addressed to each of us here at Mass.  (-”-)  Your faith and belief in the saving power of Christ’s Death & Resurrection is the cross that you should pick up daily in order to follow Him in this world today.  And do it without mourning but rather with joy for all to see.


10th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily - Deacon Bill Tunilla 2016

Moved By Spirit

On my last day as a delivery driver for Coca-Cola I pulled into my final stop at the Totem Theatre.  As usual I was greeted by a very friendly and polite young man, challenged with a mental disability.   I knew he was an avid collector of Coca Cola memorabilia.  He noticed I was wearing the brand new Diet Coke hat and came right out and asked if I had an extra one. I politely told him no and he politely asked me if he could have mine….  I smiled and continued to unload the truck.   Little did he know I loved collecting hats and I wasn’t giving this one up.

I could see in his eyes the disappointment he felt.  As I headed back to the warehouse, I couldn’t stop thinking about him.  As I got in my truck a strange feeling came over me and the next thing I knew instead of heading home I was headed back to the theatre.  When he spotted me I could see his big grin from ear to ear.  I gave him the hat and he couldn’t say thank you enough.

In our Gospel from Luke Jesus encounters a widow in a city called Nain.  As he drew near to the gate, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, a widow. 

When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and tells her do not weep.  Jesus touched the coffin and the bearers halt.  Jesus tells the young man to arise. The young man did and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Let’s think about that for a moment…. Jesus displayed special care for the widow.   Without being asked Jesus raises her son with his divine power and brings the young man back to life.  Jesus is acclaimed as a prophet and the people proclaim, “God has visited his people.”

In ancient Israel a widow without a son to support her had no means to make a livelihood.  She was at the bottom of the social ladder in the culture of Israel. 

According to the Old Testament law, a childless widow was given the option of marrying the brother of her deceased husband, in order that the name of the deceased man might not end.  This was called the levirate law (Dt 25: 5-10).  If the brother chose not to marry her, she returned to her paternal home (Lv 22:13). 

In the New Testament Jesus decried the scribes who extorted the house of widows (Mk 12:40), He praised the widow for giving from her substance (Mk 12:41-44) and He condemned those who oppressed widows (LK 20: 45-47). 

Today’s readings can have a powerful impact on us.  Jesus’s ministry was not only to the widows but he took pity on the entire human family. Often he chooses to take notice and assist those forgotten and the least important.   

As we imitate Gods’ love in our lives are we filled with Christ’s compassion, respect and honor for the least of God’s people?  Am I open to stopping my schedule and to love and serve those God brings into my life?

I know for myself that often my intellect and judgements get in my way of doing what is whispered to me.  I can ignore the whisper and be very self-centered and protective of my time and money. 

Yet I know that God knitted each of us in our mother’s womb and gave each of us a unique dignity.  Everyone one of us is made in the image and likeness of God and is truly unrepeatable.  Each of us has our own personal way of serving God, something only we as individuals can do.  We all differ in our gifts, but each of us has something to contribute if given the chance.

Jesus was not all about himself, he was counter cultural.  He ate with tax collectors, he stayed with sinners.  Many times he broke the ritual purity laws when he touched lepers and the dead as he shared God’s love, acceptance and compassion. Jesus healed his neighbor’s health, uplifted their spirits and encouraged them to seek out God by renewing their dignity.

Sooner or later we are all moved by the Spirit to do the same as Jesus did.   I challenge us all to listen to the whisper of the Holy Spirit for we have all heard it.  You know the times when your heart beats a little faster, your brain cranks out all the excuses of why not faster than a rabbit hops…and your eyes try to quickly shield themselves?   

To live counter culturally, this doesn’t mean breaking rules and doing our own thing, in fact it is just the opposite.  It means loving Gods people without condition or judgements.  Looking at those Gods sends with the eyes of God, remembering he created each person and seeks to be with them for eternity.  But perhaps we need to challenge ourselves first and become better at listening to the whisper of the widow, the sick, the aged, our children, spouse or difficult neighbor.   

Often as Catholics we fail to see ourselves as Healers or Evangelists, but you know Catholics continue to give great evidence to Christ’s mission in the world. Catholics have caused awareness and great social reforms have occurred through the centuries.  The church has stood for the dignity of all people, has stood by the working man and woman, built the first hospitals, homes for widows and orphans, schools and the list goes on. 

Evangelization is a whisper.  It is more than just knocking on doors or standing on a street corner with a sign.  It’s about being moved by the Spirit and becoming God’s hands and feet.  

