Monday
Aug212017

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. 

Sunday
Aug132017

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.

Monday
Aug072017

Transfiguration of the Lord Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

 

Today Peter, James, and John have a special divine experience on the mountain. Jesus leads them into this sacred scene and place. And then astounding events are unfolded before their eyes: “he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” And Moses who is the founder of the Israelites Laws—Torah, and Elijah who represents the prophets appear and converse with Jesus. Peter is in awe and responds by acknowledging, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He doesn’t know what he is saying because of wonder and awe that this divine experience brings. And then the cloud, which is the ancient sign of the very presence of God, overshadows them and a voice comes down from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” The disciples gaze in awe after they get a glimpse of Jesus’ glorious divine figure.

When I reflect on today’s Gospel which gives us an important message, I wonder where I—like the disciples--find Jesus’ divine figure in my life. Have you been to Mt. Tabor where Jesus is gloriously transfigured in today’s Gospel? I have been there. Before I visited the Holy Land, I thought the mountain was big. The reason why I was assuming the mountain was big was because that is where Jesus reveals His divinity before the disciples and the two saints who appear and converse with Jesus. It was a sacred place. I thought the mountain was supposed to be big. But it is a small mountain. You can get to the top by car. The mountain looks normal like other mountains. There are no special or unique signs that indicate the transfiguration took place. And there is a church sitting on top of the mountain in commemoration of Jesus’ transfiguration. Of course, the church is decorated with beautiful pictures and splendid sacred things and painted with inspirational frescos and mosaics. There is a fresco painted on the rounded ceiling above the altar of Jesus floating in the air raising both His arms, Moses and Elijah are on the cloud standing on both sides of Jesus, and the three disciples are on the ground in awe and wonder. But the church looks run of the mill compared to many other beautiful basilicas in Europe. There is nothing special on the mountain.

When I had silent time inside the church, I thought to myself, “The mountain and the church look normal. This probably tells me that where I can experience Jesus’ divinity is probably in my normal life. My life is full of normality and routines. But that is where Jesus is transfigured. My normality is where I can get glimpses of Jesus’ presence.” Often we don’t see Jesus in our lives. We don’t recognize His divine figure in our lives like the disciples.   

The disciples have been following Jesus for a long time but they don’t know who Jesus really is. They eat, preach, walk, travel with Jesus but they have no idea about Jesus’ divinity. But today’s momentary divine experience of transfiguration opens their eyes and makes them see Jesus’ true figure. Likewise, we have to ask ourselves if we see Jesus’ presence in our lives and do we realize how intensively Jesus transfigures us by giving Himself in the form of bread and wine? Today we are celebrating Jesus’ transfiguration. We are required to remind ourselves that Jesus is being transfigured in our daily lives. We have to realize we are living in divine moments of encountering the transfigured Jesus in every Eucharist.

Jesus always invites us to this special and sacred moments like the three disciples. When we reply to Jesus’ invitation, we will be able to have spiritual awakening moments in our daily lives. Yes. Sometimes we see glimpses of God in the beauty of a fine day, beautiful mountains covered by snow, a gorgeous sunset and sunrise. We get glimpses of God when we look back over our lives and what we couldn’t understand in the past makes sense now. We see glimpses of God when we see someone making a sacrifice to help somebody else. We see glimpses of God when a passage from the Bible or a homily strikes a chord in our hearts. We get a glimpse of God when we spend time in prayer and experience the loving presence of God in our lives. We get more than just a glimpse of God when we receive the body of Jesus in Holy Communion.

These glimpses are made in today’s readings. The readings tell us how glorious God is. Daniel describes what God’s throne looks like. “His clothing was bright as snow, and the hair on his head as white as wool; his throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire.” And St. Peter says in today’s reading, “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, ‘this is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” The glorious God and the transfiguration of Jesus in today’s readings prompt us to become a part of God’s glory. The Transfiguration asks us to transform ourselves into Jesus’ glorious figure as well as glimpsing His presence. Even though we live our normal lives, we are required to climb the mountain where God’s presence is found and say, “Lord, it is good that we are here with you.”

