Monday
Jan022017

The Most Blessed Mary, the Mother of God-Fr. Andrew Lee

Happy New Year! A New Year, 2017 has begun. Time flies, doesn’t it? It seems to be yesterday when 2016 started. But the old eventful year came to an end and another year is opened to us. I hope this year will be full of happiness, joy, and God’s blessings in your life and your families. What do you usually do when a new year begins? People make their resolutions and set their goals for a year. What are your resolutions? Here are some funny New Year resolutions. “I will start washing my hands after I use the restroom.” “I will lose weight by hiding it somewhere you’ll never find it.” “I will not bore my boss by the same excuse for taking leaves. I will think of some more excuses.” “I promise to stick to these resolutions for more than a week.” People try to have a meaningful year by their resolutions. This New Year lies before us with countless possibilities like a blank sheet given by God for free. It is totally up to us with what to fill it. I hope we could say thank you to God at the end of this year by achieving our goals in God’s grace and blessings.

As we open up the first day of the New Year, the Church wants us to ponder about the Blessed Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Do you know when this dogma was declared? In 431, the bishops of the Church gathered together, gave honor to Mary, and pronounced her to be “the Mother of God” (Theotokos). This world-wide council of the Church took place in the city of Ephesus where Mary lived the last years of her life under the care of St. John the Apostle according to the tradition. In this council, Mary was finally declared the Mother of God which meant she was the Mother of Jesus’ humanity and divinity.

But there was a bishop in Constantinople who insisted that Mary could be a mother of the human Jesus but she couldn’t be a mother of the divine nature of Jesus. So, he said it was not appropriate to call Mary the Mother of God. This way of thinking, though, was condemned by the council in Ephesus, and the council proclaimed that there is only one person in Jesus Christ, and that if Mary is the mother of the human Jesus then she can be honored as the Mother of God. This declaration was based on a simple logic. If Mary is the mother of Jesus, and if Jesus is God, then Mary is the Mother of God.

The dogma that Mary is the Mother of God has produced many of Mary’s titles throughout history. That is to say, this dogma has become a foundation on which the other titles of Mary has developed, like Star of the Sea, Queen of Heaven, Queen of Peace, Throne of Wisdom, Morning Star, Gate of Heaven and so on. Those have been given to Mary because she was entitled officially as the Mother of God. Other descriptions and dogmas about Mary have come out, too: she is a repository of God’s grace, she is also the Mother of the Church, she is a contemplative model for all Christians, she is an example of Christian values, she is privileged to be freed from original sin, she is taken up to heaven as the Mother of God, etc. We have all kinds of reasons why she should be honored in the Church and every reflection and title about Mary are based on this dogma: Mary is the Mother of God. What I’d like to speak about our mother, Mary, is that she is the Queen of Peace.

God sent his son to the world to make the world more peaceful. We all know Jesus came to the earth to give us peace. This peace is not the one that the world gives us. Peace that the world gives us is protected by power, authority, and even weapons: Whereas peace that Jesus gives us is built on the foundation of our sacrifice, love and service. The peace that Jesus is giving us is different from peace of the world. Simply speaking, Jesus is peace.

If so, how did Mary become a peacemaker? Mary is the one who conceived him in her womb. Therefore, she has an abundance of peace in herself as the one who keeps Jesus in her womb. She is giving peace to us by becoming the mother of God. In the first reading, God blesses the Israelites, saying “The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” The mother of God, too, gives us peace by conceiving God inside her. And the Gospel says, “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her hearts.” This is the way she becomes a peacemaker. She kept peace that is Jesus in her womb and kept the words of God in her mind. She kept everything that she had heard and received, reflecting on the meaning of that and changing it into God’s peace. We hear a lot of good things from God and the Church, but sometimes we are too lazy to keep them and reflect on the meaning of them. So once we hear God’s words, we deeply should ponder them thinking about how to become peacemakers as Mary did. And then we can contribute to God’s peace.

Pope Paul VI appointed the Feast of the Mother of God as the world peace day in 1968 and asked the universal Church to pray for peace in the world every year since then. Therefore, as we celebrate Mary’s divine motherhood, we are supposed to pray for peace of the world because she is Queen of Peace who leads us to Jesus who is Peace itself. There were a lot of conflicts and sufferings last year in the world. In the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America, there were civil wars, massacres, terrors, and conflicts all year long.

