Third Sunday of Lent - Homily, Deacon Bill Tunilla

Refreshing Water

When I was growing up one of the things I looked most forward too was going on our family Sunday picnics.  After mass mom and dad gather up the family and off we would go.  I would spend a carefree day running any playing with my friends and the other kids.  As you can imagine playing hard in the hot sun you can work up quite a thirst.  Now at the end of the park there was well house where ice cold mountain spring water flowed from a pipe.  It was some of the coldest and best tasting water I have ever had.  After satisfying our thirst off we would go and play.  A few hours later we would make our way back to the well for some more refreshing water.

In today’s Gospel John tells us Jesus was tired from his journey and sat down at Jacobs well.  In Jesus’ time you would have to know where all the watering holes were.  People didn’t have the luxury of a Holiday convenience store where you could buy a bottle of water.  Water was precious and rain was seen as a blessing from God.  The absence of water, rain or drinkable water was sometimes considered a form of divine punishment and a sign of Gods displeasure.  Water was crucial for survival and the Israelites greatly anticipated the rainy season. 

John goes on and tells us a woman of Samaria came to draw water from the well and Jesus asks the woman for a drink.  The woman answers, “How can you a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman for a drink?”  She must have thought Jesus was out in the sun too long for the Samaritans were despised by the Jews.

While in captivity after the fall of the Norther Kingdom of Israel, the Samaritans were colonized and fell into the practices of the locals and worshipped their gods.  The Jewish people viewed the Samaritans as idol worshippers and not true Jews.   

Jesus continues what is the longest recorded conversation he had with an individual.  Jesus replies, If you knew the gift of God and who is saying this to you, Give me a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.  Now living water meant the running water of a spring.  It was water that was fresh and pure water and not stagnant. 

The woman did not understand Jesus.  She was fixated on the water that quenches physical thirst and possibly making her life easier not having to lug water jars back to her house.  John tells us the woman comes to the well at noon, possibly to avoid the other women because of her reputation who get there early to get their supply of water for the day. 

Jesus speaks to the woman with respect, listening to her and responding with true understanding.  Jesus reveals himself to the woman as the Messiah, the one called the Christ.  She must have been in shock, for the Gospel tells us she left her water jar and went into the town to tell all the people.

She tells them, Come see a man who told me everything I have done.  Could this possibly be the Christ?  Notice the woman did not tell them straight away that he was the Christ but told them things about Christ that were believable and open to observation. 

Nor did she say believe but she invited them to see for themselves and taste the living water.  She follows the example of a true preacher in that she attracts the people to Christ and not to herself.

As a well of living water Jesus is ever active in our lives.  He draws us away from our sins into his mission of reaping the harvest.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 9, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.

I recently read an article written by Deacon Eddie Ensley who teaches deacons how to be deacons in the workplace. I think this applies to every one of us and not just in the workplace.  He tells them you don’t cease to be a deacon in the workplace.  Spirituality is not about bringing religion into the workplace, it’s about raising awareness of the deeper meaning of what you’re doing in your job.  Some people think bringing religion to work means trying to proselytize others in order to convince them one’s religion is the true path or attempting to get them to have a particular religious experience.  It’s about having hearts schooled in compassion.  And with hearts schooled in compassion we can subtly help change the atmosphere at work or wherever we may be.

As a well of living water Jesus draws us to a deeper relationship with Him.  As in any relationship we come to know someone by spending time with them.   Lent is a gift given to us, a time where we are called to become more attentive to Jesus’ presence, especially in prayer.  Prayer is an encounter with Jesus who loves us so much and who gives us the living water we need to carry us to eternal life. 

As Catholics and Christians we must grow in our self-understanding as a member of the Body of Christ.  We can make concrete efforts to act like Christ’s Body by something as simple as saying thank you or smiling at someone who may be sad or had a rough day.  As Father Fong mentioned in his homily last week, we need to get back to the basics with one another.  


First Sunday of Lent-Fr. Andrew Lee

Have you heard of the marshmallow test? It was a very famous test done by Stanford University in the late 1960s. The research was carried out to find the correlation between people’s strong willpower and educational attainment. The study showed that children who proved their strong willpower in the test were likely to achieve better academic success than other kids who failed. Researchers submitted hundreds of four year olds to an ingenious little test of willpower. The kids were placed in a small room furnishing a chair and a table. A researcher put a marshmallow in a plate on the table and told the kids to be able to either eat the treat right away or they could have two if they could hold out for another 15 minutes until the researcher returned. Shortly after the researcher left the room, kids struggled to resist the treat and held out for an average of less than 3 minutes. You can watch the video in Youtube. It is very interesting. Some kids eat it right away without any hesitation. Some kids try to hold out, tapping the table, staring at the treat, propping their heads with their arms. Some kids kick the table to hold out. Some smell it deeply or touch it slightly or take a little bite. They are so adorable and it is very intriguing to watch the way they hold out in the small room. Some of them successfully delay the gratification until the researcher returns some 15 minutes later. Anyway, these kids wrestle with temptation but find a way to resist.


