The Visitation - Deacon Bill Tunilla

One of the summer rituals around my house when I was growing up was when we prepared for a visit from my favorite uncle and his family.  My mom and dad ensured the house was clean and the refrigerator was stocked with their favorite foods.  Mom and Dad would also plan outings for the two weeks they would spend with us. 

When the day came my family was exuberant and filled with joy in anticipation in seeing them.  When the time came to say goodbye our hearts were heavy and it was bitter sweet, but we could still retain our joy for we knew they would come again next year and the anticipation and our family ritual would start all over again.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent with Christmas just a few days away.  By now I hope we all have the gifts  wrapped and the worries and details put to rest so we can begin to focus on what is most important….the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ into the world. 

Now at the heart of today’s gospel we hear of a unique story of the encounter of two pregnant women in an event commonly known as the Visitation.

St. Luke tells us, “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah where she entered the house of Zechariah”.  For Mary this trip was no short 2 hour drive to go the 100 miles from Nazareth to the traditional town of Ain Karim where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived.  To make this journey on foot or by caravan would have taking 3 to 5 days barring any unforeseen events.

St. Luke stays tightly focused on the encounter itself and doesn’t provide much detail.  His concern is theological.  For when Elizabeth’s ears hear Mary’s greeting the infant in Elizabeth wombs leaps for joy.  The Greek verb for leap is skirtao and it implies an exuberant springing motion expressing great joy.  Luke then tells us Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and declares Mary to be blessed among woman and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  If these words sound familiar, well they should.  We say them each time we pray the Hail Mary.  Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee.  Blessed are thou amongst woman and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

This blessedness of Mary is a bit of a paradox that is bitter sweet. This paradox of blessedness may seem self-contradictory, but it reveals a deeper truth.  Mary was granted the blessedness of being the mother of the Son of God. Her heart was filled with a wondering and a great joy. 

Yet that very blessedness was to be a sword of sorrow to pierce her heart later on down the road.  For we know it meant that she would see her son hanging on the cross.

To be chosen by God so often is a paradox for us as it was for Mary. We rejoice as we receive a crown of joy but can feel burdened as we receive the cross of sorrow. The piercing truth is that God does not choose a person for ease and comfort and selfish joy but for a task that will take all that their head, heart and hand can bring to it. God chooses a man or woman for a specific purpose. But the just like Mary, God gave us a free will to participate in His purpose and won’t interfere if we choose not to. 

Now the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 1:5) tells us, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” When God sent the Angel Gabriel to Mary to announce that she would be the mother of God, she accepted what Gabriel told her even though she didn’t fully understand all that was happening. 

All of us have been chosen by God for His purpose.  Like Mary we don’t always understand and grasp what is going on.  For us to understand we need to prepare our hearts and to clear all the clutter out in our lives and to keep our spiritual houses in order.

 We can do this through prayer, confession, penance and works of mercy.  Working for God is no easy task and at times this task will seem overbearing.  But Jesus does remind us, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 11:30). God will never give us too much. We must trust like Mary in his providence.  

Christmas is nearly here.  Let us continue to prepare our hearts for His visitation.  Unlike our relatives and friends who come and go, let us keep a place for Christ in our hearts not only during the season of Christmas, but make a permanent place in our hearts each day of the year.  May your families have a blessed Christmas and may the joy of the season be always in your hearts.


The 3rd Sunday of Advent-Fr. Andrew Lee

Did any of you read today’s entrance antiphon? It starts with the following words: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” This is taken from today’s second reading, St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The very first word is “Rejoice.” In Latin, it is “Gaudete.” Therefore, today is called “Gaudete Sunday,” the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Like you see in the word, “rejoice,” today’s theme is about joy. In today’s first reading, the prophet Zephaniah is talking about this joy. “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!”

What is joy here? Why should we have joy in Advent? How are we joyful as we await Christ’s arrival? The prophet’s encouragement of being joyful is a little bit different from the feeling we expect from exciting moments. It is different from having fun. We usually feel happy when we have recreation time. Children go to an amusement park, have fun, and they are happy. We spend time enjoying what we want and we are satisfied and happy. We feel thrilled when we buy what we want and we feel good. This is not the joy we are invited to have today.