We, as Christians, have to pray to God through the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, that every violence and dispute may end this year. We hope that this year will be full of peace in the world, the peace that Mary keeps in her heart, and we also will be peacemakers in this world by hearing the good news, reflecting on it and changing it into peace that Jesus brought us. Happy New Year again. Let us ask God for grace in this mass through which we can give peace to this parish, the archdiocese, and the world. 

Monday
Dec262016

Christmas Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

Merry Christmas! “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Jesus comes to save us tonight (today). We are celebrating Jesus Christ’s coming in this liturgy with joy, love, and peace. Are you happy? Let us share the joy and the love of Christmas by exchanging Christmas greetings to each other. Please say “Merry Christmas” to people next to you.

For the last 4 weeks, Advent, we have waited for Jesus by doing acts of charity, using moderation, and doing penance. This preparation helps us to rejoice more with Jesus’ coming and respond more fervently to Jesus’ invitation to the mystery of Incarnation. Now finally the moment comes and we are delighted. Many people around the world are excited: Christmas carols echoing around in the street, families sitting around Christmas trees and exchanging Christmas presents in front of fireplaces, snow falling outside the windows, everybody enjoying Christmas time. These are the reasons why we are excited about Christmas. But today I am going to present three true reasons why we should be happy on Christmas.  

The first thing I’d like to point out today is that God’s love is completed through His Incarnation. The Incarnation is the event that tells us we are standing at the zenith of God’s self-giving love. In today’s second reading, Paul says, “The grace of God has appeared.” It means God’s love is manifested. God created Adam and Eve, our ancestors by His love, gave His breath to them so that they might have God’s life with His love, didn’t stop loving people despite people’s fall and betrayal, led the Israelites to His Promised Land with His compassion, and had them settle down in the Promised Land through His love; finally, He gave up His Only Son, Jesus Christ, to deliver His people, and calls them God’s children through His love. Today God’s love is presented in the highest perfection. We are invited to experience this indescribable self-giving love and participate in the wonderful sharing of the love. This is the first reason why we are delighted today.

Second, we are delighted with Christmas because Jesus came to the world as the Light. It was dark before He came. The world had no future because it was covered with a veil of darkness. We, Alaskans, know how hard it is when it’s dark. It was November when I first came here to Alaska. I knew nothing about Alaska. The first impression that I got with my arrival was darkness. It was around 4 pm when I arrived in the airport. It was dark. A few days after I got here, I ran into a Korean sister. She had been in Anchorage for about 2 years. We had a little chat. And she said, “The most difficult thing I had to overcome here was darkness.” I understand her because, since then, I’ve met some people who had hard time spending long dark Alaskan winter. When I had a vacation in Korea last year, I told my friends, “The sun rises around 9:30, and the sun sets around 4 in the winter. And then it is dark for about 17 hours.” They asked, “What kind of world are you living?” We all know what influences the darkness has on our lives and what lights mean to us.

But Jesus’ coming as the Light removes all darkness and brings us brightness. He gets rid of the gross darkness and gives us a bright future and persistent hope. People are not able to recognize He is the Light. But He is the Light shining in the world. The prophet Isaiah in the first reading hits the nail on the head, saying, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” We have the Light, Jesus Christ, who is born tonight (today). How can we not be delighted?

Third, we celebrate Christmas joyfully and pleasantly because His coming down raises our human dignity. Today is the day when God becomes a human being. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is born in the town of Nazareth. The shepherds are informed by an angel that the Savior is born there. “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” And then the multitude in heaven sing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” This is the most glorious moment to heaven and the most blessed moment to the earth. God becomes a human being. The fact that God becomes a human being means our human nature is elevated and enhanced in the level of God’s children. We now have our divine nature in our human nature. God restores our fallen human nature into his beloved sons and daughters. His coming down becomes our going up. Therefore, Christmas, the celebration of Incarnation, is a very meaningful and significant moment when God renews and recreates the world and transforms our beings into divinity bearing beings. Our dignity gets higher through Incarnation. This is one of the reasons.

Many people are excited about Christmas and are sharing love and joy with people for different reasons. But we, as God’s sons and daughters, are supposed to know the reasons why Christmas is a joyous day. We are leaping in joy because we are invited to experience the culmination of God’s self-giving love, recognize the true Light who drives out darkness, and live the completely elevated value of our human dignity. This is why we celebrate Christmas in this liturgy. Therefore, today let us humbly thank God for the wonderful invitation to His incarnation. And then let us thankfully participate in the Eucharist in this liturgy where Jesus keeps coming to us in the form of bread and wine.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas. May God bless you more in this special season of Christmas and in all of the days that follow. 

