The 28th Sunday Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

Getting into heaven has been a great subject throughout history. People have been curious: “Who is going to be saved?” The Latin words, Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (Outside the Church there is no salvation), this theological proposition, the Church has kept for a long time. It is also true that this sentence has provoked several theological arguments inside and outside the Church. Who is going to be saved? How can we be saved?

One time, a catechist asked his children in the Sunday school class, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale, and gave all my money to the Church, would that get me into heaven?” They all answered, “NO!” “If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into heaven?” Again the answer was, “NO!” “Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children and loved my wife, would that get me into heaven? He asked them again. Once more they all answered, “NO!” “Well,” he continued, thinking they were a good bit more theologically sophisticated than he had given them credit for, “then how can I get into heaven?” A 5-year-old boy shouted out, “You gotta be dead!”

Having eternal life was a great issue and concern in the time of Jesus, too. In today’s Gospel, a rich man knelt before Jesus and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He wanted to be sure that he was among people who were to be saved. But not only for this rich man, but also for all people, this question has been asked out of people’s curiosity and sometimes fear. Finally, a protestant reformer in 16th century pointed out that since time began God predestined those who by faith would be saved. But it was impossible to know for certain, who was who. So people again wanted to have a more confident way to find out that they would be involved in the group of salvation.

But the Catholic Church already started to discuss this issue not from an individual sanctification, but from an ecclesiastical perspective. The Church believes salvation comes to individuals through the Church. Therefore, like I said in the beginning of the homily, the Church has been maintaining a stance of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (there is no salvation outside the Church). Of course, the Church adopted this axiom from one of the outstanding Church Fathers, St. Cyprian Carthage, a bishop of the 3rd century. Since then, a lot of Church Fathers and Councils have reaffirmed this thesis. And then finally the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains more about this expression in 846, “How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body.” Therefore, we come to the solution that the Church encourages us to look at this salvation issue from the ecclesiastical perspective.

Let us go back to today’s Gospel and take a closer look. When the rich man came to Jesus and asked the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus reminded the rich man of God’s commandments. “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal” and so on. And the man said that he had observed all of these from his youth. The rich man still reduced the salvation issue to the personal observance of the laws. And what did Jesus command him? “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” While the rich man looked at salvation as an individual sanctification with observance of the commandments; however, Jesus broadened his understanding of salvation from the individual to the ecclesiastical perspective. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and then come, follow me.” We, the Church, are responsible for people around us. We, as the people of God, are asked to take care of the poor. We, as the body of Christ, are supposed to move forward to God’s Kingdom, the future Church of Eternity. This is how we inherit God’s Kingdom: being a member of the heavenly Church.

Are we going to be saved? This is the question that the rich man brings to Jesus. Jesus still answers to us through the Church: “The one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church.” (CCC 848)

Today Jesus wants us to look at salvation in a different way. He comes to us through the Church. We all know that a part of the Body of Christ is suffering from the sexual abuse and misbehavior revelations, and the whole body is hurting. But we all know God’s salvation is preserved in the Church. We say, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This is a new frame of salvation broadening the horizon of understanding of eternal life. Looking at salvation in the Church’s eyes is like having the true treasure of Wisdom as the first reading points out. It is also like imprinting God’s words in our hearts as the second reading affirms. We are asked today to turn our eyes to our neighbors who lost their homes and families because of natural disasters and we pray for them. We are asked to look at the poor like a treasure on this earth. We are asked to give up what we value, whatever it may be, and offer to God. That is where God’s salvation comes. That is where eternal life is preserved. Let us give thanks to God in this mass, celebrating the Eucharist where Jesus spreads his life throughout the Church. “There is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father…for my sake and for the sake of the gospel…will not receive eternal life in the age to come.”


The 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily - Deacon Bill Tunilla

No man is an island was a quote I heard as a young boy growing up.  Although I never knew where it came from yet I understood what it meant.  I later discovered the seventeenth century poet John Donne wrote the poem as part of a collection of devotions.  But the next line in the poem is one that is not familiar to us, “Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”

In our gospel reading we just heard from Mark, Jesus cites the Genesis account of the creation of man and woman. God said it was not good for man to be alone so he created him a suitable partner.  Not just any partner would do.  In fact, many species are listed that were not deemed suitable partners for the man, but only woman is deemed worthy.

