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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.




15th Sunday Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

Today’s Gospel is one of the most famous parables in the Bible, the Good Samaritan which is an expression we commonly use.  I have a Good Samaritan experience. I think I told this in one of the daily mass homilies. When my Korean friend, Fr. Neri was at St. Benedict’s about 5 years ago, I ministered in Our Lady of the Lake in the Valley. One time he came to visit me. It was a cold and snowy winter. After we had breakfast together, he drove his car somewhere in Big Lake. And then my phone rang about an hour later. He said, “My car went into the ditch. Would you bring a shovel? I will send you my location.” I went to save him with a shovel. We shoveled together but his car was deep in the snow. We couldn’t get the car out. A van stopped and a man said, “You need help? I have a rope.” We said, “Please.” He put the rope on the car and started pulling it, but the rope broke. It was old. He said, “My house is very close. I will go and get a new rope. I think it is going to work.” We had no choice and said, “Thank you.” The whole family came with him when he got back with the new rope: Five kids and his wife. He tried the new rope and it worked. He got Fr. Neri’s car back to the road. Fr. Neri and I said, “Thank you.” We continued to say, “How much do we owe you? We’d like to pay.” He said, “You owe me nothing. But please help some other people when you find them in trouble.”

We all must have had similar experiences, great help from a Good Samaritan. In today’s Gospel, the Samaritan takes good care of a person who was robbed and beaten on the way to Jericho from Jerusalem. A priest and a Levite pass him. They are not sure if the man is dead or not. It is too risky for them to check his condition. If the priest and the Levite touch the dead, they are defiled and need to go back to Jerusalem and be purified. They choose to avoid checking whether he is dead or alive. They just pass by. But the Good Samaritan willingly allows himself to be involved in the dangerous situation. For Jews, Samaritans were the heretics of that time. They were considered half-heathens because of intermarrying with foreign colonists at the time of the Assyrian conquest, which was about 700 years before that. They were still discriminated and abandoned, the second-class citizens of the community.

But the Samaritan in today’s Gospel doesn’t hesitate to throw himself into the scene where a man needs help. It doesn’t matter to the Samaritan whether the man is dead or not. The man needs help and the Samaritan shows his love and compassion to this unknown person. And then Jesus declares that this Samaritan is the true neighbor to the person. Jesus says to the lawyer, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” This is a powerful encouragement to be willing to show our love to others as our neighbors. The lawyer’s question in the beginning is “Who is my neighbor?” but Jesus’ challenges him “to whom must you become a neighbor?” Jesus’ question sounds like a direction to him, “you must become a neighbor to anyone and everyone in need. You must reach out with compassion to all people, even to your enemies.” And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”

What does this parable teach us? What does Jesus tell us through this wonderful parable? It is that God’s love is revealed and visualized through concrete actions of love to our visible neighbors. If we do not show love to our neighbors whom we can see, then no matter what commandments we keep, what ritual sacrifices we join in, as did the priest and Levite in the parable, we become incapable of loving God, whom we cannot see. The love for God becomes manifested most in love for our neighbors. Love needs concrete practice. Love is embodied by visible charity.

Even though God is invisible, He reveals Himself to us in two ways. You all know what those are. We can have a better understanding of God in these two ways. Would you tell me what they are? We are able to know Him by the Tradition and the Scripture. We can get to know God’s will through the Tradition that has been passed on in the Church, and grasp God’s revelation through the Bible. We can embrace God’s revelation through these two concrete ways. God is invisible but is revealed in a very visible way. The Sacraments are God’s blessings which are invisible. But we actually hear, touch, feel, and taste these blessings through visible matters. This is God’s sacramental revelation.

God is invisible. We don’t see Him. So do you think God is in heaven somewhere beyond our planet? Do you think He exists far away from where we are? No. He is right beside you, your family, and your neighbors. Many times, He reveals Himself in an immanent way. And His love is shown through our concrete behaviors and words. In the first reading, Moses says, “For this command that I enjoin on you today, is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky…Nor is it across the sea, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” God and his commandments are right on our hearts and enlivened by our actions. In the second reading, Paul tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God who created all things visible and invisible but by His death on the cross He invites all things to be in reconciliation with God. It means He becomes the visible mediator between invisible heavenly grace and visible earthly things. He is the visualized God through incarnation. He becomes the sacrament that shows us how intimately God is present among us.

God is not present way beyond our beings. God is right where we are. He is waiting for us to practice love and visualize God’s love to our neighbors like the Good Samaritan who enlivens God’s commandments by helping a robbed person. All of this prompts us to practice our love right here and right now. Like Jesus gives Himself every day in the form of bread and wine, which is a concrete way, we should form our love and give charity to serve the invisible God. It is because God is right there where we love our neighbors like the Good Samaritan.