Sunday
Dec182016

Fourth Sunday of Advent - Homily, Father Andrew Lee

Today is the last Sunday of Advent. We are coming closer and closer to the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Are you getting ready for Christmas? As Christmas comes closer, we hear more about stories around the time when Jesus is about to be born.

 

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus from Joseph's perspective. He is a faithful man and a great spouse of St. Mary. He knows Mary gets pregnant, but he rather deals with this problem in a silent way than publicizes the situation and causes Mary in trouble. The gospel says, “Yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” The gospel also says he is a righteous man. He is the one who believes God will be working in a very mysterious way to save his people. He receives a message from the angel of the Lord that Mary will conceive a baby by the Holy Spirit and the baby will save his people. Imagine. If you dreamt the dream that Joseph had, would you believe it and change your whole life? Probably it would be hard. That’s why St. Joseph is called a faithful and righteous man and a protector of Holy Family as the bible testifies. His example and virtue show us what we are going to have to follow. There is no question that Joseph is righteous man, but today let’s focus more on what he does than who he is.

 

I think St. Joseph knows how to read God’s signs. God shows a sign through Joseph’s dream and Joseph accepts the sign with faith and confidence. I’d like to say he is a man who knows how to read God’s signs. There are a lot of signs in the world. Flags are signs of countries. Traffic lights are signs that tell us what we must follow and what we must not. Language is also a sign that helps us express our thoughts and ideas. The crucifix is a sign that shows us Jesus’ death and his sacrificial love. What about the sign of the cross? This is a sign and an expression of our faith in the Trinity. What about sacraments? They are visible signs through which God’s invisible grace is given to us. We are actually given God’s grace through sacraments and we grow in faith through them. It is not exaggeration to say that we are surrounded by signs, convey our thoughts and receive information through them every day.

 

God talks to us through signs and we keep his love and recognize his abundant grace through signs. Signs are an incredible way of finding out God’s message. This is what Joseph does in the gospel. He finds out what God wants to tell him and puts it into action. We not only follow the examples that Joseph shows us--patience, faithfulness, righteousness, and so on--but also learn how to find out God’s signs around us.

 

I had a chance to volunteer at a senior home in Korea where many old men and women spent their twilight. I met many old people who had dementia, couldn’t move without someone’s help, were stuck in wheelchairs all the time, and had a lot of diseases. I fed them, bathed them, shaved them, helped them take a walk, bandaged them, cleansed them, and so on. I stayed at the house for one month. I took care of an old man who lost his chin. He always spilled food because he didn’t have chin to hold up food when he put food in his mouth. I put a handkerchief around his neck and fed him at every meal. One day his children took him home for a few days and then brought him back to the senior home. He really looked tired and sad after he got back. He couldn’t speak, but I read his face that he wanted to be home. He probably might have wanted to be eternal home soon. I was sad, too. Right after his children left, he lay and breathed deeply with a very sorrowful face. I was heartbroken. At the moment the old man looked at me, I found Christ in his face who was suffering with him. I was surprised. I was shocked. Jesus Christ was right there in an old man’s face. The old man was a sign that told me where I could find Jesus. I realized that Jesus dwells in the weakest, the saddest, and the most mournful people and consoles them. I heard he passed away a few days after I left the house.

 

God talks to us through many signs that are around us. Not only the sacraments, the bible, lives of holy men and women, but also our neighbors, families, our routine life, our job, coworkers, nature; these all can be signs through which we can find God’s will and plans. In today’s first reading, the King Ahaz doesn’t realize God’s sign. “Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be as deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!” the prophet Isaiah tells the king. But the king refuses God’s request. He refuses to see God’s sign. According to a priest who makes a comment on the King Ahaz’s response, the King doesn’t care about God’s signs. He doesn’t want to get involved in God’s works. Ahaz’s humility is fake. But the prophet says, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:  the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel.”

 

We get signs from God every day. If we cover our eyes and ears, we don’t see them and hear them like the King in the reading. Advent is a season when we open our eyes and ears to God’s signs that tell us His will and plans. It is a season when we read signs and find out what God wants to tell us. God tells us today, Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” God is coming to us to dwell within us. God keeps giving us sings that he wants to be with us. God’s signs encourage us to be aware of God’s presence all the time. God’s signs invite us to open our minds and hearts to God. God’s signs tell us God is with us, Emmanuel. I hope we open our minds to welcome Jesus by reading the signs God is giving us today. 

