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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Deacon Bill Tunilla

The Messenger

The idiom shooting the messenger has its roots in ancient Greece. It came to mean blaming the bearer for the bad news they brought. In ancient times, messengers were sent to impart official news, and these messengers sometimes incurred the wrath of the one receiving that bad news. In a sense the messenger became the message and at times suffered and even died for it.

Our first reading from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah is a great example of shooting the messenger. It is evident the message Jeremiah preached and the person of Jeremiah overlapped even though he wished it wasn’t so.  

Jeremiah was called at a young age (around 13) to be a prophet, a messenger of God.  This was not a job Jeremiah sought out willingly.  He even tried to get God to change his mind by saying that he wasn’t a good speaker… but like Moses, (Deut 18:18) God would place words in Jeremiah’s mouth (Jer 1:9). 

Being a prophet was not a glamorous job.  Prophets were scoffed at, beaten, imprisoned and humiliated for challenging the status quo and Jeremiah suffered greatly for sharing God’s message, including being thrown into a cistern. Prophets didn’t seek to be prophets nor could they be proud of their attainments. 

Their lives were filled with loneliness and misery.  Some like Jeremiah cursed the day they were born. 

Jeremiah’s prophecies of judgement were a response to the moral decay in Judah.  The chosen people had forsaken their covenant with God, throwing off the yoke of the Lord.  In the end, even though Jeremiah forecast the destruction of Judah, Jerusalem and the Temple, the people did not listen and Jeremiah couldn’t prevent the doom of Judah.  Still he fulfilled his role as a messenger of God.

We too like the people of Jeremiah have received a difficult message today, one perhaps we should not ignore as they did in Jeremiah’s day.  In our Gospel reading today Jesus shares “Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father; a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother; a mother-in-law against her daughter-in- law and daughter-in-law against a mother-in-law.

These are pretty disturbing words from Jesus who most of us prefer to think of as the Prince of peace but it makes more sense when we consider just how extremely important family relationships were in the time of Jesus. 

A person's place in the family conferred both their personal identity and their place in the community. People knew who you were, because they knew who your father and mother were.  The family unit provided a support system in a world without public assistance programs. To divide a family was to leave its members on shaky ground both socially and economically.  

Most of us have experienced family divisions and many of us have experienced being a messenger of bad news and some may have experienced being scoffed at, belittled or found our message fell on deaf ears when we shared God’s truth.  

The world is full of confusion.  Many people are unchurched, many disbelieve in God or church and many more don’t know what to believe. Self-gratification seems to be taking God’s place, much like in the days of Jeremiah.  We may find people very dear to us are choosing to live their lives contrary to the truth and to the teachings of Christ. Instead they seek to fill the infinite longing in their souls for God with the finite things of this world.

Being a modern-day prophet is not any easier today than it was in the time of Jeremiah.  Sharing Christ’s message and being a follower of Jesus is a hard thing to do and yet it is the right thing to do.  We must stay faithful to the struggle and persevere. 

As we heard in last Sunday’s readings we need to stay prepared.  For we do not know when our faith will be tested or when the Master will come. 

Our lives are filled to the brim with work, commitments, responsibilities and distractions.  We can easily lose sight of the big picture and make excuses like Jeremiah did. We may not be good at communication or know our faith well or feel confident enough to share it.    I can tell you that I am not always comfortable sharing God’s truth.

But I know on the day of our Baptism we were all anointed as priest, prophet and king.  All of the Baptized faithful have been given the grace to proclaim the Good News of salvation to the world. 

Still feel unprepared? Me too, so this year Holy Cross is offering three continuing adult education classes on Tuesday nights at Hanshew Middle School, the same night and place our youth receive their Catholic faith instruction.

There is no cost for adults and our religious education is not only for Catholics but we will hold our RCIA class, the Rite of Christian initiation of Adults for any non-Catholic or unbaptized person who may be interested in becoming Catholic.

Christ was the messenger who became the message.  Jesus preached that the divided household was the uncommitted household.  He insisted that we can’t have it both ways; one is either for the kingdom or against the kingdom.  

