Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

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Homily 264 – Christmas

Posted: December 25th, 2013, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

The Quest for the Perfect Christmas

Each year I set out on a secret quest to try to celebrate the “perfect” Christmas. I begin with careful mixes of Christmas music, Christmas cookies, and the right proportion of present buying and present receiving. Try as I might, I don’t think I’ve ever had the “perfect” Christmas. Real life always seems to get in the way. The good news is that the first Christmas wasn’t so perfect in the normal way either. There were a lot of problems with that first Christmas. So, if your Christmas doesn’t seem all that perfect, or if life seems far from perfect right now…don’t worry. Jesus came precisely because things were not perfect; things were a mess really, and in many ways still are. The good news of Christmas is that “A Savior has been born” for us as the shepherds were told. If you feel like your Christmas needs a little saving then the words of the angel are indeed “Good news and great joy.”

Homily 263 – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted: November 10th, 2013, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Courage to Fight

Today’s is the 238th anniversary of the birth of the United States Marine Corps. Tomorrow is also Veterans’ Day. While neither those who serve in uniform nor the Church glorify war, we are rightly inspired by the selfless sacrifice of those who serve in our country’s armed forces. Today’s homily explores some of the important lessons we can learn from our men and women in uniform and how we can better fight so as win the many spiritual battles we face each day as the Church Militant.

A Geek’s Point of View

Posted: October 22nd, 2013, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Obamacare ExplanationAn article headline caught my attention this morning:

Can the geeks fix Obama’s flawed cure-all?

I’m not an expert in economics or healthcare, so I tend not to comment on those things as if I were. However, as a former professional “geek” (i.e. Software Engineer) I might have something constructive to add to the ongoing embarrassment of the Obmacare website.

From my own observations and from what I’ve taken from other software engineering professionals, the Obamacare website failures have nothing to do with volume. It’s not a matter of just “too many people.” Online sites deal with this all the time. There are standard industry practices that learned how to deal with this long ago. This means one of two things:

1) The site is basically fine and the the whole “high traffic” issue is easily isolated to a nicely coded and encapsulated module that just needs to get a little more processing power or be slightly tweaked for efficiency. Maybe the software is fine and it’s all a hardware issue. Get some new servers and all will be well.

2) The lack of ability to follow standard practices with regard to a web site designed for high traffic could point to the overall design and architecture being deficient. It’s not just a volume problem. The whole thing was done too quickly by people who didn’t know what they were doing and the lack of skill is showing up all over, the front end being just the most obvious touch point.

Unfortunately, I think we’re most likely dealing with #2. This was made especially obvious to me the other day when I saw that qualified software engineers were analyzing the code for the site and found that it had been pieced together with little chunks of open source programs the so-called programmers found for free surfing the web. To make matters worse, they were so embarrassed by this fact that they removed even the minimal open source copyright information and illegally stole the code.

It didn’t have to be this way. Online commerce and transaction processing has grown immensely since I left the industry for seminary. People feel safe and secure conducting business via the internet. However, when you look at the Obamacare website, you would think that the last fifteen years never happened. It makes mistakes that were overcome long ago. I fear this does not bode well for what could have been the most important website ever created.

If I had to guess, I would not look for any quick fix for this. It looks like a major architecture problem and a management crisis. Although the President is fond of making problems go away by exerting his power, computers don’t respond to pressure that way. Adding more power to this problem probably won’t fix it.

Maybe I could get a part time job writing code for Obama. I might even write a nice little backdoor function to get me some sweet access. I think I’ll pass. Oh, and don’t worry about all that code they stole from cool websites they found with Google… I’m sure it’s clean and perfectly secure for handling the private medical and financial data of the entire country.

Don’t Put it Off

Posted: October 17th, 2013, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Brother CallistusI admit that I tend to be a procrastinator. It seems so hard to get started some times. These days it tends to be an assignment for Canon Law that slips down the priority list. I suppose it’s one thing to put off doing “stuff,” but sometimes I know that I can be guilty of putting off people as well. That’s not so good.

My new home here in Washington, DC is at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land. Although I haven’t been here that long I have really worked hard to try to get to know the friars of the community. I’m a natural introvert, so going out of my way to strike up conversations with strangers can be hard for me to get started. However, I had the opportunity recently to strike up a conversation with one of the more “experienced” friars here.

Each night before bed I normally head down to the kitchen for a glass of milk. It didn’t take long being here to notice that every night one of the friars was also down in the kitchen washing the little tray of dishes that had piled up after dinner. There he was each night, but I never really talked to him. I kind of felt guilty adding one more glass to his effort. You know it was kind of neat though. This was his niche. His way of contributing each day to the monastery even if his noticeable feeble condition kept him from most other tasks.

One night last week I was down having my milk as normal and it kind of hit me; I see this friar every night and basically just ignore him. I don’t know why I was putting off talking to him. Maybe I was worried that his hearing wasn’t so good and a conversation would be difficult. Whatever it was, I remember telling myself that this was dumb and that I really ought to go at least try to have a conversation. The thought even came to my mind about how I would feel if I passed up talking to him one more time and then found out he died or something. I know…that’s weird…but sometimes thinking about what I would do differently if I knew the world was ending helps me break out of my procrastination.

