The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily - Deacon Bill Tunilla

The Art of Confrontation

As I was reflecting on today’s gospel reading, I thought to myself, talk about a double whammy.   Having to admit I am wrong and confronting others are still areas I struggle with in my life.  Growing up I found it easier to let something slide rather than to confront someone about it. 

A supervisor I once had in the military had a sign with two rules about bosses on his desk.  Rule number one: the boss is always right.  Rule number two: If the boss is wrong refer to rule number one.  As long as I wasn’t the boss life was grand but as I moved up in rank I realized the buck often stopped with me and folks did not always see things my way and confrontation came with the territory. 

Admitting I am wrong, saying I’m sorry and asking for forgiveness is another difficult area. There were times I would rather have had my hand cut off or undergo a root canal rather than admit I was wrong.  I admit as I grow older it has become easier (probably all that practice) but I’m still a work in progress.

Our readings provide a clear picture, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. Being a Christian isn’t just a matter of professing our faith or believing in the correct dogma.  It’s about everyday living and striving to follow the example of Christ.  It is about truly caring for and loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is about our own self-sacrifice, wanting the good of the other more than the good of ourselves.

In our first reading the prophet Ezekiel tells us about his assignment to minister to the house of Israel.  Sometimes a prophet’s message is one of consolation and God’s loving care, but today we hear another kind of message.  Ezekiel has the job of warning the people to change their wicked ways and tells them what they will experience if they fail to change their sinful ways. 

Often a prophet’s message is one that people don’t want to hear and it falls on deaf ears.  But it must be spoken loud and clear in the community where people really care about each other. Ezekiel further warns we will be held responsible if we do not speak out. 

As we know communities and people are not perfect.  As in any relationship sooner or later there will be a conflict and in no time it can look like two dahl sheep butting heads and locking horns.  In today’s Gospel Matthew has some advice for dealing with these situations.

The first is fraternal correction.  If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell them their fault, keeping it between the both of you.  If they listen then you won them over if not then move on to step two, witnesses.

If they don’t listen take one or two others along with you so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Here Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 19:15    If they still refuse it’s time to go to step three, the church. 

If they refuse to listen to the church then treat him as a Gentile or tax collector.  As we know in the time of Jesus, Gentiles and tax collectors were despised by the Jewish community.

The first impression we get from step number three is that the person must be abandoned as hopeless and irreclaimable.  What hope does this person have to get it right?  Could Jesus really have meant this?  He never set limits to human forgiveness. What then did he mean? 

The theologian William Barclay puts it this way.

We have seen that when he speaks of tax-gatherers and sinners he always does so with sympathy and gentleness and an appreciation of their good qualities. It may be that what Jesus said was something like this: "When you have done all this, when you have given the sinner every chance, and when he remains stubborn and obdurate, you may think that he is no better than a renegade tax-collector, or even a godless Gentile.

Well, you may be right. But I have not found the tax-gatherers and the Gentiles hopeless. My experience of them is that they, too, have a heart to be touched; and there are many of them, like Matthew and Zacchaeus, who have become my best friends. Even if the stubborn sinner is like a tax-collector or a Gentile, you may still win him, as I have done."

As a community of believers we are challenged to reconcile with one another.  We are called to win over our brother and sister with love, a love that can touch even the hardest heart.  But facing each other when hurt and conflict surface is one of the most difficult situations we can undertake. 

It often requires us to risk and creates in us an uncomfortable vulnerability, yet when we set our sights on trusting God and use his standard of Love as our standard then we can move forward.

The first whammy is often letting go of our self-righteousness when perhaps we may have to face an angry reaction.  The second whammy is perhaps admitting we were wrong for hurting another and asking for forgiveness.  Both take courage, honesty and humility. 

Following Christ can be a real challenge in today’s world.  The values Christ teaches in the gospels are not the same that often run our world today.  Trying to be a faithful Christian can make a person feel out of place.  At stake is whether we are being true to ourselves and to the persons God has called us to be in Christ. 

A call as whether or not we care enough to seek the kind of reconciliation that leads to true conversion. As in our second reading from Saint Paul to the Romans: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law –Perhaps instead of the two rule sign, this is the sign that we should opt for and keep on our desks.