The reason why I bring this test up is today’s readings are about temptations. As we start the Lenten season, we are invited to look within ourselves in order to observe and examine our inner landscape. What we tend to discover on this inner journey is similar to a battlefield that the kids in the test have within themselves. In this case, it is a struggle between the desire to do good and the temptation to seek primarily our own personal benefit. As we begin the journey, we hear temptations in the first Sunday of Lent that prevent us from seeking God.

Temptations in today’s readings are both compelling and central. Today we have the temptation scene of Adam and Eve and the temptation scene of Jesus, with two clear messages about how to deal with temptation. In the first reading, the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve are tempted by a serpent, Satan, and take the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The temptation of eating the tree means that they place themselves in the position of God because God is the only one who knows perfect good and perfect evil. They try to misuse their human power to be able to raise themselves to God’s level, which is arrogance. They don’t know how to deal with the temptation, finally fall into it, and are kicked out of the God’s paradise, Eden.

But in today’s Gospel, Jesus shows us how to handle temptations and overcome them. He is also tested by Satan but faces temptations to misuse power and defeats them wisely and with holiness. Three temptations Jesus goes through today symbolize the universal temptations to three abuses of power: first, the misuse of social or cultural power (turning stones into bread in a way that would be spectacular), second, the misuse of religious power (to stand on the pinnacle of the temple), third, the misuse of political or dominative power (looking down on all the kingdoms of this world from a high mountain position). He uses his power in a right way and finally resists the temptations with God-centered scriptures.

These two readings tell us what our temptations look like. Basically, our temptations come from misuse of our power. We have strong power to please our senses and minds like seeking delicious food, watching something that is pleasing to our sight, comforting ourselves with a lot of goods, etc. We are easily tempted to lead ourselves to judgment of other people by gossiping, saying bad words, and speaking ill of some people. We also have strong power to raise ourselves up towards other people about what we have. We are strongly jealous of what other people have. We all spend powerful energy in putting ourselves into temptations. Therefore, our temptations come from misuse of our power.

This tendency of misusing our power in a wrong way should be led by right power and grace of Jesus Christ. This is the only way to use our power rightly and overcome temptations that we might meet every single moment of our lives. Jesus’ power is manifested in His cross and resurrection and brings life to all people who received sin and death from the first human being, Adam as St. Paul says in the second reading. We all are descendants of the human beings who were first tempted in the Paradise. We are in solidarity of original sins. In that sense, we are always tempted and need God’s grace in order to use the power rightly and overcome temptations successfully.

We easily fall into temptations when our own ego gets involved, when we take things personally, and when we fight back to defend our small insecure selves. This is perhaps the same mistake that Adam and Eve made in their temptation. Jesus is shown here to be the ideal model of how to deal with temptations and how to recognize what the temptations usually are: the misuse or non-use of our very real human power. We have power in ourselves. But a question lies in front of us. “How should we deal with this power in us?” Lent is a time when we realize how much power we have and find out how to use it with a help of God’s grace. This is how we thrust away temptations that we experience every day. 


Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Homily, Deacon Bill Tunilla

Serving Two Masters

In 1979 Bob Dylan wrote a song called You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody.  This was one of Dylan’s first songs after he became a Born Again Christian.  The central focus is in the refrain that is constantly repeated:  But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody.  Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.  Apparently another singer by the name of John Lennon wasn’t impressed and not to be outdone countered with his song, “Serve Yourself.”

In our Gospel today Jesus has two messages for his disciples.  His first message is, “No one can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Mammon. 

The word mammon comes from the Greek word mamona, meaning property, money, possessions.  It is something that is valued to the point of idolatry, and so separates the possessor from God.  In Matthew 6:21, Jesus states, for where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.

Jesus states this as a fact and not a warning that no one can serve two masters.  He goes on to say He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other.  Here, love and hate are not referring to emotions, but are referring to choose or not choose. 

When I was a young boy my best friend Randy lived in the duplex down stairs.  Randy and I were the best of buds and did everything together. Living next door was a girl who was our age.  Neither one of us was interested in playing with her.  One afternoon Randy and his mom went shopping.  I was out in the yard playing when the little girl asked me to come and play with her, so I did.  A few hours later Randy called me to come over here and see what he just got from the store.  He had a new cowboys and Indian set complete with wagon, horses etc.  I played with him for a minute and then I felt guilty for leaving the little girl who I was playing with so I went back over there.  This guilt and anxiety gnawed at me all afternoon.  It was really hard deciding on whom to play with.  In the end I sold out on the girl and went back to play with my best friend. 

