Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

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Homily 334 – Two Trees – 2nd Sunday of Advent

December 4th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Jesse TreeWhen we think of Christmas, we normally think of Christmas trees. However, our readings today give us two other trees to think about. In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, we are introduced to the “stump of Jesse.” Not much of a tree! Yet this stump, and the future it holds, are a sign of great hope. You have to understand a little bit of Jewish history to understand just how bad things were and how much the Messiah was needed. Today’s homily gives a little introduction into this history. You may not end up singing “O Christmas Stump” by the end, but this stump might be just the hope you need right now.

In our gospel today, we meet St. John the Baptist (Yea! The hero of Advent!) and he introduces us to yet another tree. This tree, however, is in danger of being cut down, with an ax laid at it’s root. This tree is meant to represent us. It’s not enough simply to be Catholic and think that we’ve got it made. God can raise up Catholics from stones! Rather, we must bear good fruit, fruit that befits the repentance required to greet the Messiah with a clear conscience. Jesus has baptized us with the Holy Spirit and fire. We have to get going and bear real fruit. Otherwise, our tree is in danger of being reduced to a stump at the Lord’s coming.

Today’s homily focuses on the lesson of these two trees. One is a tree of hope, the other a tree of warning and urgency. Both trees are important for us this Advent if we want to celebrate around a Christmas tree in a few weeks.

Homily 333 – Where Are You Going? – 1st Sunday of Advent

November 27th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Jersey BoysWhere are you going? It’s a geographical question, but also a spiritual question. The collect from today’s Mass prays that we might have “the resolve to run forth” to meet Christ. Are we running toward Christ? Maybe we headed in the wrong direction and Advent is a great time to adjust our course. Maybe we’re kind of headed toward God but have stopped running and have gotten a bit comfortable and complacent where we are. Advent is a time for getting up, to get running again.

Since humans are both body and soul, oftentimes the spiritual changes we’d like to make are best accomplished with some physical changes as well. Maybe this Advent you’ll decide to get up earlier so as to be able to pray as the sun comes up. Maybe you’ll make some time for quiet prayer. The Church’s official prayer, the Sacred Liturgy, also helps us with physical signs pointing us toward the spiritual. We use darker colors to remind us the darkness awaiting the light of Christ’s birth. We brighten this darkness with the increasing light of the candles on our Advent wreaths. There is also an option regarding the direction of prayer at Mass that can help us focus our attention more on Christ’s coming and where we are going.

For most of the history of the Church, when the priest went to the altar to offer the Eucharist, he stood on the same side of the altar as the people. After the Second Vatican Council, the option was given that the priest could stand on either side of the altar. This new option had the advantage of allowing the people to see exactly what the priest was doing and to interact more with the priest. However, one of the unforeseen consequences was that it becomes easier to lose track of where we are going. Instead of seeing the church like a large boat in which we are all sailing forward toward a destination, it becomes easier to see the church more like an auditorium. The sanctuary can be mistaken for a stage with the people sitting out in the audience watching. This is the opposite of what the Council intended when calling for the “full, conscious, and active participation” of the faithful.

In recent years there has been a renewed interest in the traditional posture of the priest and the people on the same side of the altar and all facing the same direction together for the Eucharistic Prayer. This arrangement has the advantage of emphasizing a direction of movement in the liturgy. We are not stagnant and rigid, but flexible and moving forward. By all looking forward together, we physically represent the fact that, not only are we running forth to meet the Lord, but the Lord is also coming to meet us. We are formed into a great wedding party going out to meet the bridegroom at his coming. The word Advent means “coming.” It is therefore very fitting to consider the use of this ancient posture during Advent.

In the homily today, I mention some of my experiences of being on stage in my acting days. I still love theater, but I experience it mostly from the audience side these days. I recently went to see a production of the musical “Jersey Boys” about the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. As you might imagine, for most of the show the singers performed and the audience watched. However, at one key moment, all the actors turned around and performed facing the back wall of the stage with their backs to the audience. The thing is, you didn’t feel like the actors “had their backs to you.” Rather, because of the lighting and sound effects, they made you feel like you were on stage with the actors and that there was an audience out there beyond the stage that you couldn’t see.