What is the Christian joy? We have to take a look at a little bit of the background of the first reading to know this. The prophet prophesied when King Josiah reigned over Southern Judah. It was around the time when the threat of Assyria was elevated. He spoke not long before the fall of Jerusalem. It was not a happy moment. They didn’t know when the enemy would start the assault or when Jerusalem would fall. They were being threatened. They had no reason to be joyful. But what the prophet declared was a joyful message before the devastation and death of the city. “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel!” A situation where the prophet encourages the Israelites to be in joy is totally different from the happy moments we usually have. The prophet sees the hope of the restoration of Israel. He sings for joy upon the arrival of God’s salvation. He lives in hope. He rejoices from seeing that hope. He wants the Israelites to be active in gaining joy even though they face a devastating situation and a threat to perish.

We find a similar message in today’s second reading. St. Paul witnesses joy and his inspiring call to rejoice in the Lord always like the words of the entrance antiphon. He is writing this letter from a prison in Ephesus to the Philippians. Could you imagine a person in a prison encouraging people to rejoice? He wants to share with them and with us, the confident joy that springs forth from deep faith in Jesus even though he is in prison. He reminds us that Jesus Christ our Lord is the motive and source of our joy no matter where we may be and no matter what situation we have. We strive to search proactively for the endless joy of Christ and rejoice.

When I reflect on joy, I think of my experience in Africa. I was in Mozambique for one year when I was a seminarian. It was Good Friday. I was busy in preparing the Good Friday liturgy where we commemorate the Lord’s death on the cross. It was a day of fasting and penance. But I got a message from a village that was about 40 miles away from where I was. The message was that a mother was about to have a baby. It was an emergency. But the family didn’t have a car or any transportations to get to the clinic. There was one maternity clinic in the city where I was. They requested that I pick them up. I hurried to drive to the village. While I was driving, I thought to myself, “I hope I’m not to be too late. I hope both are fine.” I was in a real hurry. But when I got there, the villagers told me the baby was already born. “Excuse me, I gave up the liturgy to come here. I was in a hurry for the baby. But the baby was born?” I was a little bit upset, because they didn’t tell me the truth about the situation. But when I saw the mother coming and holding the baby with a big smile, I was sorry about my anger. I saw great joy in the mother’s face. It’s joy about a new life. Christ died on that day and a new life was born. It’s the joy that is coming from Christ. I drove them to the clinic. I was glad they both were fine. But this experience caused me to reflect on Elizabeth bearing John the Baptist. John the Baptist, an unborn baby leaped for joy when Mary visited Elizabeth. John the Baptist knew the joy from the encounter of his Lord. This is the joy we are talking about today.

Likewise, the joy is from Christ. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Joy belongs to the Christian. This makes us adopted children of God. But if you take a close look at the first reading, you find out the fact that when we rejoice the Lord will leap in joy too. The prophet Zephaniah sings, “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.” God rejoices over us too. And then our joy will be in fullness when God rejoices over us. This is the authentic and eternal joy we experience when we dwell in God.

But this joy is not given to us. If we are lazy in being joyful with God, it doesn’t come to us automatically. The Christian joy is not passive. Rather it is active. This positive and proactive search for joy is culminated in today’s Gospel. People come to John the Baptist to be baptized. What do they do when they come to John? They ask him a question. They seek answers from John. “What should we do?” What this question implies: “what we are doing is wrong. Please tell us what to do to follow God’s law and be a better person.” They are looking for joy in God to return from what they are doing. They are not passive. They repent and search for God’s joy, the endless source of happiness. This is what we hope for in Advent. We should be joyful and glad in Advent by returning from our sins and wrongdoings.

Advent has almost one week left. We are invited to meditate deeply on Christ’s Incarnation in Advent. The meditation includes our dependency upon God and a joyful acceptance of Christ’s coming. We find joy in the hope for the advent of the Master of life even though we are in unpleasant situations. Walking with Christ on the road gives us deep joy. Whether our suffering is big or small, we can offer up our pain in the peace and joy of Christ. What should we do? We rejoice in Christ.


The 2nd Sunday of Advent Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

Today’s Gospel presents us a beautiful image: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.” This dynamic and exciting image reminds me of driving in the Park’s Highway on Tuesday last week after helping St. Michael’s in Palmer with the Advent Reconciliation. It was 9 o’clock at night when I drove home. I was coming in from the Valley but there were many cars in the other lane going out. The highway narrows down to one lane around Mirror Lake and the traffic backed up in a line from Peter’s Creek. The construction was running in the area at night. I heard the construction is completed. But we are still being affected by the aftermath. When I reflected on John the Baptizer’s proclamation in today’s Gospel, I imagined the Park’s Highway would be restored quickly, all the crooked roads would be straight, and the rough spots would be made smooth. We all hope that things are getting back to normal and everything is made ready for everyday life. It is like a preparation of the way for Christ to approach us on the spiritual journey of Advent.