So this week let us pray and ask God to open our minds and hearts to the movement of the Spirit in our daily lives.  And when the Spirit comes a calling, you may be surprised.  It could be something as simple…. as just giving someone your hat.


Trinity Sunday 2016 - Homily Fr. Joseph Mc Gilloway

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.   The Triune or Trinitarian God is a central element of our Christian and Catholic faith and one of the most difficult to grasp.

The Church explains the Trinity in this way:

“The Trinity is a mystery of faith in the strict sense, one of the ‘mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God’.” CCC237

This is the point where any preacher would be better off to sit down again, because no matter what I say I do not have the ability to make sense of such a great mystery which the Catechism says – “can never be known unless revealed by God.”

And yet ¼ of the world’s population believe in this God who is Trinity – are we just foolish beings to place our faith in such a mystery?

My brother’s and sisters, we should not fear taking a leap of faith into what we do not understand about God.

To risk reaching beyond what we understand has been a powerful aspect of our nature that has helped define us as human beings.  It is not foolish to reach beyond ourselves, to look beyond our perceived limitations - it is that very characteristic which has helped us thrive.

We can use that argument – of reaching beyond ourselves – to, help us engage with the possibility of God, and why we should choose to believe in God.   But how do we jump from believing in God to believing in that God as Trinity?

You see from the earliest times in scripture we have been taught – “Hear oh Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” (Deut 6:4)

Our understanding of who God is comes from two sources: first from the Jewish people in the OT and then: second from Christ’s own teaching. 

Through these two sources we are given glimpses of God and as a result we know that there is a Father, and a Son and a Spirit - especially from what Christ taught us. 

But even in the Old Testament there are indications that God is more complex than the human mind can grasp.

In the first chapter of the Bible, God said, "Let us make humans in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over all the creatures of the earth.” (Gen 1:26) God speaks in at least the plural, but the scriptures are referring to one God. 

Earlier in the same chapter we are told,  “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Gen 1:2)

A living thing does not survive without its spirit – we say a person dies when their spirit leaves them but here we have God in heaven and his Spirit “hovering over the waters” of the earth.  

So again we have an indication of the nature of God as being particular to God himself: somehow more than one person and yet somehow each person is self-sustaining.

The idea of God as Father also exists in the Old Testament, prior to Christ’s teaching us the Lord’s Prayer.  We read in the Book of Isaiah,

“Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might?  The stirring of your heart and your compassion are held back from me.  For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. (Isaiah 63:15-16)

So, even before Christ, we are aware of God as Creator and Father, and that God has a Spirit.  And our faith as Christians is ultimately bound to God the Son – Jesus Christ.

How this mystery of the Trinity works is beyond human understanding, but that is not a reason to give up belief.

Science, for all its wonders, does not yet understand the human body, which is there before us to be touched and seen.  Attempts to understand the human mind and spirit are still at infancy stage.  We are a mystery to ourselves, how could God be less mysterious?

Our problem is in coming to an easy mind about holding a belief we cannot prove.  But what can we trust in to be sound and secure and eternal?  There is no such man-made thing!  Kingdoms – no!  Governments – really? Business – no!

You and I, as Christians, we trust in the hope of Christ’s promise that God is concerned about us.  And He, who laid down his life for us, in today’s Gospel - speaks of himself in relation to Father and Spirit.

This mystery is not one we can understand, only accept or reject; and should we reject it,

“to whom shall we go? Lord you have the message of eternal life.”   (St Peter tells us in Jn 6:68)

So let us give thanks to God for what He has revealed of Himself to us through the Scriptures and in the teaching of Jesus Christ His Son.  And may that insight continue to give us hope, the hope St Paul mentions in the second reading,

“Hope that does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  (Romans 5:5)

And may the blessing of almighty God, + the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit come down on you, and remain with you, forever.  Amen.


Pentecost - Deacon Bill Finnegan

Diane and I did a little traveling before returning to Alaska last week.  I don’t want to make this a travel-log, but I would like to mention our experiences at Mass while on vacation.

I am relating these little anecdotes for two reasons, the first of which is to remind you that when you are on vacation, you should not take a vacation from God.  We, as Catholics, should always try to go to Mass on Sunday, wherever we are.  If it’s impossible, it’s impossible, and no one is held to the impossible.  Just think: If you prayed for something very important, and the delayed response from God was, “I would have like to answer your prayer, but I was on vacation!”  God never takes a vacation from us; neither should we take a vacation from Him.