Wednesday
Dec142016

Third Sunday of Advent - Homily, Deacon Bill Tunilla

Expectations

Who is Jesus?  How does he appear to you?  If I asked each of you this question, likely you would each give a different answer.  All of us have a different image of Jesus.

In a class I took on Christology, the study of the person of Jesus, my instructor told the class that people have different icons or expectations of who Jesus is to them. 

To illustrate the point, we were shown a short segment from the movie Talladega Nights with Will Farrell who played race car driver Ricky Bobby.  The scene was the family gathered around the table to say grace. 

The Dad, Ricky Started his prayer: Dear Lord baby Jesus and thanked him for a whole array of food and for his family.  Then he continued Dear tiny infant Jesus but was interrupted by his wife who told him Jesus did grow up and he didn’t have to continue to call him baby Jesus.

He responded by saying he likes the Christmas Baby Jesus the best and it’s was his prayer.  He continues, Dear Lord Baby Jesus in the Golden Fleece diapers, 8lbs 6oz tiny baby Jesus. 

Then his father in law chimes in, he was a man and had a beard.  His son pictures Jesus as a ninja and Ricky’s driving partner picture his Jesus with eagle wings. After the clip ended our instructor went around to each of us and asked us how we picture Jesus.  Each one of us had different expectations of who we think Jesus was as did the family members from the movie and as did John the Baptist.

Now in last week’s gospel, John was preaching a message of repentance and instructed all to make straight his paths.  He called the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers and asked, “Who warned you of the coming wrath”?  He tells them to produce good fruit as evidence of their repentance.  And not to presume just because they have Abraham as their father that is enough. 

He sternly states, even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.  Every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.  He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

In today’s Gospel we hear John is in prison and has heard about the works of Christ. John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he is the one to come or should we look for another.  Jesus tells them to go tell John what you hear and see:  the blind regain their sight, the lame walk and lepers are cleansed.  Is this the Messiah that John was expecting?   

I suspect John was more likely wondering when Jesus would begin the cleansing and may have been impatient because Jesus was not doing what he expected the Messiah to be doing. Here he was stuck in prison with his days likely numbered and Jesus was out healing people instead of ridding the world of sinners.

John expected a conquering Messiah who would deal harshly with all the bad people.  Rid the world of evil and return the righteous to their places. The Messiah who would establish God’s justice in Israel and rule from a throne in Jerusalem. 

John the Baptist was, simply a human like you and I.  Don’t we become impatient like John when things don’t go as we expect them to go? 

Can we like John find ourselves filled with shortsightedness of God’s vision and create for ourselves a high level of anxiety?  I know I’m often the town crier, the sky is falling, the dishwasher is overflowing, the grass needs mowing, my homily needs to be written and my children and wife smile.  My urgency is not always their urgency and our urgency and plans filled with anxiety are not God’s.

This is a time of the year when depression, worry and anxiety are high.  Being in Alaska we can miss family far away.  The darkness may play havoc with our emotions or we or a dear loved one might be struggling with a serious health concern which may seem to be more than we can bare.

For some it might just be the Christmas shopping not completed, or school finals that has us frantic with anxiety.  Worries about Aging parents, teenagers with different views and the bills exceeding the paycheck can weigh heavily on our shoulders.   

Yes, Christmas can be a time filled with anxiety and depression.  But as Christians we have a Secret, better than a Secret Santa. 

Do you know what counters anxiety?  Hope!  Hope counters our worries and fears. It is the supernatural confidence that we will attain the kingdom of heaven and eternal life by placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying on the Holy Spirit rather than our own strength.

Hope counters our anxiety and fears. We are a people of true hope, the hope of the coming of our savior once again.  We reinforce this hope by remembering and celebrating Jesus’ coming into the world on that very first Christmas Day 2000 years ago. 

Hope is the sure and steadfast anchor of our soul…that enters…where Jesus has as the forerunner on our behalf (Heb 6: 19-20).  It is a helmet that protects us in our struggle for hope in salvation with the breast plate of faith and charity (1Th 5:8).