What really stood out was the anxiety and worry I felt going between Randy and the girl.  Anxiety and worry is the second message from Jesus in today’s Gospel.

Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about things in your life.  Don’t worry about what you will eat or drink or about our body or what you will wear.  Can any of us by worrying add a single moment to our lives?  If that was true I would outlive Noah who died at the age of 950.  Now Jesus is not against having wealth, these are all gifts from our heavenly Father. What Jesus doesn’t want us to do is worry about these things; worry will disable our faith and we will lose our focus on God.  God also doesn’t want us to be reckless and careless with our possessions but to be good stewards and to be responsible with all that God has blessed and trusted us with. 

 One of the greatest dangers to Christianity is materialism.  We have at our fingertips anything we could possibly desire.  Materialism leads us away from God and we find ourselves worshiping the created rather than are Creator. 

But in today’s world how can we not worry?  There is so much to worry about: economic insecurity, health and family issues, domestic violence, terrorism, war, ethnic violence.  Faced with so much it seems an awful lot depends on us and we forget our heavenly Father knows what we need. Jesus reminds us, “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing in their barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them.  Are you not more important than they?

What we need instead of worry and anxiety is faith and trust. Faith and trust are not magic tricks.  They will not automatically cure our worry and anxiety.  But when anxiety and worry begin to hijack our energy and focus, we can with God’s help, choose to turn to an attitude of faith and trust. Gods Divine Presences is always within and around us.  It is God’s gift to us, an ever present energy we have access to 24/7.  All we need to do is call on him in prayer

As we leave the church after mass and head back to our daily lives, we will be constantly faced with the dilemma of serving two masters.  Do we serve our God a God of Peace and tranquility?  Or the god of worry and anxiety?  As the song goes were gonna have to serve somebody.  Who will we choose to serve?    


Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

Today’s readings’ theme is very simple. It is in the first paragraph of the first reading: “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: ‘Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.’” Extending the meaning of this theme, the second reading tells us the reason why we should be holy: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” And in today’s reading, Jesus teaches us how to become holy as God is holy. Jesus furthers the limitation of the Mosaic Laws and renews the spirit of the laws like He did last Sunday and tells us how to get to holiness.

Let’s take a look at Jesus’ teachings in the Gospel. Jesus asks us to turn the other cheek if someone hits us on our cheek. Jesus advises us to give our coat away if we are asked for our clothes. Jesus orders us to go further when someone asks us to accompany them on a journey. And then he concludes with the very famous words, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is how we become holy before God and our neighbors.

Jesus says, “love your enemies.” But who are our enemies? Most Christians might have hatred or even fear toward people of different beliefs like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. Do you think they are your enemies? As you know, I have traveled a lot. I met many people from different cultures and religions. Most of them were really good, kind, and nice to me-- a complete stranger to them. I have no reason to say, “They are my enemies.” A British writer and Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton has offered us a persuasive reflection on this passage of today’s Gospel when he wrote, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

I think he got the point. When we have good relationships with people, they are our neighbors. On the contrary, when we have trouble with them, they become our enemies. Indeed, those who are closest to us can easily get under our skin, rub us the wrong way, irritate a raw nerve, drive us crazy and, in short, become near enemies.

I have a funny joke about a husband and wife. One day, Peter sat at his dying wife's bedside. Her voice was little more than a whisper. “Pete, darling,” she breathed, “I have a confession to make before I go. I'm the one who took the $10,000 from your safe. I spent it on a fling with your best friend, Alex. And it was I who forced your mistress to leave the city. And I am the one who reported your income-tax evasion to the government.” “That's all right, sweetie, don't give it a second thought,” Peter answered, “I'm the one who poisoned you.”

Likewise, our families, friends, and neighbors could turn into our enemies if we have hatred toward them. Therefore, Jesus’ request to love our enemies comes into action when we love people beside us, not people we don’t even know. In order to be holy, we are required to love people sitting right next to us, people who get isolated from the solidarity of love, and people who never experience the unconditional love from God. This is how we become holy. We have to realize that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, the temple of God, so we have power and ability to love the ones who lack love. And then this awareness leads us to holiness.

What life do we live after wearing God’s holiness? What do we get from God’s holiness? Do you know Mircea Eliade, a famous Romanian historian of religion, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago? He defines the term, “sacred” and distinguishes “sacred” from “profane.” At the start of his book, Eliade offers an example of the sacred-profane distinction that a modern, non-religious person will understand: the contrast between the inside and the outside of a church. Let's consider this example as illustrative of Eliade's definition. Let’s say that tourists who go inside a beautiful medieval church today will very likely get some vague sense of “the wholly other.” That's because a building like that will be wholly outside their ordinary experience. This is a totally different and separate experience from what they usually have in ordinary areas. This is what he calls “sacred.”