I finally decided to go talk to him. I introduced myself. He told me his name was Brother Callistus. I thought that was a wonderful name as I admire the martyr Callistus very much. We had a great conversation. We didn’t talk long, but I remember feeling very glad that I had gotten over that ridiculous hurdle. Here was a man with a beautiful history of religious life that I put off talking to for too long.

In the last few days I have become even more appreciative of my brief conversation with Br. Callistus. You see, the next day there was a sign up at the monastery that Br. Callistus had been taken to the hospital. He died earlier this week…on his feast day…the memorial of St. Callistus. We celebrated his funeral today and his body now rests in the cemetery here just a few yards away from where we had our little talk.

Now each night as I head down to the kitchen for a glass of milk before bed, I can’t help but notice the pile of unwashed dishes sitting by a quiet sink and I remember Br. Callistus. I’m glad I didn’t wait one more day. How important it is that we take advantage of the time God gives us and not put off following the little inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

I’ve got a big paper due tomorrow that I’ve been putting off…but it’s almost my bedtime. It’s time to head down for some milk. You know though, I think I might just have enough time tonight to do some dishes in honor of a friar of happy memory. Rest in peace, Br. Callistus. I’m glad we got to talk.

Columbus Shut Down the Government

Posted: October 13th, 2013, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Zoo ClosedI feel like this little kid in the bear suit. If the Air and Space Museum does not open up this week I really don’t know what I will do. I might be able to personally fund one door to the entrance foyer for an hour or so. It seems clear to me right now that the ones responsible for shutting everything down have very little concern for the American people. The only thing that matters here in Washington is figuring out who is “winning.” I know…both sides say that there are no sides and that this isn’t about winning. Well, it is about winning.

The only real reason for trying to make things “as painful as possible” (as one park ranger put it) for the American people is because you think that most people place the blame on the other guy. If you think you’re the good guys then you make it as painful as possible and go on as long as possible all the while salivating over how good you think you look for the next election. In short, the Democrats think that narrative spins in their favor right now so they don’t plan to compromise at all because they think the Republicans look stupid and the longer this goes on the better for the next election.

The bigger question I’m asking these days is, “who creates this narrative?” It seems that comedy shows have endless material available by going out to the streets and asking questions like, “Do you favor ObamaCare or the Affordable Care Act?” or asking people how how they thought Obama did in a debate that hadn’t even taken place yet. There’s no shortage of material for showing just how uninformed…and yet still very opinionated…many Americans are.

So how do people wind up being so absolutely sure of themselves even when they have know idea what they are talking about? It reminds me of a question posed by one of my philosophy classes when I was a brand new seminarian…how do we know what we know? The answer today, although few would be humble enough to admit it, is that we know what we know because the media told us. If your whole life is spent with TV and then someone on TV tells you something is true, well that just ends any debate. Put a “scientist” or a “scholar” on TV…you could tell people the moon was flat and they’d believe it.

As Columbus Day comes up again tomorrow I think we have another good example of the media telling us what we know. I caught some of the ushers this morning before Mass talking about how evil Columbus was. They were even lamenting that they had “fallen for all the hype” when they were in grade school about how great Columbus was. Today they were very proud to reassure each other how smart they had become by realizing that Columbus was really a bad person. Where did they get such an idea? I don’t have to tell you that it probably involved a “scholar” and a TV.

The thing that really strikes me is that no one even stops to question any more “how” they are taking in supposed facts. For hundreds of years Columbus was a hero. He is celebrated enough to have his own holiday on the civil calendar. Now all of the sudden in the last decade he’s become a menace. Regardless of what might actually be true, can we have a little healthy skepticism please? At a time when we see the greatest rise in anti-Catholicism since the founding of our country, is it really just a coincidence that all of the sudden there is no shortage of scholars who want to bash Columbus, the man celebrated for bring Catholicism to this land? Is that really just a coincidence?

We used to be much more careful about how we took in information. Most of what I learned growing up I learned from books. Now I run into no shortage of experts on everything from the so-called “inquisition” to the crusades who have never done any respectable research. Now Columbus is a villain…everybody knows it. It’s the same way that everyone knows who is responsible for shutting down the government. IT WAS COLUMBUS! Trust me…I’m a “scholar” on the internet with a blog.

UPDATE: Since tomorrow, Columbus Day (observed), is a federal holiday, one could in fact say that Columbus did actually shut down the government. Just thought I’d point that out.

You Call This a Shutdown?

Posted: October 2nd, 2013, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

WWII Memorial ClosedHow do you know the federal government has gotten too big? How about if you try to “shut it down” and it actually just gets bigger? Amazingly, that is what’s happening. Consider the World War II memorial here in Washington. Now those of you who have been here know that it is an open plaza. It’s a big plaza with a fountain. That’s it. Now, occasionally you might find a park ranger wandering around to answer questions (I met one at the Vietnam Memorial the other day). So, with the government shut down, one could expect that when you go to the World War II memorial you would not find a ranger there and would have to look at the fountain by yourself. It would be tough, but you could do it.