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Deacon Bill Finnegan

Today’s Gospel reading picks up where we left off last week.  Recall in last week’s Gospel, and in the first reading as well, we heard stories of people reluctant to heed the call of God.  In the Old Testament reading it involved Elijah and Elisha.  Elisha is first very hesitant, but then sells everything and follows Elijah, as his attendant and ultimately his successor.  

The Gospel too had all these people professing to want to follow Jesus, but they first had to do something else:  First let me bury my father; let me say goodbye to my family.  Father Andrew gave a wonderful homily about saying good-bye to his family, especially his grandfather, before he went off to the seminary to follow his call.  His grandfather, as I recall, did not even know his grandson was answering the call to be a missionary priest. 

Today’s Gospel is different from last week's story, in that, some disciples have answered the call and are being sent on a missionary journey.  I have a reference book that I use, called “Gospel Parallels”.  It compares every verse of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark & Luke.  This story of the 72 disciples is not found in the other Gospels, only in Luke.  Much of the text we heard today is also found in the Gospel according to Matthew, but in that case it is dealing with Jesus sending forth the Twelve. 

Perhaps that is why we hear in today’s reading, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others … .”  72 besides the 12?  Or 72 others besides the reluctant ones from last week.  You know reluctance in the face of a true call from God is not unusual.  Look at Mary’s and Joseph’s first response to the call of the Archangel Gabriel.  Mary, for example says, “How can this be?”  But then she finally says “Yes!”  The lives of the saints are filled with such hesitation, at first.  I too hesitated before answering the call to ordination as a deacon.  Some of you have heard this, but I repeat it here: 

The Rock Story 

If you feel yourself being called to service by God, in spite of your reluctance, answer the call in the Affirmative - “Here I am Lord, send me.”  Week after week, the deacon or one of the readers stands before us as together we pray “The Universal Prayer”, aka, “The Prayers of the Faithful” or the petitions.  And every week we hear this petition: 

For (named) household, who will have the Vocation Cross this week, that through their prayers, God will call forth from this parish community, Brothers, Sisters, Deacons, Priests, and Lay Leaders, Let us Pray to the Lord.  And we respond, Lord hear our prayer. 

I feel there are some of you who hear that petition every week think, “Am I being called forth?”  “No, not me, it must be somebody else.”  Think again, God may just be calling you, week after week.  As you heard me proclaim in the reading, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.”  (That is exactly what we do when we pray that petition.) 

Let me put things in perspective about the shortage of laborers in AK.  Jesus sent the 72 throughout Judea, to places where he intended to go.  Judea at the time consisted of less than 1500 square miles.  The State of Alaska has over 600,000 square miles.  But there are only about 60 priests in the 3 dioceses of the state, and the numbers for brothers, sisters and deacons are even smaller - not a lot of laborers for the harvest.  So in a few minutes, when we pray that prayer of petition, I would like each of you to say to yourself, “Are you calling me Lord?”  If His answer is “Yes”, do not respond by saying, “I will follow you, but first let me (do thus and so).”   A simple “Yes” will do.  (And I am not just talking to the young in our midst.  Many people are called later in life.  A priest friend in AZ entered the seminary in his 50s; a woman became a nun in her 60s.  God’s call can come at any time.) 

The end of the Gospel reading is interesting.  The 72 come back talking about, some might say boasting about, what they had accomplished.  Jesus cautioned them to not rejoice in their accomplishments, but rather to rejoice because their “names will be written in heaven”.  This is the same promise he makes to those of you who accept the call of Jesus to labor for Him today. 

Like St. Paul, we are called to not boast about our own accomplishments, but rather to boast only in the Cross of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.   One way to “boast” in the Cross, so to speak, is to have a devotion to The Way of the Cross, The Stations of the Cross.  A few years ago, while Fr. Joseph was still here, a family donated fourteen large wooden crosses that they had made.  You have seen them scattered throughout the woods east of the parking lot.  The plan was to establish a way of the cross through the woods.  A committee has now been formed by Fr. Andrew, and that plan is finally coming to fruition. 

But “Laborers” will also be needed to finish this project - to erect the crosses, to smooth out the path, to beautify “the way” - so one day soon, we can all “boast of Our Lord Crucified, as we walk the Stations of the Cross in the woods!”  If you are interested in helping with this project, please see me after Mass.  Also see Fr. Andrew or me or Sister Joan, if you feel the call to priesthood, diaconate, or religious life.