As I said previously, the church is not an auditorium. Yet, this unique theatrical experience reminded me of an important truth about what happens when the priest and people face the same direction at Mass. Rather than the priest “turning his back on the people,” it creates a situation in which the people in the pews are invited to see themselves as “actors” along with the priest in the great theological drama taking place. Rather than a separation, it’s an invitation to greater unity. Both the priest and the people have important parts to play in the Mass, to pray that “my sacrifice and yours” might be acceptable. This is the “active participation” the Council envisioned. Oh, and that invisible audience? …there really is an invisible audience at Mass. All the angels and saints, and the entire heavenly marriage procession is coming to meet us. We might physically all be looking forward at the back wall of the church, but there’s much more unseen here than seen.

This traditional posture of the priest and people all facing forward together is sometimes referred to as facing ad orientem, literally “toward the East.” The Scripture tells us that Jesus ascended toward the East and promised to return just as the apostles saw him go. The East is thus symbolic of the return of Jesus in glory. It is also the direction of the rising sun, again drawing us to the hope of the dawn of the great “day” that will never end. In history we often tried to build our churches facing geographical East for just this reason, to give the spiritual a physical expression. Today, ad orientem is understood more often in a symbolic sense, with everyone facing the same direction even if it’s not always geographical East. I pray that this Advent might be a fruitful time to “reorient” our lives on the truth on the return of Jesus in glory. I pray that it might be a time for all of us to remember where we are going.

Homily 332 – Who Has the Power? – Christ the King

November 20th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Christ in MajestyWe’ve spent a lot of time lately focusing on political power and who should be allowed to exercise power. In some ways, the same questions that have existed from the founding of our country continue to be debated. How much power should the government have? Should the federal government be strong or weak? Part of the reason for these debates is because we fear what might happen if a tyrant would become too powerful and abuse power.

While skepticism is necessary and healthy in political debate, when it comes to Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, there is no reason for fear. Jesus has all the power and yet he only uses his power for our good. If we surrender our lives to his power, we can only come out victorious. The question then for us is are we willing to trust in Jesus our king or will we insist on doing things our way? Finding meaning in our life ultimately comes down to the most important fundamental question, “Who has the power?”

Homily 331 – Be a Hero – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 6th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Arlington FallThe readings this weekend remind us of the reality of heaven. There really is life after death. The brothers in our first reading are willing to lay down their lives because they trust so much in the life to come. This week, our country honors our veterans. They too have been willing to make great sacrifices, even that of their own lives, in defense of others.

The number one thing that disrupts our relationship with God and will prevent us from being in heaven with him is selfishness. Our veterans inspire us because of their heroic detachment to the things us this world. We pray especially for our veterans who died in battle. May they know the reality of the resurrection. May all of us be inspired by their example to be unselfish and to be a hero.

Homily 330 – Priesthood Sunday – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 30th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Tanner's BaptismToday we give thanks for the priesthood, instituted by Jesus Christ, and continuing to bring his power to the world 2000 years later. When we think of priests, we probably think first of the ones we have known. Jesus chooses some diverse men to be priests, and today we stop and give thanks. We thank most especially the great high priest, Jesus Christ.

Homily 329 – Socially Unacceptable Dynamite – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 23rd, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

DynamiteFor the past six weeks, we have been reading from the letters of St. Paul to Timothy. Today we come to the end of these letters, wherein Paul gives us what is often referred to as his “last will and testament.” He knows he’s about to be executed, and he sums up his life saying, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” What a blessing to come to the end of life with such a clean conscience. What is also so amazing is that, in spite of all the hardships Paul has had to endure, he still has great trust in God to deliver him. Yet Paul has never looked for deliverance from earthly hardship; he wants only to be delivered safely to heaven.