The 22nd Sunday Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

There are tons of spiritual traditions in the Church. It is like a sea where all kinds of fish are swimming around. You can’t even count. One of them is the “desert spirituality.” The earliest Christian monks resided in the desert land of the Middle East starting at the end of the second century A.D. Known as the “Desert Fathers,” they left everything in search of knowing Jesus Christ by making the Gospels absolutely integral to their daily lives. Why did they go to the desert? The desert is the place where we are easily exposed to chaos and raw fear, stripped of all nourishment and supports. Our body and soul become vulnerable to be overwhelmed by chaos and temptations. Under that unique situation, we have a huge opportunity to rely solely on God, abandoning our defense mechanism, support systems, and distractions. When we are helpless, we are open to God. This is why the desert is both the place of chaos and the place of God’s closeness.

The reason why I am bringing up the desert is that it is an image that came to my mind when I reflected on today’s readings. And when I reached out to the symbolic meaning of the desert, two contradictory words came to my mind: God-centered and self-centered. The desert and the world, I think, represent our spiritual stages before God. In today’s Gospel, it seems that St. Peter has a dream of what the Messiah is supposed to be like and what God’s Kingdom is going to look like. His dream is likely to be glorious and magnificent after all sufferings and toils under the Roman Empire’s iron despotic end. St. Peter projects this dream to Jesus. As soon as Jesus predicts His sufferings and death, Peter takes Jesus aside and says, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” And the following reply of Jesus wakes me up. “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” These words assure us that Jesus sees His mission and ministry in a God-centered way and Peter sees the same thing in self-centered way. If Jesus is supposed to go through suffering and death, He knows his fulfillment of that mission is God’s way. But Peter is moving the other way, human beings’ way.

This dynamic between God’s way and human’s way is being echoed in today’s first reading, the book of Jeremiah. The prophet describes his great pain in carrying God’s words and conveying them to His people. “Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” When the spiritual revival and King Josiah’s reform failed along with the King’s sudden death, the prophet Jeremiah started to be persecuted and threatened. Today’s reading is a part of his lamentation that his mission is beyond his ability to achieve. “Then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” It is not an expression of lack of desire, but an overwhelming recognition of God’s power and words. Even though he knows his limitation, he must go beyond the toils and threats and keep proclaiming. This is God-centered way to live our calls, not human beings’ way.

God’s call to discipleship and stewardship can produce problems, sometimes seemingly insurmountable problems to us. You would be wrong if you expected an easy and peaceful life in following Jesus. However, this call is so strong that we are overpowered by the Word of God and can’t help continually speaking and proclaiming as God’s disciples. How do we become God centered? It happens when we allow God’s words to burn within us.  

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, today’s second reading, Paul somewhat fulfills this burning desire in Jeremiah when he writes, “I urge you…to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” As we know, fire can be consuming, but the fire burning inside the prophet Jeremiah has power to consume and transform us into beings in God’s will. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” Following the will of God is not always easy but it is in fact the fire which allows us to transform our minds and to seek and discover God’s will. That is what following the God-centered stewardship way of life can do for us. It can transform us.

We are called to Jesus’ discipleship and stewardship. This means we agree to accept Jesus’ suffering and death along with glory and honor that Jesus will bring to us. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” This is how we see our mission and ministry: the God centered way. This leads us to complete transformation: not transformation from outside in, but one from inside out. This is an ongoing transformation from pursuing only glory and honor to willingly accept Jesus’ suffering and death, which is the fire burning inside us which brings us beyond our limitation and transforms us into the body of Christ.  

We have two choices in life: to be God-centered or self-centered, the desert and the world. Our faith does not pamper us; it makes demands of us. This challenge to our beliefs is another sign of the renewal of mind, the transformation, which we must experience every day, sometimes multiple times in a day. The whole point is that rather than yield to our own desires, we need to yield to God’s will, and what He is calling us to do. Jeremiah and even the Lord understand and experience that it is the will of God which needs to judge how we live and what we do.


The 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily- Deacon Bill Tunilla

Inquiring Minds Want to Know 

An early TV commercial slogan in the 1970’s for EF Hutton although not their most popular, was “Inquiring Minds Want to Know”.  You'd see these two business people in the middle of a crowd and one of them would say, "Well, my broker is E. F. Hutton”… and, in the next scene, you'd see the whole crowd stop in their tracks, straining to hear what he'd say. Then, the commercial would end with "Inquiring minds want to know" across the screen.