How do we prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming as we celebrate the 2nd Sunday of Advent? A sentence caught my attention in today’s Gospel: “Proclaiming the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” This phrase involves some theological meanings. First, the baptism should be noticed. Baptism washes away our sins. It takes us to where we die to the past and emerge into a new life. But what John the Baptizer urges people to is not only baptism, but also “baptism of REPENTANCE.” This baptism of John has to be fully involved into inner conversion. “Repentance” that John the Baptizer uses here is “metanoia” in Greek. It means giving up old ways of life and getting into new ways of Christ. Not only does “metanoia” include exterior acts of satisfaction, but it also goes deep inside and leads to true contrition of hearts. “Metanoia” means true conversion beyond and beneath our hearts.

This baptism of repentance-true conversion of heart-brings us to the second point of John’s proclamation. Turning to God obtains “forgiveness of sins.” “Forgiveness of sins” has a little bit of different meaning in Ancient Palestine. It has a connotation of forgiving one’s debt. Back then, peasants were very familiar with this kind of debt. They lived in debt all the time. Their debt threatened the loss of land, livelihood, and family. You all probably remember Jesus’ parable of the “Unforgiving Servant.” He gets forgiven the larger amount of his debt but he doesn’t forgive the smaller amount of his friend’s debt. This is exactly what “forgiveness of sins” meant in Palestine when John the Baptizer declared the baptism of repentance. He urges the audience to turn to God from their wicked ways, whether exterior or interior conversion, so that God might forgive our debt we owed.

Conversion of hearts and forgiveness of sins are two ways of the preparation that John the Baptizer exhorts us to do. If we do this preparation well, I am pretty sure we experience John’s role: taking crooked sections and making them straight, filling in the low parts, the valleys, removing the peaks of the hills and mountains. Christ’s ways become smooth through our good preparation. This gives us joy, liberation, and consolation in Christ’s coming like the first reading sings.

The prophet Baruch says, “Take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name.” Paul, too, speaks of the joyful advent of Christ in the second reading that our good preparation will bring as we wait for “the day of Christ Jesus.” Paul encourages the Philippians to grow in “love, understanding, wealth of experience, clear conscience, and blameless conduct.” And then he speaks about the joy of harvest right in time. I guarantee this good preparation will give you the most joyful Christmas.

I was pondering what this joy feels like as we welcome Jesus. How much do we reap in joy with Christ’s coming after the good preparation? This joy reminds me of an experience in Papua New Guinea. I had been to the country for the Overseas Training Program for 3 months when I was a seminarian. Almost all parishes in the country have missions inside the bush or jungle area. The jungle is deep and dense. Almost every priest is supposed to visit his mission villages in the jungle. One time, I had a chance to have a mission visit with a priest and a youth group. Going up and down steep mountains to get to villages was not easy work. About one week after I left, I was worn out. I kept walking, climbing up, going down, crossing streams, etc. It was so hard. It seemed to be endless. I kept asking the guide how far the next village was. He kept saying, “We are almost there.” But 2 hrs ago I heard the same answer. I gave up asking him. I wanted to give up walking. But there was no way to go back to the parish.

Finally, we got to the village. All the villagers were waiting for us. When we got there, I saw a wide-open area which gave me huge comfort after walking in the narrow jungle for about 6-7 hrs. I saw all the villagers welcome us singing and dancing with traditional drums and spears; they decorated themselves with palm trees and beautiful flowers. As soon as I heard them sing for us, my fatigue was gone. I was touched. I thought to myself, “This is why we visit villages. This is joy from our brothers and sisters.” I shook hands with each of them when some of them were singing and dancing. I was filled with joy without exhaustion. It was a good experience.

I think this is what joy feels like when we welcome Christ after the long waiting. We will dance and sing for joy. This Advent joy and blessings are coming from good preparation: conversion of heart and forgiveness of sins. These also hold us in hope as we await Christ’s arrival. Therefore, let us go to make good preparation, confession with contrition and wash away our former ways and emerge into a new life.