Jesus' words help us make sense of a world that opposes so many Christian teachings. In the Gospel of John 16:33, Christ states, "I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.  In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

Christ’s enemies believed that to kill the messenger was to kill the message.  Paradoxically, the death of Christ the messenger only ensured the message lives on in us today.  If we recall two Sundays ago, this is how Deacon Bill Sr. ended his homily.  “Christ won our salvation by His death on those two “interesting pieces of wood” behind me.  Don’t let His sacrifice be in vain!” 

Let’s not let Jesus’ sacrifice be in vain, for let us remember that the cross on Calvary was painful, but the empty tomb and resurrection was the positive proof that the messengers, that’s us, from the day of our Baptism in Christ become fearless priests, prophets and Kings living out our lives as both message and messenger proclaiming the message of the one who saved the world.  



19th Sunday of the Ordinary Time Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” This is a beautiful and precise definition of Christian faith according to the writer of the book of Hebrews. Faith is the realization of what is hoped for. We believe that what we hope in Christ will come true. Through this faith, our future hope becomes reality. This is faith grown in hope. And faith is also evidence of things not seen. Faith enables us to remain confident and faithful to God’s unseen promise and dedicated to its fulfillment. And faith then becomes verification. When I reflected on this part of the reading, I came to realize that our faith here is present right now but deeply associated with the future. We strongly hope for God’s works to be accomplished in the future and faith provides us with the present ground of this future hope.

This development of the reflection takes me to a thought about time. What is time? I am not thinking about clocks or apple watches. What is the nature of time? This question has been a complicated and controversial theme. There have been studies and thesis about the nature of time in science and philosophy. Often, time is presented as an opposite concept of eternity. God exists in eternity and we live in time. Eternity is not a limitless amount of time, but beyond time. Eternity is absolute and time is relative. Time is one of the frames that is applied to finite beings. The fact is that we live in time even though time is changing. We are finite and limited in time. Time is divided into three distinct regions: past, present, and future. We lived in the past, are living in the present, will live in the future. We can’t live outside time.

I told you about my 40-day retreat one time. Before my ordination, it was the obligation to have a spiritually long 40-day retreat. In the beginning, a nun, the director of the retreat, spent about 2 days explaining how to pray, how to empty my mind, fill God’s spirit in there, and plunge myself into God’s love. And then she continued to talk about distractions. She said, “you are most likely to have distractions during the pray. Don’t worry about that. It is natural. But you have to sort out what your distractions are. If they are about plans in the future, let it go because it has not come yet. If they are about present, please let go of that, too because you are praying right now. If they are about past, you should pay much attention to that because you have to bring wounds or hurt from the past to God through your prayers.” I was impressed with the nun’s explanation on distractions: past, present, and future distractions. Even the moment when we are distracted by thoughts during prayers, we live in time. This means we must be in one of the regions: past, present, and future. No one gets out of time as long as the person breathes.

Jesus is talking about the future today in verses 35 to 48: the servants awaiting the Master’s return, the burglar who comes in unexpectedly, the faithful steward and the abusive, irresponsible slave. Those sermons tell us how to prepare for our future. The servants who await the Master’s return have to be vigilant and prepared. The faithful steward should be responsible for the duty and get it done in time. Unlike people in the modern world, people in Jesus’ day were really drawn into daily bread and mired in present concerns. They had no room to think about their future. Mediterranean culture is primarily focused on the present. Even in a wide sense, tomorrow and yesterday might be included. Therefore, by bringing up the parables, the faithful steward, the unexpected burglar, and the Master’s return, Jesus wants to open their eyes to see the future. By widening the horizon of the time zones to the future, Jesus challenges not only the ancient peasants who are oriented to present, but also scholars and Pharisees of the tradition who are bound to the past. Jesus draws everyone to the future.

In today’s second reading, the author of Hebrews also persuades us to hope for the future as our faith ancestors had done. Of course, the book presents to us the past examples of how to show faith to God. But the examples are introduced to let us know how to have faith now in the future hope for God’s promise. Especially Abraham’s faith is highlighted. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.” Even though he was not sure if he would receive that, by faith he settled in the Promised Land. Even though he knew his wife Sarah was barren, by faith he remained faithful to God’s promise. At the offering of his son Isaac, he even believed that God would raise numerous descendants from the dead. Faith indicates present but definitely previews and projects future hope. “They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar.” Our second reading is about the classic definition of faith and tells us how to consolidate our present faith with future hope.