As we consider the difficulty John the Baptist had overcoming his own expectations about how Jesus would bring peace to the world we can consider our own expectations of Jesus. 

It was not that John did not want to embrace the Messiah, but he had his own ideas of who the Messiah was and likely had some difficulty seeing the new Messiah offering people unconditional love, hope, healing and tender compassion.

No matter our problems, God brings help and solutions, but we must be open to the Messiah as he comes for he may not come as you expect or want him to come.  It may be a challenge to consider how we think about the Messiah.  There is a saying, when you change the way you look at things, the way you look at things will change.

As you share grace at meals or pray, be it to the baby Jesus or grown up Jesus, or teenage Jesus, or the bearded Jesus.  Just speak your heart. Believe in the Hope of the future.  Our God is here among us, we are not forgotten, and you are never alone. God has this and has solutions for all of life’s difficulties.  You have Hope.  And as Catholic Christians we are especially blessed, for we are here right now, here at the table of plenty. Here in this place is our Jesus, our Hope.  Let’s us Embrace HIM. 

Tuesday
Dec132016

Second Sunday of Advent-Homily, Fr. Andrew Lee

I will start my homily with a funny story that I found. An old man in Miami calls up his son in New York and says, “Listen, your mother and I are getting divorced. Forty-five years of misery is enough.” “Dad, what are you talking about?” the son screams. “We can't stand the sight of each other any longer,” the old man says. “I'm sick of her face, and I'm sick of talking about this, so call your sister in Chicago and tell her the news.” Then he hangs up. “Now, I’m really worried,” he calls up his sister. She says, “Like heck, they’re getting divorced!” and calls her father immediately. She says, “You’re not getting divorced! Don't do another thing! The two of us are flying home tomorrow to talk about this. Until then, don't call a lawyer, don't file a paper. DO YOU HEAR ME?” and she hangs up. The old man turns to his wife and says “Okay, they’re coming for Christmas and paying their own airfares this year.”

The story tells us that it is time to come home which I think is the same theme in today’s Gospel. In the gospel, John the Baptist emerges from the desert and appeals to people with loud voice. What does he prompt people? He shouts, “Come home.” The gospel says, “’Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” In short, he calls out, “Come home.” Repentance means a sincere turning away, both in mind and heart, from self to God. Therefore, “repent” John the Baptist’s message, means to turn around from self to God, our home, where we are supposed to be and every creature is harmonious.

John preached to a spiritually wandering congregation in the desert, a people hungering for more than this world could ever provide, thirsting for someone who would free them from earthly captivity. There is a priest, Fr. Michael Himes who is a theologian and a professor at Boston College. He talks about Advent and gives us an inspiration about how we live Advent. According to his speech, we are finite beings, so we are supposed to be and created to be craving the infinite, eternal, and timeless being, who is God. People wanted Jesus Christ, Messiah, their home where they return in the gospel. The echo of John’s voice strikes us loudly today-Come home! Come to Christ!

But it is challenging to come back to Christ. Coming to Christ requires a complete transformation of our words, behaviors, thoughts, and beings to return to Jesus Christ. This is why John the Baptist’s voice, “repent” is so harsh to the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him for Baptism. This is also challenging to us. We have to know this is the only way to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths. It is hard because it requires us to abandon our former ways of life and start a complete new transformation in Jesus Christ. This is what John the Baptist asks in today’s Gospel.

If we are aware that Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, then this preparation gives us not only challenge but also hope. The Prophet Isaiah sings about a new spirit that will bring wisdom, understanding, and justice in the first reading. He talks about a healing of relationships between people and nations and dreams of a harmonious world where the wolf shall play with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion shall browse together. St. Paul also talks about the hope of harmony and an inclusive community in the second reading. He says, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus.”

Our Christian hope is not a “superficial” hope. It doesn’t say “don’t worry, all will be well.” Our hope is not only about individual feelings, or about our personal problems coming to an end. Rather, our hope involves a complete transformation of the whole community and the way we live with each other. Our hope is based on an invitation from God to enter into a new life and not be stuck in what fails to give life. Therefore, our hope is attained when we transform our life into a self-giving response to God’s harmonious invitation to His kingdom of peace and love.

The hope that we have involves responding to the challenges and working for a new world of justice and peace. In our response, we will be changed as a community of men and women. It may not always be easy, but it is wonderful and it is good news. Great things can happen. This is our preparation in the season and a great expectation to Jesus Christ’s coming.