The 1st Sunday of Lent Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

This is a grace filled season. This is a calm and holy season. This is the richest season of the liturgical year. This is a season of a road to glory and everlasting joy. Lent just started this year and today is the first Sunday of Lent. What is the first thing that comes to your minds when you hear the word, “Lent”? Discipline? Self-denial? Passion and Death of Jesus? Giving-up? Penitential act? Cleanliness? Sacrifice? Reflection? Yes. They are all good images or practices that enrich the season of Lent and grow us in faith and draw us closer to God. But Lent is originally associated with baptism.

Lent means springtime. Therefore, it is meant to be the springtime of our faith in the Spirit. Lent has a connotation that it’s springtime when a new life is ready to be born. Lent was originally designed to be the period of the intensified preparation for catechumens. During Lent, for 40 days, catechumens prepare for the sacraments of Initiation that are granted on Easter Vigil: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. They are reborn with new life through the sacraments. Meantime, we, the baptized, are asked to walk with them and finally experience one of the greatest moments of the year-the renewal of our baptismal promises. Pope John Paul II said, “It is no exaggeration to say that the entire existence of the lay faithful has as its purpose to lead a person to a knowledge of the radical newness of the Christian life that comes from Baptism.”

Therefore, the renewal of Baptismal promises is the goal of Lent. Every penitential practice in Lent must lead us to this climax of Easter Vigil, the renewal of Baptismal promises. If we go to confession in Lent, we are reminded of one of the baptismal promises, “Do you reject Satan? I do. And all his works? I do. And all his empty promises? I do.” When we walk on the Lenten journey with almsgiving, prayers, and fasting, we allow our Father to enliven and increase our faith. This dependable faith is the authentic faith and the best context where the renewal of our baptismal promises is rooted. When we reflect on Jesus’ Passion and Death during Lent, we are reminded of the spiritual meaning of baptism: the Passover from our death to life, and from passion to joy. We are heading for this goal for forty days in Lent.

The first reading echoes this analogical prefigurement of our baptism when God made a covenant with Noah and his descendants after the great flood. “See, I am now establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you.” This covenant that God made with every creature is symbolic of our Baptism according to St. Peter in the second reading. He says, “God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.” God saved Noah’s family, the righteous through the water, and God is saving us through the baptism of water. The covenant between God and Noah is a life-giving promise that we make in our baptisms.

How abundant is the redeeming grace of baptism! How rich is the water of baptism? But we are asked to go through the desert experience that Jesus walked in today’s Gospel as we begin our own journey to this full, life-giving destination. The Desert is a place of dryness, aridity, barrenness, emptiness, and heat. There is no water and no food in the desert so there is no trace of life. That is where Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit and tempted. “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.” While the water of baptism in the first two readings tells us where our baptism leads us to, the desert of temptation shows us where our baptism takes us from. There is no life before our Baptism, but baptism leads us to the everlasting covenant with God.

Baptism changes everything. Today’s reading should be reflected in the light of baptism. There is a story about Jesus’ baptism before today’s Gospel. Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist and a voice comes down from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” At the Jordan, God declares His special covenant relationship with Jesus and proclaims Him as the Son whom He is well pleased. God’s chosen Son, in His obedience, will fulfill His messianic mission. This mission is accomplished through his entire life which is culminated in the Paschal Mystery of Passion and Death and glorious Resurrection. This baptismal moment is deeply related to Jesus’ mission accomplishment which leads to the New Covenant.

Our Lenten journey has its goal in the New Covenant through our baptism. God’s Spirit leads us to a 40-day retreat, the desert experience including the temptation by Satan. We stay strong in faith in God in dry and barren wilderness. After we go through the dry experience, the water of our Baptism brings us the richness and joyfulness of God’s new covenant. The renewal of the baptismal promises that we are going to profess at the Easter Vigil becomes redeeming when we live the faithful life in the desert for 40 days. This is where we are invited as we begin the first Sunday of Lent. Let us give thanks to God in this mass, for giving us an opportunity to experience the desert and leading us to the renewal of our everlasting baptismal covenant. 