The first city we visited had this beautiful cathedral, St. Paul’s, so we headed there for Mass.  As soon as we entered, we realized this was not a Catholic cathedral - no crucifix, no stations of the cross, no statue of the Blessed Mother!  I asked the Anglican priest where the nearest Catholic Church was, and he happily gave me directions.  However, being in a strange city, I got lost and just stumbled upon St. Francis church (not where we were being sent).

It was a 150-year old church with a capacity of about 500 people, but by the time Mass started there must have been twice that many people - all along the walls, 3-4 deep in the back, and hundreds in a vestibule watching on a monitor.  What was striking was the mix of the people - young and old, a mix of ethnicities, many working people in hospital uniforms or civil servant uniforms.  Most striking, however, was the number who were in their late teens, early twenties, who were there alone or in small groups of friends.  They were not at Mass because their parents brought them; they were clearly there because they wanted to be there based on their own faith practice.  (We later learned that there was a university nearby.)

The following week was a completely different experience.  We were in a very small, remote town - not unlike the Alaska bush.  I had done better research this time.  Our hotel was a few blocks from the only Catholic Church in town.  We luckily arrived just before the only Mass at that location on the weekend, the Saturday vigil.  The congregation consisted of about 35 people, including 4 of us from the tour.  The church was very basic, if not rustic, with the ambo being held up by a couple of 2x4s!  (Very Fr. Ernie like.)

Our last experience was in a suburban city, with a relatively new church that was about half full - much as you would find in so many cities throughout the USA.  The Mass, of course, was the same in all three situations.  Whether for a handful of worshippers or an overwhelming crowd - our Mass is the same - everywhere in the world.

And that is the second reason that I tell you these little stories - they demonstrate the universality of the Catholic Church.  And it all began, as we heard in the Acts of the Apostles, with the events of today - on that Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after the first Easter, i.e., 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection!

This was not the first Pentecost.  Pentecost was a Jewish tradition, coming 50 days (the meaning of the word) after Passover, and celebrating the “receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, ... literally the beginning of Judaism”.  We too celebrate this day as the beginning of Christianity - as the beginning of the Church.  Fr. Joseph was lamenting the other day that this is such an important feast, and yet we give it just one day, not a season, not even an octave.  (Under the old calendar, the rest of the Sundays of the year would be reckoned as the nth Sunday after Pentecost, until the season of Advent began.  It was decided to leave the Red up all week.)

On our Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles (& the Blessed Mother), who were back in the Upper Room following Jesus’ return to His Father (Our Father).  They were again fearful and without courage, until they received the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire.  Then they burst out into the “world” proudly proclaiming the “mighty deeds of God” to all gathered in Jerusalem.  The Acts say that the Jews gathered there represented “every nation under heaven”, every nation of the known world.  But over the last 2000 years, the world has “grown” and now the Word of God can truly be heard anywhere on the planet.

This is the result, initially, of the work of these Apostles and disciples, and St. Paul as well, walking and sailing literally to the ends of the earth.  Over the centuries the work has been carried on by missionaries.  The greatest missionaries for the Church, however, are parents.  Parents who teach their children the Catholic Faith, and  children, when they are parents, who do the same.  And thus the Word of God, through the Power of the Holy Spirit is spread through every nation and culture.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus promised the Apostles that He would send them an Advocate from the Father who would teach them and guide them, and Jesus said (I like this phrase) “remind you of all that I told you”.  Even the Apostles needed constant reminding of the teachings their Master!  Thus the need for Adult Education today.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that we too have received the Holy Spirit (not in so dramatic a way as on that Pentecost), and that we too are called to service to the benefit of the Church.  St. Paul wrote:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God

who produces all of them in everyone.

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit

is given for some benefit


How will you fulfill your service for the benefit of others?  In ordained ministry?  In religious life?  In civil service, giving to the community?  As a parent, passing on the faith to the next generation?  As a teacher of religious education?  As a young adult, who has taken on the faith as your own, and is willing to demonstrate that faith to all in the secular world around you?

The model of “The Church” varies from place to place, as my Mass stories at the beginning demonstrate, but our individual call by the Holy Spirit is constant and unchanging.  Be open to that call and wherever it leads you.  You will only know your call by inviting the Holy Spirit into your life, using the words of the Sequence today: “Veni, Sancte Spiritus”=“Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

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