Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

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Homily 338 – Lots to Celebrate – New Year’s Day

January 1st, 2017, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

MaryToday’s celebration is actually the confluence of several events. On the secular side, it’s New Year’s Day, a chance to flip the calendar and start over. In the Church, today is the “Octave of Christmas,” the eigth day after Christmas. This marks the end of an intense celebration as though every day were Christmas for the past eight days. With it being eight days since the birth of Jesus, every good Jew would know that today also marks the day of the circumcision of Jesus and the day that he was officially given his name. Today is also the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and even a day of prayer for world peace.

Today’s homily looks briefly at each of these events that we celebrate today. With so much going on, what better example could we have than Mary who, we are told, “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” I pray that each of you will find some quiet time to do the same. Happy New Year!

Homily 337 – The Joy of Scrooge – Christmas

December 25th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Scrooge“Marley was dead: to being with… There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

With these famous lines from the beginning of “A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens goes to great pain to repeat and make clear that a man is dead. The reason for his insistence will become clear in just a few pages when this same man, who was “as dead as a door-nail,” appears seemingly alive again and talking with Scrooge in his bedroom. A wonder indeed!

After the story of Christmas related in St. Luke’s gospel tonight, perhaps the second best known story of Christmas in English is the story of “A Christmas Carol.” Just the name Scrooge brings to mind one of the greatest Christmas villains of all time. In a spiritual sense, we could say that Scrooge too was “dead… as dead as a door-nail” or at least close. Yet, at the heart of this timeless story is conversion, redemption and mercy. As we celebrate Christmas this year in the Jubilee of Mercy, I see three key lessons from the story of Scrooge that can benefit all of us.

1 ) Scrooge was bad and he didn’t hide it. He didn’t try to fake it, pretending to be a good person. He hated Christmas and everyone knew it. Like Marley who was repeatedly said to be dead…before he was alive again…we have to acknowledge where we are dead. We have to acknowledge how bad things really are in certain areas. Recognizing our fallenness and need for mercy is the critical first step, “or nothing wonderful can come of the story” God is going to work in our lives. Scrooge was not so good and, in many ways, neither are we. That is the truth.

2) Scrooge couldn’t save himself. In fact, he didn’t really even know how bad his life had become. This is why Marley was sent to him in the first place, to warn him. In addition to the ghost of Marley, Scrooge is visited by three “spirits” who use the past, present, and future, to help heal him. This is a beautiful example of God’s mercy. Scrooge couldn’t do it on his own and neither can we. Providentially, we too have guardian angel spirits and saints in heaven to intercede and help us. We need to call for help and beg God to visit us with his mercy precisely because we can’t save ourselves.

3) The future can be better than the past or the present. Scrooge finally realizes what his selfishness has done not only to all those around him, but to himself as well. When he has this amazing conversion, his most earnest wish is that his future can be different. This is the greatest gift of God’s mercy: It doesn’t matter what has been our past or what sins presently afflict us. Scrooge is given a new beginning. “Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!” God gives us this same chance each day.

It was said of Scrooge that “he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.” Because Scrooge started so bad, his transformation is all the more amazing. The same is possible for all of us. Maybe we’re not as bad as Scrooge, but we don’t want anything to hold us back from the true joy of Christmas. The days before us are our own. Let’s begin with a thankful heart just as was given to Scrooge and “may God bless us, everyone.”

Homily 336 – God Is With Us – 4th Sunday of Advent

December 18th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

God With UsHow can it be that so many people were not able to recognize Jesus as the Messiah when he came? This is one of the great mysteries of God’s plan of salvation. He spent thousands of years preparing his chosen people to be ready for the coming of the Messiah. Yet, when at last he came, many people missed it. Jesus was not the type of Messiah they were looking for. They expected someone who would come and overthrow the Romans and reestablish a new king on the thrown of David. In short, they expected the Messiah to come and “fix” everything.

Today’s readings give us a special title that more appropriately describes the Messiah; he is to be “Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” Jesus didn’t come to “fix” everything. He didn’t come to take away all the pain and suffering in the world. Rather than take it away or fix it, instead he said, “I am with you.” The great hope we have now is not that the world will be perfect or that our lives will be perfect. Rather, we have the sure knowledge that we don’t go through this alone. God is with us.

One of the most important things to us then as Christians is to know the presence of God in our lives. Especially when things seem to be going wrong and we need help, we need to call out for God. We can even ask for a sign, like we see promised in our first reading. God always answers our prayers, even if the answer isn’t what we were expecting. God may not fix our problems, but we can have peace and joy nonetheless, because we know that God is with us.

Homily 335 – Top Tips for Confession – 3rd Sunday of Advent

December 11th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

No AxesMost people know that being Catholic means that we have a serious obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. However, even Catholics who are great about getting to Mass sometimes have trouble getting to confession regularly. There could be any number of reasons for this, and today’s homily is designed to tackle some of the potential obstacles that might get in the way of receiving God’s mercy in this challenging but beautiful Sacrament of Penance.

In the past, we’ve talked about about this sacrament more from the theological standpoint. Today’s homily is very practical. You might call it, “Fr. Shawn’s Top Tips for Confession.” They are not in any particular order, but they range from seemingly obvious advice like, “Confess your sins and not some else’s,” all the way down to avoiding the “Sandwich Method” and even taking a tour of the confessional… you know where it is, right?

There should be something here for everyone this week, even if you’re an ax murderer. So, don’t miss the opportunity to get to confession before Christmas, and check out these top tips before you go.

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.”