In today’s gospel Jesus asks, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”   Matthew tells us this passage took place in the city of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi lies about twenty-five miles north-east of the Sea of Galilee. It was outside the domain of Herod Antipas, who was the ruler of Galilee, and within the area of Philip the Tetrarch. The city was a Hellenistic city populated mostly by Gentiles.  The area was scattered with temples of the ancient Syrian Baal worship.  Caesarea Philippi was also home a cultic shrine dedicated to the deity Pan. 

Pan was worshipped as the god of shepherds and hunters, and of the meadows and forests of the mountain wilds.  So much was Caesarea Philippi identified with that god that its original name was Panias.

Here at Caesarea Philippi Jesus was removed from the Jewish crowds and from his opponents who were constantly watching him.  Only then does Jesus ask the important question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?  Jesus receives many different replies. “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.

There is no consensus as to the identity of Jesus.  The common thread that ties these opinions together is the perception that Jesus stands in the line of the prophets.  Like those who preceded Him, he preached repentance, performed mighty works and boldly proclaimed the will of God for Israel. 

I can’t help but think if Jesus was wondering if his disciples would ever grasp who He was.  They gave the standard answers they likely heard since they began walking with Jesus.  Still Jesus requires more and puts them on the spot, “But who do you say that I am”? 

The response comes from Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus must of have felt like jumping for joy thinking finally the light went on. Then Jesus responds, “Blessed are you son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly father. 

Peter must have felt like he hit it out of the park when Jesus further says, “And so I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  Of course for Peter this feeling of hitting a ball out of the ballpark would be short lived and you will all hear about it in next week’s Gospel.

The question posed to the disciples is the same question Jesus still poses to each of us and only we as individuals can answer it, “Who do you say that I am”? 

According to William Barclay within this passage there are two great truths. The first truth is Peter discovered there wasn’t a human category that was adequate to describe who Jesus was. When the people described Jesus as, Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets they thought they were setting Jesus in the highest category they could find.

It was the belief of the Jews that for four hundred years the voice of prophecy had been silent; and they were saying that in Jesus men heard again the direct and authentic voice of God. These were great tributes; but they were not great enough.

The second truth is this passage teaches that our discovery of Jesus Christ must be a personal discovery. When Pilate asked him if he was the king of the Jews, his answer was: "Do you say this of your own accord, or have others told you about me?" (Jn.18:33-34).

Jesus must have been pleased with Peter’s response, but Peter’s answer incurs responsibility.  Just as it does for us today as we recognize Christ as our Lord, then we too are called to return his love with all of our hearts, minds and souls and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We like the early disciples are called to proclaim Jesus is the Son of the Living God. 

We are responsible to convey this message no matter what our status in life may be.  Young people have the responsibility to bring Jesus to the situation in which they find themselves, whether it is in classroom, athletic field or in their relationship with mom, dad, siblings and friends. 

Working people have the responsibility out in the workplace, a workplace at times that promotes unchristian work ethics or ideals. 

Parents are the first teachers of their children.  Parents have a great responsibility for bringing up their children in a society that often promotes everything but Christian values. 

Retired people have the responsibility to use their time, expertise, and resources for the common good of all as a means of exercising their Christian responsibility.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis stated this another way in his Apostolic Exhortation, Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” 

Being on the streets does not have to mean standing downtown with a Bible in hand but it does mean living our faith inside and outside of this church.  We will get bruised and dirty in the process but that comes with being a Christian.  Still we need to be fearless in inviting others to know who Jesus is whether it is by inviting folks to church or though doing works of mercy, or maybe just being a good listening ear.  

And if you are not sure of your own faith consider being an inquiring mind seeking out wanting to know more…So you can respond to Jesus when he asks, “Who do you say that I am?”   


The 20th Sunday Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

We all want to have a sense of belonging. In order to satisfy this inclination, we group people according to nations, races, religions, cultures, and languages, and draw lines between them and say, “this is our group,” “that is yours.” This distinction brings us belonging which is a part of human needs. This sense of belonging makes it easier to achieve our goals as a group. This could produce positive effects inside groups but, vise versa, could cause an exclusion between different communities. Conflicts, wars, disagreements partly result from this sense.

The Catholic Church basically has its purpose to broaden this line by being open to other groups whatever they might be. We are not exclusive from other nations, races, religions, and cultures as long as they accept the true God. We don’t draw our lines between insiders and outsiders by reason that they are different. This exactly corresponds to the first principle upon which this country was founded: “We are the first, perhaps the only nation that holds as self-evident truths that all men and women are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” This is also today’s theme running through the three readings. Jesus asks us to equip ourselves with this Catholic attitude toward outsiders. Catholic here means “universal or broad.”