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

A significant earthquake hit Anchorage and the Valley on Friday last week. It was another shocking experience to me. I have watched how people responded to this emergency and how the city took care of this situation and it was impressive. We all are doing a great job. And I thank God there were no fatalities and I also thank God we all are okay and safe. It is time to pray for each other, check each other’s safety and overcome this together as a community. If you need any helps or any resources, or you know any parishioners who are in need, please let me know and we can help. I have watched the news to know the update of the earthquake since then, and they kept saying, “be prepared.” They keep saying, that in order to be prepared for natural disasters like this one, we should build a plan and an emergency kit: food, water, the first aid kit, radio, emergency tools, etc. This leads me to deeply reflect on what we should do in the season of Advent we just started.

Advent is a season of preparation and expectation. Therefore, we hope and await the coming of Jesus Christ by preparing ourselves to welcome him. Advent is about hope, love, joy and peace. It is a great season to receive God’s grace. Advent has the spirit of waiting, conversion, and hope. We might think Advent is about the future.

Jesus is also talking about the future in today’s Gospel, what’s going to happen in the future when the world ends. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” And then He promises to come back in a cloud with glory and power after this apocalyptic phenomenon. The first reading also tells us through the prophesy of Jeremiah, what will happen in the future. The prophet looks forward to a restoration of the Israelites under God’s reign. “In those days, in that time I will raise up for David a just shoot…In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure.” The prophet declares that God’s Kingdom will be erected in the future when a Son of David arises. Jesus in the Gospel and the prophet Jeremiah both are giving us the secure promises that our insecure future will be overcome by God’s reign. Today’s readings appear to talk about that future. And people are concerned a lot about their future.

A couple of months after I was assigned to Sacred Heart in Wasilla in 2013, I went shopping in the Fred Meyer and ran into a lady, a parishioner of Sacred Heart. We said, “Hi” to each other. We started a chat standing in an aisle, trying not to disturb people’s shopping. One thing led to another. It became a long conversation. She talked about her past faith journey. She then showed her interest in her son’s vocation. Her son was a teenager. She asked about how I became a priest, what inspired me to take this road, how long it usually takes, how one starts to discern, etc. And then she asked, “you don’t have to worry about your future like saving accounts, social security, pension, benefits, and so on if you become a religious priest.” I said, “No.” She added, “I want my son to be secure like that.”

Becoming a priest is more than having financial security in the future. Even though I totally understand why she was looking for her son’s security, it led me to a realization about how hard it is to secure the future in the modern society. But I thought to myself, “people are very concerned about financial security in the future.” We often worry too much about our future: “how can I pay off my mortgage?” “how can I live on this pension when I retire?” “Is this enough for my retirement?” “how can I save more for my future?” We all are tied up in worries about the future.

But in today’s readings Jesus and the prophet Jeremiah want us to focus on the present, not the future. The point in today’s readings is about the present. Jesus teaches us what to do right now as we look forward to God’s Kingdom’s coming. “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.” Keeping this in mind, let’s go back 2,000 yrs. Most people in the Palestine back then were peasants. They lived at a subsistence level and would hardly have the means or the opportunity to carouse, to get drunk, and to pursue comforts like Jesus’ warning in today’s Gospel. Their worries were about where the next meal was coming from and whether they got enough for a day. In other words, they were intensely focused on the present moment. Those who were able to fall into carousing, drunkenness, and anxiety were elites. Jesus’ warning was given to those who managed to have the leisure and the high chance to get drunk. They allowed themselves to be consumed by the future temptations. Jesus gave the severe warning to those who didn’t live in the present.

Jesus seems to prophesy about the future but actually encourages us to distance ourselves from worries about the future and build up the present virtues and values right now. Jesus’ focus is not about what will happen in the future, but about what we must do right now. The catastrophic images in today’s Gospel are a reminder of how we live our faith right now in the present.

We are going through a hard time together. We still have some aftershocks and recovery work for the city from the damages. The images in today’s Gospel come into our real life. We have to listen to Jesus Christ. “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Jesus is talking about what we must do right now. We might misunderstand that since we are asked to await the blessings of Incarnation and Jesus’ second coming, Advent is the season of the future. But actually, Advent is about the present. It’s about how to prepare ourselves right now. Therefore, as we start the Advent season, we are encouraged to live in the present with vigilance and readiness. Advent prepares us to be aware of in the imminent present and the expectation of the ultimate triumph of Jesus over the world and death. Advent urges us to live more faithfully in Jesus Christ right now with values and virtues that will equip us in the hope of Jesus’ arrival. It is all about Advent. Advent is a season of the present. Advent is a season of imminence. Advent is a season of current participation in penance and conversion on the journey to Christ’s glory. We just started this wonderful and grace-filled season.