The lives of St. Paul and the other apostles remind us that, when the gospel is preached, it is often met with opposition. The Greek word used to describe their preaching is dynamis, “power,” the same found in the root of the word “dynamite.” When the gospel is preached, things should explode! Sadly, today it seems we expect, and maybe even hope, that nothing will happen as a result of our preaching. We like blending in and leading our lives in relative tranquility without “making waves.” We certainly hope to avoid “explosions.” This may be “safe,” but it is not what we’re called to be.

This past week, emails in the “Wikileaks” scandal revealed some of the thoughts of politically influential people about Catholics. There were many bigoted, hateful, anti-Catholic comments. Yet this is not what caught my attention. Political leaders despising Catholics is nothing new. It was certainly not unusual for St. Paul and has been the norm in much of history. What really bugged me was a comment speculating as to why so many “respectable” people are Catholic. One high level politician suggested that it’s because Catholicism is “the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion… Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.”

This really bugged me because it says that, in the view of outsiders, the Catholic Church has become just a “socially acceptable” little club. You can have a little bit of your religion and still compromise enough to blend in perfectly with society. This attitude would have been very foreign to St. Paul who certainly never experienced the faith as “socially acceptable.” Yet I think the comment reflects a sad reality. We as Catholics have compromised the faith so much that indeed we do just blend in with everyone else. Look at all the Catholics who say, “I’m Catholic…BUT…I’m also pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-gay marriage, etc.” The gospel has been robbed of it’s dynamis and instead of exploding and bumping up against the culture, we have become “socially acceptable,” while settling for lives less and less acceptable to God. Again, it’s not unusual that political leaders would be anti-Catholic. What is new, and scandalous, is that now Catholics actually vote for these people.

If we look only at the national or world picture, it would be easy to get depressed. We can’t change the world overnight by ourselves, but we can change us. We can change our families. How in your own family have you compromised the dynamis of the faith so as to just go with the flow? Do you fall into the “Catholic…BUT” crowd? We change the culture one person and one family at a time. So, as St. John Paul II reminded us 38 years ago this weekend, “Do not be afraid!” Your life may end up looking more like St. Paul’s. You may wind up getting beaten, and bruised, and left for dead. Good! This means you’re doing it right. Persevere. Don’t give up. Don’t compromise the dynamis of the gospel. Then, at the end of your life, you too will be able to say like St. Paul, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Options for the Undecided Voter

October 16th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Undecided VoterThe Final (Prudential) Judgment

For almost every Presidential election I can remember, deciding who to vote for has been a fairly easy task. There have been only two realistic candidates. One candidate favors abortion and other intrinsic evils, and belongs to a party that also supports those things. The other candidate, while not perfect, at least pretends to be pro-life and belongs to a party that, at least in their platform, is also pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family, etc. This choice has largely been a no-brainer. Even if I liked some other things about the first candidate, issues of life made it impossible for any Christian with a properly formed conscience to vote for him.

This year’s election is different. I will say in complete honesty that, with three weeks to go, I am still undecided. Based on conversations, this describes a lot of people, especially faithful Catholics. Therefore, I thought I would create this post, not to tell you who to vote for, but to explain some of the thoughts that are influencing me right now and what my decision-making process looks like. It’s easy to say what to do when things are black and white, but what about times when good Catholics can disagree and we’re left to prudential judgment? Well, here’s an example of one Catholic’s prudential judgment in action.

Clinton vs. Trump

Clinton is everything I described in the first paragraph and worse. She is, without doubt, the worst and most damaging Presidential candidate the Democrats have ever put forth. With the potential of four vacancies on the Supreme Court and her desire for activist judges, the damage of a Clinton presidency cannot be overstated.

Normally, the above would therefore mean an easy vote for the Republican nominee. However, I have often told people that the life issues have nothing to do with partisan politics. If the Republicans put up a pro-abortion candidate, I’ve always said that you would then see a bunch of Catholics prefer the Democratic party, especially if the Democrats could manage to tolerate a pro-life candidate. For the record, I have serious doubts that Trump is really pro-life. With that said, I also have to admit that it is at least possible that he really is pro-life or at least would favor laws that respect life.

In summary, we know the evil that Clinton would do, and we at least have some hope that Trump would do some good. Therefore, if the Presidential race is really only a two-person race, I think you have to vote for Trump.