Today’s Gospel from Matthew is speaking of Jesus’ ministering of a Gentile woman. Jesus was making a mission trip in the region of Tyre and Sidon that were known as a Gentile area, many miles north from Jerusalem. It would be in Lebanon now. A woman of that area, a Canaanite and Gentile, approached Jesus for the healing of her daughter, asking for mercy and compassion. How Jesus responded to the woman’s request was a typical Jewish way to treat the Gentiles.

The term Gentile is an English translation of the Hebrew word, “goyim,” and the Greek word, “ethne.” Both mean “people or nations.” The Latin Vulgate translated these words as “gentilis,” which was carried over into English as “Gentile.” Basically, this term refers to a person who is not a Jew. From the Jewish perspective, the Gentiles are pagans who don’t know the true God. During Jesus’ time, many Jews took such pride in their cultural and religious heritage that they considered the Gentiles “unclean,” calling them “dogs.” Of course, Gentiles were not allowed to enter the Jerusalem Temple. The Jews tried to avoid situations where they met them and had conversations with them. This was how the Jews treated the Gentiles.

Therefore, Jesus’ first response to the woman, silence, is a typical Jewish way to treat the Gentiles: ignorance. And then Jesus says that he is sent to save the Jewish, not the Gentiles. She keeps appealing to Jesus by a simple prayer, “Lord, help me.” Jesus says, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Calling her a dog was the exact way that the Jewish people saw the Gentiles. And you know the rest of the story. Finally the woman receives Jesus’ mercy by showing her great faith and her daughter gets healed.

Jesus brings today something very significant and challenging to all of us: the idea that God’s salvation is open to all who accept the true God whether they are outsiders or insiders. Today’s story in the Gospel is a hard test to the woman but a challenge to the disciples and people who are watching what is happening between a Jewish young man and the Gentile woman. The woman shows her great faith in God, and the disciples and the people around them witness how God’s salvation reaches out to the Gentiles.

In today’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah, even though he lived about six centuries before the birth of Christ, still prophesies the universality of God’s salvation. He sings with joy because God’s salvation is brought to the foreigners. “The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD…loving the name of the LORD…all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer.” In the second reading, identifying himself as a glorious apostle of the Gentiles, St. Paul also states straight out that God’s mercy is reaching out to all nations whether they are the Jews or the Gentiles. All nations are invited to God’s salvation when they accept and embrace the Gospel more readily. This is today’s theme in the readings: the universality of Christ’s Gospel and openness to outsiders. Belonging is our need. We need to be in a group. But that doesn’t mean we are exclusive.

We have received a news about the recent events in Charlottesville. USCCB reaffirmed that these events have caused many to realize the extent to which the sin of racism inflicts our nation. USCCB continued to say, “We witnessed this past week a vile replay of history at its worst. White Supremacism, Anti-Semitism, Neo-Nazism, Fascism, and Racism are evil and have no place in our nation, neighborhood, or heart.” And USCCB quoted again a Pastoral letter on racism the Bishops of the US wrote almost 40 years ago, “Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.” We can find today’s readings’ theme in their massage, “the fundamental problem is this: too often we are apt to group people as either ‘us’ or ‘them.’ And when we see another as ‘one of them,’ we tend to act out of fear-a fear of the unfamiliar and a fear that they will somehow harm us. This is the root from which racism too easily springs.”

American character is based upon diversity, openness, and acceptance of differences. The principles of the US are not exclusion out of fear, but inclusion, liberty, justice, welcoming, acceptance, respect and tolerance no matter what differences we have. This is exactly what Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel. Catholicism is more than just a collection of beliefs. It is also an attitude of welcoming and inclusion and respect; openness to everyone. Our mission is laid upon this idea: inviting all nations and gathering them to God’s Kingdom. Let us pray to God today that loving and welcoming Gospel of Christ spread all over the world beyond the boundaries of our differences. 


Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily - Deacon Bill Finnegan

Today’s First Reading and the Gospel are about the call of God and the Faith it takes to follow that call.  As I have said many times in the past, we are each called by God to do something special with our lives.  Most of you have been called, or will someday be called, to the Vocation of Married Life.  Never doubt that marriage is a noble calling from God.  It is through marriage that each of the spouses leads the other and their children, if they are so blessed, on a spiritual journey to God. 