Not only was woman chosen worthy, but God chooses a rib from Adam. For our ribs are at our sides thus symbolizing man and woman standing equal, side by side, not one standing behind the other.  Our differences are complimentary to one another, not competitive.  

From the beginning God created natural marriage.  This relationship of husband and wife was raised above the extraordinary to image God’s love to the world in a tangible way. 

Being equal partners in the covenant of marriage we become one flesh. The language in Genesis indicates that Gods intention for marriage is to possess the special covenantal nature as was God’s covenant with Israel. Within a valid Sacrament of Matrimony is the grace by which we live out Gods desire for our marriage.

Still the church recognizes some marriages ends in divorce and most often finds that a valid Sacrament of Marriage never existed allowing a Catholic couple to remarry. Our tribunal and parish priests can offer support during these difficult times.  It is important to keep in mind that a declaration of an invalid marriage bond in no way places blame on either party, nor does it deny a marriage took place and the legitimacy of children is never questioned, the church only seeks to discern if a valid Sacramental bond existed.  

Jesus too addresses divorce with a look at the intention of the hearts of the parties divorcing in Galilee. The Pharisees, as usual, approached Jesus with the intention to ensnare him when they asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?  Divorce was widely accepted in Jewish society at that time but still there was controversy among the Pharisees as what constituted sufficient grounds. 

The only mention of divorce in the Torah is in Deuteronomy 24: 1-4, where it says, “When a man after marrying a woman and having relations with her, is later displeased with her because he finds in her something indecent, and therefore he writes out a bill of divorce and hands it to her, thus dismissing her from his house.  Interpretations of exactly what constituted something indecent ranged from adultery to burning the evening meal.

Jesus in true rabbinic fashion responded with a counter question, putting the monkey on their back, “What did Moses command you?”  It was sort of a trick question since Moses gave no command about divorce other than the Deuteronomy verse I just quoted. 

Jesus explains the reason for the legislation was because of the hardness of their hearts.  Israel is often chastised in the Old Testament for being a hard hearted or a stiff necked people.  When we have hardness of heart, we stubbornly refuse to yield to God and his ways.  It is the willful blindness to God’s truth that causes Jesus to scold the Pharisees and his disciples.

Now this is where Jesus puts the rubber to the road and comes to the heart of the real commandment he is drawing their attention to.  He quotes from Genesis referring to humanity prior to the sin of Adam and Eve.  The first (Gen 1:27) is where Jesus recounts, “God made them male and female”.  The second is (Gen 2:24), where He describes the covenant bond of love between husband and wife, expressed in sexual union; “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

In biblical thought flesh is not merely the physical body but the whole human body being present in the visible world.  After all we are creatures of a spiritual, physical and emotional nature. 

With these statements Jesus brings marriage into a whole new light by referring to humanity before the fall, Jesus is implying from here forward, God’s original intention is the true standard for marriage.

Jesus concludes with his own solemn injunction; “What God has joined together; no human being must separate.” Jesus is confirming that the union of husband and wife is no mere human custom but a bond made by God himself (Mal 2:14-16) and no human being is authorized to dissolve that bond once it has been made.

With his pronouncement on marriage, Jesus brings his teachings on suffering, self-denial, humility and service into our most intimate and personal space.  This teaching is for all of us, not only those who are married.  Our daily lives are called to be filled with self-giving love of the other and fidelity to the fallen and imperfect persons God brings into our lives. We must remember we too are fallen and imperfect but we can achieve greatness for within is God’s holy goodness and love.

If there is one lesson I’ve learned over and over in my life is that I must make decisions of love for the sake of the other over myself, be it my wife or one of our kids, a co-worker, parishioner or the checkout clerk at the store.  

While it is easy to accept happiness when everything goes our way, I like most people don’t like to accept suffering.  It is human nature to want to get rid of suffering.  While the media is sure have all the answers, more material things, and self-centered recipes for happiness this quote from Pope Benedict XVI says this about suffering.

“Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.

In all of humanity, male and female, the newest to the eldest, single, divorced or widowed, we will suffer as part of God’s Divine will for us. Let us embrace our crosses as Christ did on the road to Calvary.

When we give of ourselves freely and share love and forgiveness we mirror God’s holy love and are not an island onto ourselves but everyone is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” …. together we are the Holy Body of Christ, his Church and we can make a difference in the world.