When today’s bible passages say, ‘we are supposed to become holy like God is holy,’ “holy” here means “separate.” God is “holy”, “separated” from everything and everyone else.  God’s people also should be holy. It means they must be “separated” from other people by their new behaviors of obeying the laws of the Holy One. Like the magnificent medieval churches that give people a wholly different overwhelming feeling, our actions, words, and thoughts should be different from others’.

But at the same time, we should be universal. We should love everyone, even though our neighbors seem to be our enemies. Why? It’s because today’s Gospel says, “God, our Father, makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” We are separate, but at the same time we become universal. We, as the ones with the likeness of God, are standing between “separation” and “universalness.” We should be everything to everyone. “Catholic” means universal. We are obliged to be holy catholics. This is how we love our enemies and pray for them. This is Jesus’ new and inspiring interpretation about the Mosaic Law today. 


Sixth Sunday Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

About 4 or 5 months after I came to Alaska, I was driving my car to get home. Suddenly I heard a siren and I saw some cars on the other side of the road pulling over to the side. I found some cars on my side stopping also. Troopers were coming through. I had never been in that situation in Alaska before, so I kept driving. In Korea, in the similar situation, you must give the police the way when you are driving on the same side with the police. But when you’re on the other side, you don’t have to stop. I was on the other side of where the Troopers were, so I thought I was allowed to keep driving like in Korea. When people stopped on my side of the road to give the police the way, I said to myself, “People are giving me the way. How kind Alaskans are! Thank you, people.” Then I drove home.

We must keep the traffic laws once we are out on the road. But there is an exception. When someone is in an emergency situation, when a crime occurs, when we have a terrible weather, the traffic laws don’t function any more. Why? It’s because the purpose of the law is to save people. Laws are established to save people’s lives. This is why we observe the law: the purpose of the law.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reestablishes, no, he fulfills the Mosaic Laws. The Pharisees and the Scribes have the knowledge of the laws and do their best to observe them, but they don’t realize the purpose of the laws. Today Jesus reminds them of the purpose and furthermore, deepens the fundamental meaning of the laws. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

Let’s take a look at today’s Gospel passages. The Mosaic Law says, “You shall not kill.” But Jesus says that those who speak ill of their brothers and sisters will be judged. The Law also says, “You shall not commit adultery.” But Jesus points out that those who look at women with lust have committed adultery and tells people not to get divorced except that the marriage is unlawful. The Law says, “Do not take a false vow.” But Jesus even tells people not to swear. Jesus is today speaking to people who take God’s commandments literally and keep them formally. “This is the purpose of God’s commandments that I come to fulfill.”

What is the purpose of the Laws? Like I said a while ago, it is to save people’s lives. If people are dying by keeping the laws, that is against the purpose. Jesus roots out all the false knowledge and practice of the laws and reestablishes the new internalized meaning of the laws. If you don’t have love toward people in your hearts and keep hatred toward your brothers and sisters, you break the law, “you shall not kill.” If you don’t love your wives and husbands with all your hearts, you are unfaithful to them, which is not the purpose of the marriage laws. If you deceive people by a false oath, you stand on the other side of the purpose of the laws. This is all Jesus is saying to us today.

Then what does it mean that Jesus internalizes the laws? It means Jesus wants us to look into our inner selves and find out what is inside. He wants us to check to see if there is love inside, which is the purpose of the laws. He wants us to move from knowing the laws to perceiving their purpose. It is like the difference between intelligence and wisdom. People who are intelligent enough to know the laws are going to ask what they should do to keep the laws while people who are wise enough to realize the purpose are going to ask why they are keeping them. Jesus wants us to move from “what” to “why” by internalizing the Mosaic Laws in today’s gospel. “Intelligence” has to do with “what”, while “wisdom” has to do with “why.” Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is moving our moral decision making from the question “What am I to do” to “Why am I to do it”? 

What is wisdom? Wisdom is knowledge of God’s love in the Old Testament. In today’s first reading, the book of Sirach, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live…Immense is the wisdom of the Lord.” Today’s second reading also says, “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden.”

Jesus wants to give His people not only a new understanding of the Law of Moses, but also His own Spirit, the wisdom that is to say knowledge of God’s love. The wisdom and love are fully manifested in Jesus’ death on the cross and, by doing this, He establishes the new covenant of love between God and His people. Today Jesus is reminding people of the spirit of the laws and enlightening their minds through His wisdom and love so that people can be aware of God’s presence and love all the time even under the laws.

From the altar, where the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present in the Holy Eucharist, we are going to ask God to help us to see God’s love that is imprinted in the Church rules. Along with this request, we are also going to ask God to strengthen us with His love in our daily struggles, and to assist us in temptation. What we are asking under the light of today’s readings is to move us from knowledge to wisdom and from “what” to “why.”