Others are called to the single state of life.  Some will be called to religious life as a brother or a sister.  (It was 62 years ago this past week that Sr. Joan and Sr. Loretta vowed to live out their lives in service to God’s people as Sisters of the Most Precious Blood.)  Still others will sense the call to Priesthood, or Diaconate.  Diaconate is a good indicator that God keeps on calling, since most Permanent Deacons were first called to the married state before being called to be clerics.  God never stops calling, and don’t doubt me on that, I know firsthand.  Additionally, He never lets up!  He keeps calling and calling and calling until you finally hear Him!!

The readings that I mentioned deal with very specific calls - the call of Elijah on Mt. Horeb, and the call of Peter on the Sea of Galilee.  And this is not the first time either man has been called, that is why I referred to the multiple calls and the persistence of God.  There is also a sub-theme, if you will, in the two readings - that of doubt.  We often hear of Doubting Thomas, but today we have Doubting Peter, and perhaps even Doubting Elijah.

The fact that today’s readings speak of both Peter and Elijah is interesting.  Last weekend we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration, when Jesus revealed His Divinity.  And to whom did he reveal it?  To Peter, along with James and John.  And who appeared with Jesus on this momentous occasion? - Elijah, along with Moses.  Peter & Elijah.

I will start with Elijah.  Elijah was one of the greatest of the Prophets.   Indeed, he was the only prophet left alive at the time of today’s Old Testament story.  He was afraid for his life and was suffering from a little self-doubt, so he is led by an angel of the Lord to find God to get recharged.  The reading says that he went up on Mt. Horeb (7000’ - 2x the height of Flat Top).  Mt. Horeb is also known as Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments.  That is why it is referred to as the “Mountain of God”.  Elijah is hiding in a cave and God calls him forth into His presence as He is passing by.  He goes out and is clinging to the side of the mountain when summer in Alaska hits him!  He is first buffeted by winds strong enough to crush rocks.  Then he experiences an earthquake, although the magnitude is not stated.  Then comes the fire.  After each enormous event he realizes that God is not in the wind; He is not in the earthquake; He is not in the fire. 

Finally, Elijah hears “a tiny whispering sound”.  He immediately hides his face and returns to the entrance to the cave because he senses that God is in the whisper.  God is also calling you in a whisper.  In order to hear His call, whether it is the first call or a subsequent call, you must get all of the noise - the howling of the wind, the rumblings of the earthquake, the roar of the fire - out of your life so you can perceive the whisper of God. Only you know what is the cause of the noise in your life that prevents you from hearing the whispering call of God.  Get rid of it!

If you don’t hear God’s call in the whisper, we can infer from the Gospel, that He will raise His voice to get your attention.  Picture in your mind the scene on the Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake Gennesaret or Lake Tiberius).  After feeding the Five Thousand, Jesus sends the disciples off to sail across the sea/lake, which is 7 miles wide.  When they are about at mid-lake, the wind comes up, just like in reading from the 1st Book of Kings.  During the 4th watch of the night, just before dawn, Jesus comes to them across the water.  (4th watch = 3AM-6AM.)

We always concentrate on the miracle of Jesus walking on the water, but consider the miracle of Peter walking on the water.  When they see Jesus the disciples think He is a ghost and are afraid, but Jesus reassures them by saying, “It is I”.  Peter, like the Jews of old, asks for a sign, "Lord, if it is you (a little hint of doubt?), command me to come to you on the water." Jesus says, "Come." He does not whisper this call, due to the howling of the wind and surging of the sea.  He shouts, “COME”!  So Peter begins to walk on the water, but His faith in God weakens and he doubts, whereupon he begins to sink and Jesus has to grasp him by the arm.  Know that God is always there to lift you up even when you doubt.

Doubt can often lead to a loss of faith; but doubt assuaged will always lead to a stronger understanding of one’s faith.  When Thomas saw the wounds in the hands and side of the Risen Christ, he proclaimed “My Lord and my God!”  Today we heard Peter, after walking on the water, sinking and being raised up, likewise proclaim, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”  Elijah made no such proclamation, as far as we know.  Rather, after recognizing that he was in the presence of God, he returned to the ministry to which he had been recalled, and called others to follow him. 

Just as it was with the men we heard about today, so it is with us.  God is calling each one of us, but first we have to open our ears and quiet the noise in order to hear the call of God, whether in a whisper or a shout.  Please do not doubt that the special call is from God when you hear it.  Instead have the faith to accept your call and go where God is leading you.