Today’s readings challenge us to see God’s Kingdom in the future with present faith. We live in time: past, present, and future. We live in the present but have faith in the future hope. As I conclude my homily and we reflect on Abraham’s faith, I’d like to think of a person who had the greatest faith in history: Mary the Mother of Jesus. She was greatly bewildered when she heard she would conceive God’s Son. But finally, she saw and contemplated God’s future salvation plan for the world, and firmly believed that her present acceptance would be a future achievement of God’s promise. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” We all are invited to this humble confession. We should be rooted in present faith: I am the handmaid of the Lord. But we still hope for the future of God’s plan. “May it be done to me according to your word.” This is precisely what each of us must do as we go through our own lives. Let us ask our Mother Mary to intercede for us so that we may have strong faith in the present and long for everlasting life in Christ’s Kingdom.


18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Deacon Bill Finnegan

Diane and I just returned from a trip to Russia.  It was a riverboat cruise from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  Following many rivers and lakes, we went as far north as the latitude for Anchorage, Alaska, they kept telling us.  I am telling you this story not out of the vanity that we heard about in the first reading, but because I learned a lesson that relates to the second reading, and I would like to share it with you, as a cautionary tale. 

Russia as you know is vast - almost 2x the USA & 70x the UK!  We saw just a very small part of the country, but what we saw was beautiful, if you overlook some crumbling buildings in the big cities.  The major cities we visited seemed just like major US cities, with traffic jams, large shopping areas, hustle & bustle, and lots of nightlife, we were told. 

I like to take pictures of churches and religious art, and there was an overabundance of both, everywhere.  In every little hamlet along the way there were always churches to be seen from the boat, some big, some small - all beautiful with their “Onion Domes”.  It seems that during the Imperial times, Russia was the most religious country in the world. 

In one city the tour guide told us that the city once had over 300 churches, all Russian Orthodox.  At the time of the Revolution, most of the churches were destroyed, leaving only 60 in the city, 30 of which are “operating churches”, as he said.  The rest are museums and tourist sites to view the religious artwork.  Another guide told us that 70% of the Russian people claim to be “believers”, as he put it, but only 7% actually practice their faith. 

I could see the movement from the religious to the secular in the way two different tour guides explained the “Onion Domes” on their churches, that we in Alaska are familiar with.  Those domes, as I said, are everywhere.  We saw gold ones, green ones, black one, blue ones, multicolored ones, and even one church made completely out of carved unpainted wood, including the many domes.  Both guides told us that the onion shape had nothing to do with vegetables!  (That was their little joke.)  One, clearly with a religious sense, told us that they represented flames reaching up to God, to Heaven.  There can be a single dome, representing Jesus; or three domes, representing the Trinity; or five domes for Jesus and the four evangelists.  The wooden church had 22 domes, but that guide did not say who they represented.  The more secular guide, on the other hand, never mentioning Jesus or Trinity or heaven, simply said the onion shape of the dome was to prevent a snow buildup! 

Which brings me to the point I want to make.  Over the course of time, merely a hundred years, Russia has gone from the most religious country in the world to a place where even the religious aspect of the domes of their sacred places is all but forgotten.  You could blame it on the influence of Communism,  but you would only be partially right.  Consider how the Polish people suffered under the domination of Communist Russia following WWII, and yet they held tight to their beliefs and Poland is the most Catholic country I have ever visited.  We here in the USA are slowly loosing our faith, as we seem to drift from religious practice to secularism, and perhaps even to socialism or communism.  We alone have the power to stop this slide. 

As we heard in the reading from St. Paul to the Colossians, we are called to “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God”.  (We saw some beautiful icons of that heavenly scene.)  St. Paul goes on to urge us to “Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly”, followed by a long list of our failings. 

We need to keep the faith, no matter the secular governing system we are under.  That’s what the Polish people did; that’s what the Russian people failed to do.  What will we do in times of oppression?  Will we cling to our faith?  Or will - what can I compare to the onion dome snow removal analogy?  Or will the Cross - the Holy Cross - be viewed as just two interesting pieces of wood, devoid of the story of what happened on that Holy Cross? 