The top of a mountain is a sacred place for encountering God in the Bible. God often chooses a mountain top to reveal Himself and His plans: Mt. Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, Mt. Calvary and Mt. Tabor. Mountains are symbolic of a holy place for encountering God. Therefore, beyond getting glimpses of God, we are asked to climb the mountain with Jesus and experience the transfiguration and enjoy staying with Jesus there. This is the moment of the perfect union with God. This is the purpose of our faith. Today we are celebrating this and asking God to transfigure us like Jesus, brightening like flames of fire. 

 

Monday
May292017

Vigil Service for Sister Loretta Luecke - Homily: Deacon Bill Finnegan

The readings for this Vigil Service for Sr. Loretta are beautiful and meaningful readings for all of us gathered here today.  The first reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a blueprint for how each of us is called to live our life as a Catholic.  St. John’s Gospel reading indicates what awaits us if we live in accordance with God’s will for us.

It is impossible, on this day, to hear that first reading and not think of Sr. Loretta.  Recall St. Paul’s opening words of the reading:

No one lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.  For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.

This is exactly how Sr. Loretta lived and died.  She, and Sr. Joan (and you seldom saw one without the other), decided early on to dedicate their lives to Christ.  While other teenage girls, in the early fifties, were thinking of boys and dances, these two young woman were thinking about how they could serve the Lord. 

A life of prayer was important to them.  Indeed, as I recall, they chose the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Missouri, because, among other reasons, they prayed the Breviary daily.  Such was the importance of prayer.

Diane, Cindy & I met the sisters almost as soon as we arrived in Alaska, and I have had the pleasure of working with one or both of them ever since.    Sr. Loretta loved Alaska, and the parishes in which she served here.  She served at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, our neighboring parish, for over 10 years, before coming here to Holy Cross in 2002. 

She served the people of Holy Cross through some trying times for our parish - and she was the symbol of stability and continuity that allowed the parish to thrive in spite of not having an assigned pastor for so many years.  She held us together. 

Sister was a force to be reckoned with - a great administrator.  But she also had a wonderful sense of humor.  Those of you who have heard her and Sr. Joan speak about their early life as novices, laughing the whole time, know what I am talking about. 

Those who shared morning coffee with her after daily Mass also got to appreciate her sense of humor.  But after a few stories, she would then announce, “Time to get to work”, and the daily life of the parish would begin again.

She will be sorely missed by all the members of Holy Cross, but especially by the small children who would ever so politely approach her office after Mass, each weekend, to ask for a piece of chocolate from the ever present candy dish.  And you had to be polite and say, “please”, or she wouldn’t give me a piece - I mean, she would not give the child a piece of candy until they did.

On the back of the worship aid you will find a verse from the book of the minor prophet Micah, which she, herself, picked years ago.  It reads, “This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with God.”  From my observation, this is exactly what Sr. Loretta did for her entire life. 

The Gospel today promises eternal life in the heavenly kingdom for those who hear the Word of God, believe in the One Who sent Jesus, and lead a life filled with good deeds.  Such a person, when she dies, the reading states, “has passed from death to life”.  That is what we believe has happened to our beloved Sr. Edward Marie, as she was named when she became a novice in 1953, and when she professed her vows, almost 62 years ago. 

She is now in the eternal presence of God, but she is also enjoying the loving embraces of her father, Edward, who died one day after her 15th birthday; her mother, Agnes, who died four days after her 22nd birthday, and just over a year after sister professed her vows; and of Fr. Ernie, the founding pastor of Holy Cross Parish, and a longtime friend.

She and Sr. Joan have been friends since high school, and have been virtually inseparable since coming to Alaska.  As most of you know, Sr. Loretta never liked to fly, and Sr. Joan was her comfort when she did fly.  They will take their final flight together later this week, as Sr. Joan escorts the body of her lifelong friend to her final resting place at the Motherhouse in O’Fallon.

May perpetual light shine upon Sr. Loretta; and may she rest in peace.  Amen.