A Broken 2-Party System

Given what I just said, the important question then is, “Is the Presidential race really only a two-person race when it comes to the general election?” In the past, my answer to this question has always been an emphatic “yes.” You can fight things out in the primaries to get it down to two candidates. But, when it comes to the general election, our “winner take all” system of the electoral college means that no third party candidate has a realistic chance of getting elected.

I have often told people that if the election comes down to “Hitler vs. Stalin” you can pick one. They’re both evil, but if you get a chance to minimize the evil by picking the lesser of two evils, then you can pick one. Some people will say that choosing the “lesser of two evils” is still choosing evil. This is not true. You have to consider what choice you are actually being asked to make.

If the choice is “Who do you think should be President?” without further qualification, then you should vote for someone who is your ideal candidate. However, when it comes to the general election, I believe that our choice is no longer “Who do you want to be President?” but is instead “Which of these two do you want to be President?” While it is still possible to vote for someone else, there is so little possibility of having any success, that it is a practically non-existent option. We have to play the game we are given and, like it or not, in the general election the choice we are given is, in almost every case, “Pick one or the other.”

In order to vote for someone other than the two major party candidates in the general election, there would have to be some probability of success. There would have to be some outcome that would balance out the apparent forfeiture of the chance to minimize evil.

An Unprecedented Election

Like most Americans, I cannot believe that the two candidates we have are the real candidates for President. Clinton may be the worst candidate in history, but Trump may be the second worst. It’s an embarrassment around the world that these two deeply flawed people are left running for office. Is this really the best America has to offer? Can we find no one else to run for President?

While I believe my description of the 2-party system above is accurate, I have always disliked it. It forces us to conform into being “all this” or “all that.” There’s no room for pro-life candidates in the Democratic Party, and people who favor immigrants and certain programs for the poor find little welcome in the Republican Party. If ever there were a year when I thought we could blow up the 2-party system, I thought this was it.

If everyone in America could vote for either Clinton, Trump, or None of the Above, we all know that “none of the above” would win in a landslide.

So how do we fix this? Unfortunately, I think that the answer is probably not to be found in how we vote in the general election. There were clearly flaws in the primary system that led to these candidates. On the Democratic side, we now know that Clinton had the help of the DNC in making sure that Sanders never had a chance. On the Republican side, the media built up Trump the whole primary season giving him the appearance of legitimacy. The “Trump vote” was always around 30% while the “Not Trump” vote was 70% but split among 16 other candidates. By the time the “Not Trump” vote was able to coalesce, it was too late.

So maybe this was a year of failed primaries. Still, I think it’s bigger than that. Major changes to the “winner take all” system are going to be required in order to have more diversity of candidates. It may take amending the Constitution to fix this, but we only need look at these two candidates to see how necessary change is.

So What About November?

I indicated above my feelings about voting for a third party in the general election. I have always advised against it. However, I have also said that this is an unprecedented election. In fact, this election is so unprecedented, that I am actually considering breaking my own rule. Here is what I would want my vote to do:

I absolutely do not want Clinton to be elected. Therefore, if the vote is close between Clinton and Trump, I would vote for Trump.

However, I live in Kansas. Trump appears to have more than enough votes to win. Therefore, I want to vote in such a way that the Republican Party gets the message that people are a lot more loyal to the values they think the party stands for than to the party itself. The Republican Party is not my team. If the Democrats could become pro-life and pro-family then they would become a viable option for Catholics with well-formed consciences. Both parties need to get this message.

Finally, to the extent possible, I want my vote to show my dissatisfaction with the two-party, winner take all, system. I want to blow the whole thing up. I would love to see there be no majority winner on election day and have the House elect the people’s preferred choice, “none of the above,” whoever that might be.

So, for the first time in my life, I’d have to say that I’m leaning toward voting for a third party candidate. I wouldn’t propose this to everyone. It depends on your state and if the race is closely split between Clinton and Trump. In the end, this is not about “voting for the best candidate.” That’s not the choice we’re given. This is about being as wise as serpents, playing within the rules of the game, to achieve the most favorable outcome. I don’t know exactly what that looks like in your situation, but these have been some of my thoughts. Secretly, I’m still kind of praying that “something” will happen… like the stage collapsing at the final debate or, my favorite, “Giant Meteor 2016: Just end it already.” In the event that we do end up having to vote in a few weeks, I hope the above was helpful.