The Gospel today does not match the theme on which I have chosen to preach.  However, I would like to take one word from the Gospel, somewhat out of context, and apply it to my theme.  That word is “inheritance”.  This deposit of faith that we have as Catholics is our inheritance, as it was passed on to us by our parents.  We, in turn, must pass that inheritance on to our children; and they to their children, and so on, so that no future generation will lose their faith, as the Russian people seem to have. 

In one small unique village on a lake, they had an enormous, beautifully carved, wooden slide, about half the size of the ski jump at hilltop.  In the winter, children of all ages slide down it on the snow and out on to the frozen lake.  Sounds like fun, but it reminds me of the “slippery slope” to secularism on which we find ourselves.  If we are to “Keep the Faith” and pass on our “inheritance”, instead of picturing yourself sliding down that beautiful slide, envision yourself trying to climb up the steep curving snowy slope as it reaches up to heaven!  Adhere to the admonition of St. Paul, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above … .”  Christ won our salvation by His death on those two “interesting pieces of wood” behind me.  Don’t let His sacrifice be in vane!  “Oh vanity of vanities!”


The 17th Sunday in ordinary time-Fr. Andrew Lee

Today’s readings are about prayers. What is prayer? According to Catechism of the Catholic Church, prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God. Yes. We can request in our prayer.

But some people say God answers our prayers and some He does not answer. There was a student that was taking the college exam. He was having his final. He finished and started to hand it in with the rest of the students to the professor. And the professor said, “Behold, for a second, students, before you turn in your exam, I have a form for you to sign. And on the form, I want you to sign your name to just confirm for me that you have not asked for any outside assistance in the exam.” So all the students were signing their names and turning in the forms. But one student was hesitant. He wasn’t quite sure if he should sign it or not. And so in the interest of just full disclosure, he went to the professor and said, “I just want you to know that before the exam, and during the exam, I was praying to God and asking Him to help me.” So the professor said, “Let me look at your test.” The student gave him the test and the professor looked at all the answers. And he handed the form back to the student and the test back to the student. And he said, “You can sign the form with a clear conscience. God did not answer your prayer.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray. This is the most perfect prayer. Jesus gives us the model of all prayers. First, Jesus asks us to call God “Father,” which is “Abba” an Aramaic word. It is like “Daddy” in English. Jesus wants us to build up the most intimate relationship with God in the beginning of our prayers. This is the basic trust of our Father. And then five petitions are followed. The first two focus on God: “hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” The next three petitions allow us to pray for our needs and those of others. The petitions include the present “give us this day our daily bread,” the past “forgive our sins,” and the future “do not put us to the test.” This model of prayer Jesus teaches us today covers everything we need. By defining the relationship with God, “Abba,” we express our deep trust in God. By glorifying God’s name and His Kingdom, we express God’s priority in our lives. By making our personal petitions, we ask for our present needs and future hope. This is how we pray.

And then Jesus brings an interesting parable. Through this parable, Jesus teaches us what we need when we pray. A guest comes to visit his friend. The host has nothing to offer and goes to his neighbor and asks for three loaves of bread. The neighbor refuses to lend because it is midnight. But if the host persistently asks the neighbor, he will give it out. It looks like Jesus teaches us, through this parable, that we need persistence when we pray. But if we know the background of Jewish society, we have a better understanding of what Jesus wants to teach. In the Ancient Near East, it was taken for granted that one offered a meal to a visiting traveler. And people used community ovens shared by several families. And the reputation of a village for hospitality is vital to the community honor. When the neighbor says, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed,” this is a disgrace to the community. None of them expects such a response because they know this act dishonors the village’s reputation for hospitality.

And Jesus concludes the parable, “he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.” Here the word persistence is anaideia in Greek which means shamelessness. Therefore, some scholars think that the last sentence should be translated, “he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his avoidance of shame.” That is to say, in order to avoid dishonoring the village’s reputation for hospitality, the neighbor will give what the host wants. The host is assured that he will then have something to offer for his guest.

If we interpret the parable through the prism of the background of Jewish society, Jesus’ point of the parable is not persistence but assurance. That is why Jesus says in the following paragraph, “ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds.” What do we need when we pray? We need assurance when we pray.