The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Fr. Andrew Lee

My religious order is the Korean Missionary Society. We have missions in China. As you all know, all mission activities are prohibited in China. Missionaries might be kicked out if they are caught bringing religious missions to the Chinese people. Therefore, missionaries in China may be able to do social welfare services as a bypass instead of missioning there: managing hospitals, schools, orphanages, day care centers, shelters for homeless, and so on. The country let missionaries handle these problems because the government doesn’t need to spend money on them as long as the missionaries are dealing with them. My religious order started to send missionaries to China in 1996 to see if there was a possibility for missions. But we ended up starting a social welfare service in 2001: helping Chinese leprosy. The government isolated lepers in the western part of China and formed villages there: villages of lepers. My order, Korean Missionary Society helps them improve their lives by making them shoes. Some lepers lose their feet or legs because of the disease and can’t walk. So we measure their legs and provide them with prosthetic legs. In Korea, we also have some villages for lepers because people don’t want them around, so they are still isolated. This is how we treat lepers even today.

In today’s readings, we hear about leprosy. It is a disfiguring, infectious skin disease that has been surrounded by many social and religious taboos throughout history. In 1873, the cause of leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, was identified. We now know that leprosy is caused by a bacterial infection. Although it is infectious, modern medical studies have shown that transmission is more difficult than previously thought. Since the 1940s, medical treatments have been available, and the patient no longer needs to be isolated once long-term treatment has begun.

In Jesus' time, however, religious and social taboos dictated the behavior of those with leprosy and other skin diseases. The Law of Moses provided for the examination of skin diseases by the priests, and, as indicated in today’s first reading, if leprosy was identified, the person was declared unclean. People with leprosy lived in isolation from the community. They were instructed to rip their clothes and to announce their presence with loud cries when moving in the community. If the sores of leprosy healed, the Law of Moses provided a purification rite that permitted the person to return to the community. At that time the disease was treated not only as a physical disorder, but also as a result of a divine chastisement. Therefore, they were considered outcasts and excluded from the society.

Having an understanding of this background about leprosy, we are shocked by Jesus’ action in today’s Gospel. A leper comes to Jesus, kneels and begs. Jesus is filled with mercy and heals the leper. Jesus commands him to tell no one except the priest; the leper publicizes the news and Jesus must go out into the desert to avoid the crush of the crowd. This is the whole story. But Jesus’ simple action surprises everybody: the disciples, the crowd, the leper, and us. “HE TOUCHES THE LEPER.”

The people of Jesus’ time knew that diseases could be spread by touch. They did have an understanding of how it spreads. They thought that close contact could pass sickness. The strict instruction in the first reading demonstrates this. “As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp” They knew enough to keep someone with leprosy away from everyone else and out of the cities in the time of Jesus. But today Jesus touches the leper. How powerful an act of love is it?

Additionally, Jesus doesn’t have to touch the leper to heal him. Jesus heals people without or with touching them: Peter’s mother in law, the centurion’s servant, Lazarus, the blind man, etc. Jesus doesn’t have to touch the leper to heal him. But He does it. Imagine how long it has been since anyone touched this man. He never shook the hands of healthy people, never accidentally brushed against a woman in the marketplace, never bumped into anyone in public places, but Jesus comes and touches the man with leprosy. Imagine how touching and powerful it is for this man to be touched by a fellow healthy human being. 

Furthermore, Jesus moves forward and touches this man even though Jesus knows He might be infected. He knows He could be killed. He knows He could be isolated with the man. The risk is great. But Jesus doesn’t hesitate to reach out and touch the man. Jesus’ simple action is a great challenge to the disciples, the crowds, the leper, and all of us. We are required to ask ourselves today. “How much do we distance ourselves from people?” “Do we put a huge boundary around people and isolate them from us?” “Do we still hesitate to reach out and touch those who are suffering, hurt, wounded, and isolated?” The risk is great. We might be hurt. We might be infected. We might be killed. But do we take this risk of sacrifice in our lives?

Today we still have people who are cast out of the community: the homeless, the AIDS people, lepers, physically or mentally challenged people, and so on. They are minorities marked by a group of insiders, the popular group, for some way they are different. It could be a physical sign of difference; it could be a behavior. But the fact is that they are no longer embraced, fed, or spoken to by those on the inside. And we don’t want to risk ourselves to touch them. We fear associating with them. But Jesus’ touching the leper in today’s Gospel challenges people who don’t want to blend in with outcasts. Jesus’ stretching His hand asks us today to embrace them and bring them inside. Who is clean and holy? Who is just and normal? Those who are with Jesus Christ are clean. Those who are touched by Jesus’ sacred hand are holy. Therefore, we are asked to open ourselves to people outside the community. Let us continue the mass, asking God to give us his loving touch and to give us courage to touch outcasts in our community.


Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Deacon Bill Tunilla

No Time for Myself

We have all heard the saying there are never enough hours in a day to accomplish everything we need to do. I know many of us juggle demanding jobs or we may be struggling to find a job.  Still we try to make time for our spouse, our children, the in laws, chores, pets and ministry work.  Our calendars are full and we have no time left for ourselves and we can begin to feel drained and discouraged, perhaps angry at the demands placed upon us.  Many mental health professionals tell us this is an unhealthy approach to living life.  So how do we balance it all?

Let’s look in the scriptures we have heard today for some answers.   In our first reading from the book of Job it surely is a sad lament of human existence.  For Job life seems short, hard and full of drudgery.  To make matters worse he has insomnia and can’t even escape his suffering in sleep.  Perhaps if Job had a sleep aid like Benedryl or Sominx and he’d never have another sleepless night.

Then in our second reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians, St. Paul talks about the seriousness of his mission to preach the Gospel.  It demands forgetting about ourselves and dedication to ministry and others.  St. Paul puts it this way; “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible.  This becomes a reality when a person becomes a follower of Christ.

As we heard in our Gospel reading, Jesus like us was left with no time to be alone.  Mark tells us, “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. 

Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, everyone is looking for you.  He told them, let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose I have come.”

As we can see, Jesus was in high demand.  He could hardly find a few moments to be by himself and pray to his Father.  People were constantly seeking him out.  

The novelist Rose Macaulay once said, that all she demanded from this

life was "a room of her own." That is precisely what Jesus never had.

Today Our Gospel is set in Capernaum.  Sherry and I visited the synagogue and Peter’s house while we were on our pilgrimage in the Holy Land.  The house was typical of those of its time.  It had one large room that was approximately 20 x 20 and several smaller rooms.  This was where Jesus stayed most of the time during his earthly ministry.

 “A great doctor has said that the duty of medicine is "sometimes to heal, often to afford relief, and always to bring consolation." That duty was always upon Jesus….to help men and woman live, seek eternal life and to die. 

And there is our answer.  We as Christians are called to assist men and women from conception through natural death to point the way to obtaining and sustaining a relationship with God and secure a place in God’s Kingdom.

While it is human nature to try to put up the barriers and to have time and peace to oneself; that is not what Jesus did.  Conscious as he was of his own weariness and exhaustion, he was still more conscious of the insistent cry of human need. So when they came for him he rose from his knees to meet the challenge of his task.

Being a Christian challenges us to seek God’s will above our own.  When we seek God first and submit to his will, it is easier to assist the neighbor who comes requesting a listening ear – we can easily offer to pray for him or her.

When our family interrupts our rest or work then we can respond with compassion rather than irritation.  When the call to serve at church comes we can add our ministry hour to our schedule before our snowshoeing or ice fishing adventure. It is not that our adventures are not important for we need times to get away to refresh our souls and be recharged, but the true recharging comes when we assist those God sends to us. 

After we surrender our will over to God, we need to develop a prayer life like Jesus did.  Jesus knew well that he could not live without God and neither can we.  He knew that if he was going to fully share himself each day that he also needed to take in a deeper spirit of Love.  God is our lifeline.

In a little book entitled The Practice of Prayer, Dr. A. D. Belden has some great definitions. "Prayer may be defined as the appeal of the soul to God." Not to pray is to be guilty of the incredible folly of ignoring "the possibility of adding God to our resources." "In prayer we give the perfect mind of God an opportunity to feed our mental powers."

We are known as Christians in our church, neighborhood, work and our children’s sports teams. The wisdom and counsel we can develop from attending mass,  from developing a relationship in prayer, God and the Holy Spirit is different than what the world shares.  We become people folks feel they can confide in.

Many do not have a support system. You may be the only one who is open to a young woman sharing her abortion story, or a couple comes to who needs marriage counseling or you may be someone a young person can count on to listen compassionately to a story of their experiment with drugs.  Don’t let these grace filled opportunities slip through our fingers.

As we consider the scriptures we can be like Jesus, open and compassionate toward another's needs and depth of suffering. Scripture is full of stories of how Jesus was approached with the needs of others. The most powerful thing we can do is be present and listen.

There may not be enough hours in a day to accomplish everything we want to accomplish but know there are just enough hours in the day to accomplish what God wants you to finish.  Your day will be perfectly timed with rest, prayer and work when we seek God first and surrender ourselves to His will.