And one more thing is let us continue to pray for all of us, people who hurt from this event, people who lost their properties, people who make a quick recovery effort by working and volunteering.  


Christ the King Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

Today is the last Sunday of this liturgical year and the next Sunday will be the 1st Sunday of Advent, the first day of the next liturgical year. Of course, the Church invites us to celebrate a special feast today, the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. What are we invited to reflect on today as we commemorate Jesus’ Kingship? What spiritual help should we gain from today’s reflection? What virtue should we put into action?

The word, “King” gives me an image of a glorious, splendid, exclusive, extraordinary, mysterious, fascinating, and inviolable entity. My country, Korea used to be monarchy, and we had kings. But after opening the country in 19th century, we accepted modernized political system and gave up the monarchy. So I have no understanding about what monarchy looks like. One time I was in Canada. That was when the wedding of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine Middleton took place at Westminster Abbey in London. It was April 29th, 2011. Almost everyone in Canada was excited about it. The wedding was broadcast live on almost every channel at 4 am, but people got up and watched it. I have been awake at 4 in the morning to watch soccer games. I wouldn’t be awake at 4 am to watch someone else’s wedding. I understand Canada was one of the former territories of British Empire and Canadians pay attention to what’s going on in British Monarchy. Anyway the wedding reran on TV for days afterwards. I couldn’t help watching such a fancy, solemn, and glorious celebration. I felt like they were special and different from normal people. Likewise people expect earthly kings to be different and nicer and fancier; earthly kings are above the people and rule over them.

Today we also confess that Jesus is the King of the Universe and our King. What does it mean to celebrate Jesus’ Kingship? Does it mean He rules us from above like earthly kings? Does it mean He is so special that normal people can’t even approach and talk to Him?

In the first reading, Daniel’s vision tells us that the son of man comes on the clouds of heaven and receives dominion, glory, and kingship: “a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.” This splendid Kingship represented vindication for the suffering people of Israel under the reign of a Syrian king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. And this figure in glory later came to be applied to the expected Messiah. And we all believe that this apocalyptic vision of Messiah was wholly fulfilled in Jesus. What is unique in Jesus’ Kingship?

Ironically Jesus’ Kingship that the prophet Daniel visualized was achieved in the Suffering Servant. This Kingship was culminated in washing the disciples’ feet and taking the cross up to the mountain and sacrificing Himself for all humankind and serving us all. Jesus teaches His disciple how to serve in Luke 22:25-27. “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those in authority over them are addressed as ‘Benefactors’; but among you it shall not be so. Rather let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant…I am among you as the one who serves.” This is the Kingship of Jesus. He comes down to us instead of being high above all of us. He serves everybody as the King instead of being served and dominating. He gives up His life for us and sacrifices Himself instead of gaining what He wants and satisfying Himself. This is the authentic Kingship that Jesus taught us.

In today’s Gospel, John testifies that Jesus is the King through the mouth of Pontius Pilate. And the Gospel also presents us with the true meaning of Christ’s Kingship. Unlike the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John’s Gospel has a different point about Jesus’ message. The other Gospels talk about the Kingdom of God and of heaven. John rather presents Jesus as the one who uniquely reveals and speaks the truth about God. Like the prophets of old, John’s Jesus speaks the will of God. Jesus concludes His comments to Pilate after being asked, “Are you a King?”: “You say I am a King. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate avoids Jesus’ challenge saying, “What is the truth?”

The form of kingship that Jesus testified is that of servitude and fidelity to the truth. The King of the Jews is the beloved servant of God who brought to fulfillment the Father’s salvation plan to save the poor and the sinners. Jesus is a King not in a political sense or in an earthly origin. He is a King who is serving in the truth. His kingdom is not of the world, but of the spiritual order. His exercise of kingship consisted in bearing witness to the truth. He is the Messiah coming down from heaven to reveal the truth about God’s love. Therefore, His Kingdom is a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice and love and peace as announced in the preface of Feast of Christ the King.

I’d like to conclude my homily with a quotation from the Benedictine Abbot, Alban Boultwood.  He made wonderful remarks on the feast of Christ’s Kingship. “All his followers in the royal priesthood must always form a serving, suffering, loving Church. We inherit the kingship of Jesus by fulfilling the mystery of his blessed passion, death, and resurrection in the witness of our own personal life…Christ’s kingship truly continues on earth in us; this is both the wonderful dignity and the tremendous responsibility of our Christian vocation.”

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