In today’s first reading, we see how Abraham intercedes for the cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. He prays and bargains with God. He reduces the number of the righteous in the cities to 10 people. Why does he keep asking God? What encourages Abraham to persistently pray and ask God? Abraham assuredly knows that God will answer his prayer. I think Abraham’s dialogue with God teaches us that we must be assured when we pray. Prayer is a manifestation of trust in the loving God. Assurance is a necessary virtue in prayer. This comes from the trust built upon a personal and intimate relationship with our Abba, the heavenly Father.

How do you pray? What kind of conversations do you have when you pray? What do you feel when you pray? We have to have the virtue of assurance when we pray. We need to be confident when we ask God’s kingdom come and the Father’s will be done. We need to be assured that our Father provides us with daily bread. We have to believe assuredly that God will forgive us as we forgive others and He will put us out of temptations way. Jesus continues to say today, “ask and you will receive: seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.” What we need when we ask, seek, and knock is assurance because He is our Abba.


Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Deacon Bill Tunilla


The Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.  By nature things are different.  For instance two snowflakes are not alike.  Even rocks are different.  Have you ever found two rocks that were the same size? Same weight? Same composition?  Each person in this church is different.  We all look and talk differently and have different thoughts and opinions.  Our personality styles are different.  Some people might be really outgoing and can multi-task several different projects at one time.  Others are more quiet and reserved and quietly go about their business without much fanfare. Yet all of us were made in the image and likeness of God but blessed with different gifts.

Our Gospel reading today appears to be about the two different women.  Martha the go, go, go getter and Mary who is attentive, quiet and subdued.   But there is more to the story.

Luke shares that Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him and that she had a sister named Mary who sat at our Lord’s feet listening to him. 

You get the sense quickly that Martha felt burdened with much serving and was pretty annoyed for she asks Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”  But Jesus doesn’t ask Mary to help Martha, instead he says to Martha these stinging words, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part, and it is not going to be taken away from her."

Sometimes many of us might see ourselves in Martha.  We were taught that being hospitable to others and welcoming guests is to welcome Christ himself.  Hebrews 13:2 tells us, “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.”  That is what we heard in our first reading from the book of Genesis.

Abraham and Sarah offer hospitality to three mysterious visitors.  Abraham rushes about asking Sarah to make bread and he chose a calf for the servant to prepare.  Abraham like Martha focuses on taking care of the physical needs of his guests. 

Yet we know that Mary chose the better part because she recognized the wisdom, the truth.   Jesus was more than just any honored guest.  She was sitting within inches of the Son of God. 

Martha is serving Christ but in her hectic attention to insignificant details, she misses out on the significance of the visitor, a time of communion with our Lord.

Jesus, the teacher confronts her and says you are anxious about many things and there is need of only one thing and Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.

God is constantly inviting us to listen and draw near to him.  He may appear in the homily, scripture reading, the voice of a parent or our children, or during a walk in the park or at 3 o’clock in the morning. 

Yet so often we find ourselves preoccupied with tasks and lists or obtaining minute by minute updates on our phones.  We may even find going to church, or praying to God, reading scripture, quiet reflection or studying our faith – Boring.   Society has groomed us to be entertained and updated on every happening and yet Christ is not entertainment. He is God, in the words of our scripture, in the flesh in Communion as our King.  The reason we come to church is to adore our God and our Savior so we may grow with Christ and upon that final day of resurrection he will know us well from having sought him out and invite us into the eternal wedding feast in heaven.

Today the Gospel calls us to prioritize our lives. There will be worldly demands upon our time and attention which distract us from God.  But we can look at our priorities and stop to take the opportunity to sit at the feet of our Lord and open our hearts to his word in scripture and fully receive him at the holy banquet at Mass.

Martha did serve God in her own way but instead of finding peace, she was overcome by anxiety and stress.  She could not hear the voice of Jesus amongst all her distractions and worries.  Jesus tells her and likely shares with us, you are anxious and worried about many things Martha but there is need of only one….it is me, Martha.  It is I the Christ, who desires to be one with you forever, I am that better part.   Come and sit with me.

This Friday there is an opportunity here at Holy Cross from 1900-2100 to sit at the feet of Jesus.  I will be offering with our Marriage Encounter group an evening of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and we will begin a simple Novena to St. Ann and St. Joachim for marriage. Everyone is invited to attend.