That, however, is not what has happened. Instead of the normal one park ranger, now that the government is “shut down” you will find up to seven rangers. They’re all busy working overtime to put up fences so people will know that the memorial is closed. As I mentioned, it’s a big open space, so that takes a lot of fences. You need a loader for that. That means more workers. Now, some veterans show up and are pretty upset that they can’t go see their state name etched in the wall and decide they’re going around the barriers. That means that more fences are needed and armed guards. Now, instead of the normal one ranger you’ve got to have at least seven to stand guard over the memorial so that people won’t walk into plaza since it’s “shut down.”

Needless to say that’s just one example. In the end, shutting down the government will have just made it get even bigger and cost more. Oh, and if that doesn’t depress you, consider that while a big field in the middle of Washington is “closed” to “save money,” you can probably bet that somewhere there’s a guy making a million dollars a year to test a new paperclip who has been deemed “too big to fail” who is still getting a paycheck. We’re toast.

Homily 262 – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jayden’s Baptism

Posted: September 28th, 2013, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Jayden's Baptism

Witnessing the Noble Confession

Today I had the joy of baptizing my newest nephew who was born two weeks ago. He’s very cute…which I think he gets from me. I had the added blessing of celebrating the baptism at the same church where I was baptized. I don’t often celebrate baptisms during Mass, but every now and then it’s nice for all of us to be reminded about what it is that is at the center of our faith. The second reading today reminds all of us about the noble confession of faith that was begun at our baptism and which we must renew often.

Not in Kansas Anymore

Posted: August 25th, 2013, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Wizard of Oz Section - American History Museum Gift ShopBeing from Kansas, I’m used to hearing Wizard of Oz references. As soon as I finish telling someone where I’m from, there’s about a 90% chance that they will remind me with a smile, “Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore.” Very creative. You kind of get numb to this stuff and just try to smile and move on. Despite my high tolerance level for all things Wizard of Oz, I had an interesting encounter yesterday that made even me pause for a moment to take it all in.

You see I was visiting the National Museum of American History here in Washington. After my visit I headed down to the gift shop to look for something on President Lincoln. To my amazement, as I walked in the door I was greeted by an entire section¬†devoted to the Wizard of Oz. I’ve been here before and remember some Wiz stuff lying around, but since my last visit they have enlarged the “collection” and moved it right to the front of the store.

I get it…the ruby slippers are on display in the museum here and it’s all very nice. But for goodness sake, this is the Museum of American History…a few more things happened in last 250 years than the Wizard of Oz! Try not to trip over Toto if you want to find something on George Washington. They’ve got this big flag here called the Star Spangled Banner…sure wish I could see some stuff about that.¬†I finally managed to find a few books about Abraham Lincoln shoved in the back of the store and then moved on.

I did actually take another look at the Star Spangled Banner before leaving. I never get tired of seeing it. As I was walking out of the exhibit with my American spirit refreshed, a teenage-looking boy was leaving too and exclaimed, “Well, that was a waste of time.” A little saddened I headed out the front door toward the National Mall. As I continued my quest for patriotism inducing activities, I happened to pass a young girl who I heard declare with great amazement, “I saw the ruby slippers!”

“The” March on Washington

Posted: August 24th, 2013, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

1963 March on WashingtonAs I was preparing to head out the door today to catch the Metro to downtown DC, I discovered that things would be a little busy on the National Mall. It turns out that this Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a Dream” speech. Rather than wait for Wednesday, they are commemorating the anniversary today with a rally.

All over the place the media are referring to the event in 1963 as “The March on Washington.” I remember learning about MLK and his speech, but this was the first time I remember hearing this rather curious title for the whole event. A little research led me to discover that the event in 1963 was billed as the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” I also discovered that the estimated attendance was about 200 to 300 thousand.

Here’s the thing the strikes me: somewhere along the line the media starting referring to this event simply as “The March on Washington,” as if everyone should know exactly what they are referring to. Perhaps the MLK speech does raise it to that sort of rhetorical level. Still, I can’t help but point out that this march of 300 thousand people happened ONCE 50 years ago. There is another march in Washington of over 500 thousand people that happens EVERY year and is about something much more important than jobs or even freedom. I am of course referring to the March for Life.

As important as this Wednesday’s anniversary is, if you were to ask a young person today about “The” March on Washington…there’s a good chance they will assume you mean the March for Life.

Homily 261 – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted: August 11th, 2013, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Evidence for Faith

Often times people of faith are made to believe that scientific knowledge is more believable than the knowledge faith provides. Sometimes, even those who are believers can make the mistake of thinking that faith means accepting things that are irrational or that seem impossible. Today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews assures us that opposite is true.

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, evidence of things invisible.” Science can only tell us about this physical world. By definition, science will never be able to create an experiment that proves or disproves the existence of God. Since God exists outside of the system of our physical world, it takes a different kind of knowing to gain knowledge about God. This way of knowing we call faith, and it is every bit as certain as the knowledge we gain from science. We should never be scared of science. The more we experiment, the more we will see that this visible world points to an invisible reality, even providing evidence for faith.