Resources

Here’s an article on the mathematics of third party voting that I found helpful:

How Not To Waste Your Vote: A Mathematical Analysis

And here’s an example of how third party voting could hypothetically find success in this year’s election:

A Stupid-Simple Way Out Of Trump Vs. Hillary 2016

Homily 328 – Where We Got the Bible and What To Do With It – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 16th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Monk WritingIn today’s second reading, St. Paul reminds St. Timothy about the importance of Sacred Scripture. As Catholics, we can fall into the tendency of focusing on Mass and the sacraments and thinking that these are the primary tools for growth in holiness. What a terrible thing it would be for us to neglect the Sacred Scripture in favor of things that seem more routine. While the Mass is obviously filled with readings from the Bible, how much time do you really spend studying those readings and praying with them?

Today’s homily is a short introduction to the Bible. One of the most important things we need to keep in mind is the context from which the Bible came. The Bible is not the complete instruction book for life. So first we consider where the Bible came from. The same authority that gave us the Bible remains the authority we need to interpret the Bible today. That authority is the Catholic Church. After we understand this, the homily moves on to talk about the important concepts of “inspiration” and “inerrancy,” and then finishes with some practical tips. Let’s heed St. Paul’s words to St. Timothy and give the reading and study of Sacred Scripture the important place in our lives it deserves.

Homily 327 – Lessons from Lepers – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 9th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Ten LepersBoth the first reading and the gospel today involve lepers as the star characters. Today’s homily highlights three lessons that we might learn from the figures.

First, humility. It’s takes great humility for the lepers to come out of their hiding and protected places to seek healing. They know they are sick and are humble enough to get admit they need help.

Second, identity. When you read the Scripture, who do you normally identify with? It seems most people like stories of Jesus comforting people, but why does no one ever identify themselves with the Jewish leaders to whom Jesus has some pretty harsh words at times? It’s the foreigners in today’s readings who come out on top not the leaders. Be careful whom you identify with in the Scripture.

Finally, consistency. Neither Naaman nor lepers in the gospel were cured in an extravagant way, just the simple washing in the river or in the command to go to the priests. Sometimes we might want God to heal us or make us holy in some grand display of power, but normally he works slowly, through our consistent willingness to do little things. This is the “Little Way” of St. Therese and the surest path to holiness.

Humility, identity, and consistency. Three important lessons from the lepers in today’s reading.

Homily 326 – Do Something for Life – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 2nd, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Tragic PreludeThe first Sunday in October has been designated in the United States as “Respect Life Sunday.” While much progress has been made in this area since the passing of Roe v. Wade, there remain many causes for concern. At the time of the Civil War, many people fought to protect the right to own slaves using the false teaching that African Americans were not actually people. Kansas can be proud that we fought against this nonsense. The label “Free State” is now proudly etched in our history.

Sadly, in our present day, people are again trying to say that some people are not people, whether it be the baby in his or her mother’s womb, or the elderly who no longer fit the definition of what society considers “useful.” At the time of the Civil War, abolitionists like John Brown of local fame here in Osawatomie, stood up against injustice. Many people today are opposed to abortion, but it is necessary to do more than simply be personally opposed. We’ve got to be like John Brown and actually do something about it. While we may not agree with all his tactics, we have to emulate his fervor. He was willing to give his life rather than sit idly by and tolerate injustice.

Despite setbacks, we know that we can’t measure success based on worldly terms. We must be faithful and each of us do what we can. John Brown’s apparent failure at Harper’s Ferry and subsequent execution finally sparked the Civil War that ended slavery. God will use even apparent failures to bring about his plan, as is evident in an amazing story I share in today’s homily. More and more people are coming to see the injustice present today that denies so many people their human dignity. This is wonderful. Now, go out and do something about it!