Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

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Homily 131 – 2nd Sunday of Advent

Posted: December 5th, 2010, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

O Christmas Stump

One can hardly imagine Christmas without the traditional symbol of the Christmas tree. However, in today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah gives us an even greater symbol for this time of year…the “Christmas stump.”

Isaiah prophesies that “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.” Jesse was the father of King David. David was of course the greatest king in the history of Israel. It was to David that God made the special promise that one of his heirs would always be seated on his throne ruling over God’s people. By the time of Isaiah, David’s family tree should have been, figuratively speaking, a huge and stately tree. So why a stump?

Sadly, God’s people quickly turned away from God and his promises. By the time of Isaiah, the dynasty of David had been destroyed through division and exile. It was no more than a stump. Yet, in the midst of this despair, Isaiah prophesies that the tree is not dead. In fact, a shoot will sprout from this stump of Jesse. This shoot is the coming messiah, the everlasting king to rule of God’s people forever just as he had promised.

Jesus is this shoot prophesied by Isaiah. Just as the people of Israel looked with hope for the coming of the messiah, so we too wait expectantly during this Advent for the coming of Jesus. Just as Isaiah prophesied hope in the midst of sadness, a shoot from an apparently dead stump, so we too must look to Jesus to be our hope in the midst of our own struggles and difficulties.

Today, the Church extends it’s branches to every corner of the world just as God promised David so long ago. We have our king Jesus, a descendant of David, ruling over all peoples everywhere. If our life seems to be more like a stump than a fruitful tree right now, Isaiah’s prophecy is our answer; Jesus is the answer. Have hope. From this stump will come a shoot.

Homily 130 – 1st Sunday of Advent

Posted: November 28th, 2010, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

3 Guides for Advent

The Thanksgiving holiday is often a time known for stuffing ourselves with turkey, cranberries, pumpkin pie, and a whole host of other delectable cuisine. If we were to have a mascot for this 1st Sunday of Advent it seems that a big stuffed turkey would fit nicely. Yet now in the Church we begin something new. A new liturgical year has begun and the new season of Advent calls for something different than the Thanksgiving feasting we’ve been doing since Thursday. The Church gives us three rather counter-cultural guides through the season, the prophet Isaiah, St. John the Baptist, and our Blessed Mother Mary.

In today’s first reading, Isaiah calls us to focus on the mountain of the Lord. It’s difficult to climb a mountain, but Isaiah beckons us up. From the top of a mountain you gain perspective. You are able to look forward and backward, to see where you’ve come from and where you’re going. Advent is a time for gaining some perspective and taking the time to contemplate in quiet as on a mountaintop with God.

Secondly, we have St. John the Baptist. Whereas everyone seems to be running busily and buying things, eating large feasts, and trying to accumulate presents, we instead find John in the wilderness. He gets away from it all and goes out to eat locusts and wild honey. That’s the true food of Advent. John’s great message to us is simple, “repent.” Perhaps the path to God is a little crooked. Take some time this Advent to turn back to God, to get to confession. The real threat to our Christmas joy will not be a lack of presents, but a lack of repentance.

Finally, Mary is the star of the season of Advent. She lives simply in a little cave in Nazareth where, in the peace and quiet, she is able to hear God’s voice. She encounters the angel Gabriel and says yes to God’s plan. Above all, Mary is marked by great joy. We’ve all got to have the joyful longing for the birth of Jesus the way Mary did as she carried him in her womb. Notice too that in her joy Mary’s first thought is to run to help her cousin Elizabeth. Rather than selfishly focusing on herself as is so easy to do during Advent, Mary is thinking of how to help others, how she herself can be a present to someone else. Acts of charity are so important to having a good Advent.

These three great figures of the story of Christmas are our guides through this season. If we follow society we are likely to arrive at Christmas day worn out, tied from all the partying and shopping, and probably broke. Let’s instead follow the example of Isaiah, John, and Mary. If we do that, we will arrive at Christmas spiritually filled, full of God’s presence, and ready to begin celebrating.

Homily 129 – Christ the King

Posted: November 21st, 2010, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Now but Not Yet

As we celebrate this last Sunday in Ordinary Time we honor Jesus Christ our King. We celebrate and look forward to his return in glory. Yet we also prepare to “start over” at the beginning as the season of Advent begins next weekend. So is it the end or the beginning? Well, it’s both. The kingdom of God which we celebrate is truly present “now,” but is also “not yet” fully here and is still coming. This is the tension that we live in as we continue our pilgrimage through time.

Our church building actually helps us to keep our focus on the end. When we enter the church building we are, for a brief period, leaving the outside world and are able to touch heaven. Whenever we gather for Mass, we come from the “not yet” of our everyday life, with all its sufferings and struggles, into the eternal “now” celebrated in the liturgy where heaven touches earth and Jesus Christ truly reigns as king. As we enter the church we may not think much about the door through which we enter, but it has a significance. In traditional architecture the door to a church is often designed the reflect that of the classical “triumphal arch” such as the Arch of Constantine in Rome with its three gates. This is to remind us that as we enter the church, we do so a victors. We are triumphant in the victory that Christ has won for us.

Our church building also points us to the “not yet” of Christ’s reign. We still await his return in glory. Churches used to be built facing toward the east and both the priest and the people faced east together in one procession. As the fathers of the Church teach, Jesus ascended to the east and promised to return just as he went. We look to the east with great expectation. Just as the sun rises in the east bringing the hope of a new day, so too we look to the east awaiting the new day of the return of the king. We likewise remember that the Garden of Eden was in the east and thus we are reminded here we are in exile and long for our true home with God.