The 26th Sunday Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

When I first came to Alaska about 6 yrs ago, Fr. Leo Walsh was the pastor of St. Benedict’s.-I don’t know if you remember him. He was here to celebrate mass a couple of weeks ago.-And my brother priest who came to Alaska with me, was assigned to St. Benedict’s as an assistant priest and I was assigned to Sacred Heart in Wasilla. One time I visited my brother priest at St. Benedict’s, and Fr. Leo was happy to show me around the parish and the school, Lumen Christi. There was a youth room upstairs in the school. Fr. Leo took me up to the room and said, “This is our youth room.” It was a huge room. He continued to say, “Every Wednesday they have a youth night here. Young people need a time together to strengthen their faith and share their difficulties in life.” And then he added, “Belonging proceeds believing.” I was impressed by this saying. You probably have heard this expression. 

But some people don’t want to belong to any institutional religion; however, they do have some form of belief in God. There was a movement in Korea many years after the freedom of religion beliefs that they didn’t want any form of Church only individual faiths mattered most. They rejected belonging to any religious organizations because they believed religions remained purer when reduced to individual beliefs. They were probably tired of the hatred and conflicts committed in the name of religion. Whatever the reasons, these people refuse belonging but accept believing. On the other hand, there is a group of people who want to belong to a religion but don’t believe in God. They go to the Church every Sunday and are involved in ministries in some ways but don’t believe what the Church teaches. We come across them sometimes in the Church. They accept belonging but refuse believing. But we need both belonging and believing to have a healthy religious and spiritual balance.

And this whole discussion invites us to ask ourselves about why we belong to the Catholic Church and if we are believers. Questions: Why do we belong to this Church? How do we look at someone who doesn’t belong, someone who is not one of us? What if someone who doesn’t belong to the Church but shows a greater commitment to Christian values?

Today’s readings on the 26th Sunday of Ordinary time bring us to the question about the struggle between believing and belonging. In the first reading, Eldad and Medad were initially on the list of the seventy elders chosen by Moses. But they were absent when the Lord distributed the prophetic spirit to the elders gathered in the tent. When it was discovered that they had received the same spirit and began to prophesy even though they were absent, Joshua got jealous and upset. “Moses, my Lord, stop them.” But Moses was impelled by a belonging spirit instead of the exclusive one that Joshua had. “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” A belonging issue mattered between Moses and Joshua. Someone who was not one of them was not supposed to have the same spirit as the rest of the group. It’s because he is an outsider. The outsider should be excluded from this privileged gift according to Joshua.

We find the same exclusiveness in the Gospel. The apostles see someone who is not among the group of Christ’s disciples but who casts out demons in the name of Christ. And then the apostles try to tell him to stop it. “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” As the apostles see it, unless a person is a member of their group, he is an outsider; and as an outsider, he doesn’t belong to the saved. Using God’s power to do miracles as an outsider is wrong in their eyes. But Christ defends the outsider and rebukes the exclusiveness of His disciples. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” In contrast to His disciples, Jesus is able to recognize and encourage goodness wherever it may be. 

Do you still remember the questions that I asked you? Why do we belong to this Church? How do we look at someone who doesn’t belong, someone who is not one of us? What if someone who doesn’t belong to the Church shows a greater commitment to Christian values? We don’t have a right to refuse the working of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit blows where it wills. If we don’t open ourselves because of our exclusiveness like the disciples, we might be able to refuse to acknowledge God’s good work in the lives of others because they are not one of us and because they belong to a different church or religion or ethnic group.

The 2nd Vatican Council obviously declared through the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, that the Church is the people of God. So who are the people of God? Answering to the question, the Council is talking about non-believers who are outsiders of the Church. “Finally those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God…whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She (the Church) know that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.” (LG 16) The Church challenges us today to open ourselves to the beauty and the goodness and the truth that might be found in God’s creation whether it’s inside or outside the Church. The Church still challenges us to broaden our perspective on those who are not one of us. The Church enlightens us in finding God’s Kingdom everywhere in the world where God’s love is blooming. Instead of being jealous and exclusive, we are supposed to thank God for being universal and catholic in pouring His blessings upon the whole humankind. That is why we belong to the Catholic faith and are believers in God.