While we eagerly await the return of Jesus Christ our King we also know that with his return comes judgement. As we look to the east we traditionally see on the wall the cross, the symbol of our victory. It reminds us that we have a king that gives us only the rules that will help us and, even when we break them, he takes the punishment on himself. We must do our part as we make our way through the “not yet” of this world, but God’s mercy also allows us to be eager in expecting the return of Jesus Christ the King.

Homily 128 – 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted: November 14th, 2010, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Expecting Fire

Today’s Gospel paints what seems to be a pretty bleak picture of discipleship. If you follow Jesus, he promises that everyone will hate you and you’ll be killed. Rather than happy days without end, Jesus promises his followers suffering and trials. As we come to the end of our liturgical year, we should see these sufferings not as a destructive force, but rather as a purifying fire.

We tend to look at a forest fire and immediately want to put it out. Yet, sometimes a fire is exactly what the forest needs to be healthy. The fire burns up all the dead wood and debris and all the undesirable plants and trees. In the process seeds are released for new trees. The fire actually rejuvenates the forest even as it seemingly destroys.  God’s love for us is a lot like this. He is a purifying fire that wants to burn up all the selfishness and sin that threatens to choke out the beautiful forest of his grace.

At the end of the Gospel Jesus reminds us that, in the face of all the suffering and trials, there is one thing we must do…persevere. The Greek work for perseverance (hypomone) implies patiently baring with difficulty, holding out until the end. Yet it also has a second meaning. It also means waiting expectantly, longing, hoping. We don’t just bear the difficulties of life with no purpose. They point us forward to a time when there will be no more suffering. We need a longing for the coming of that day.

The prophet Malachi in the first reading speaks of the coming of this day. There will be fire like an oven, but for those who love God he tells us that the “sun of justice” will comfort us with his “healing rays.” As we go through the difficulties of this life we’ve got to have our eyes fixed on the east, awaiting the rising of the sun of justice. This is the day of the coming of our king that will end all the suffering in his healing rays and bring about a new heavens and a new earth. We celebrate his feast next week with the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Until then, our task is clear. Hypomone…perseverance…enduring and longing. “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Homily 127 – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted: November 7th, 2010, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

A Marriage Proposal from God

In today’s Gospel, some of the Jewish leaders try to trap Jesus in what appears to be a debate about marriage laws. However, the supposed question is really a subtle attack on the teaching about the resurrection. Jesus of course does not fall into the trap. Rather, as he so often does, he turns the tables and uses it as an opportunity for teaching. However, Jesus’ answer to the question might create even more questions for us. He says simply that in heaven there is no marriage.

Given all the beautiful things the Church teaches about marriage, what is Jesus trying to say here? If marriage is so holy, why would there not be marriage in heaven? The key here is to understand that when we acknowledge that marriage is a sacrament, we are saying that it is a sacred sign. It is a sign that points to something else. In the case of marriage, the sign of the love between spouses in this world is meant to point us to the love of God.

The reason that there is no marriage in heaven is because in heaven it will be as though we are all married to God. The intimate union of life and love shared between spouses is only a foreshadowing and small part of the infinite love of God we are all meant to experience in heaven. This truth helps make sense of the celibate vocation as well. The celibate priest or religious forgoes the earthly sign of marriage to point to the heavenly reality.

In this month of November, we begin by recognizing all the saints. They remind us that heaven is our goal. Let us pray that during this month we might stir up a great desire for heaven, to pray for the poor souls in purgatory, that one day we will all be together at the heavenly marriage feast.

Homily 126 – 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted: October 31st, 2010, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Priesthood Sunday

This Sunday the Church gives us a day to celebrate priesthood. It also happens that All Saints Day is tomorrow. As we look at the history of the priesthood we are thankful for all the great saints that God has called to this ministry and the many ordinary priests that have impacted our lives.

When we look at the beginning of the New Testament priesthood, we of course look at the apostles. If one were going to pick the perfect group of people to lead a new church, one can hardly imagine picking this group. One would expect to find Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes. Certainly if one were looking for someone perfect, the Blessed Mother would have been the ideal priest. Instead we find this imperfect and sinful bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, and even traitors. What was Jesus thinking?

Perhaps his was thinking that he wanted it to be perfectly clear that the Church will not achieve its mission and be successful because of the superb and perfect leadership of its priests. No, the Church is what it is today solely because of Jesus Christ, the one perfect high priest. Priesthood Sunday is necessarily a celebration of the priesthood of Jesus.

As we look beyond the apostles, we find quite a diverse group of saints who were priests. We’ve got great intellectual powerhouses like St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine. We’ve got humble confessors like the Cure of Ars and heroic martyrs like St. Maximilian Kolbe. Yet, probably the priests that are most special to us are the ones we have known, the ones that have touched our lives.

Today we are grateful for all those priest who have been there to help us when we’re down, to share our joys, to provide wise counsel, and to provide the sacraments. Priests have always been just your average sinners that God chooses to do something miraculous. Pray for them today. Pray for more of them. Most of all, be thankful today for the gift of the priesthood.

The Beautiful Hands of a Priest

We need them in life’s early morning,
We need them again at its close;
We feel their warm clasp of true friendship,
We seek it while tasting life’s woes.

When we come to this world we are sinful,
The greatest as well as the least.
And the hands that make us pure as angels
Are the beautiful hands of a priest.

At the altar each day we behold them,
And the hands of a king on his throne
Are not equal to them in their greatness
Their dignity stands alone.

For there in the stillness of morning
Ere the sun has emerged from the east,
There God rests between the pure fingers
Of the beautiful hands of a priest.

When we are tempted and wander
To pathways of shame and sin
‘Tis the hand of a priest that absolve us.
Not once but again and again.

And when we are taking life’s partner
Other hands may prepare us a feast
But the hands that will bless and unite us,
Are the beautiful hands of a priest.

God bless them and keep them all holy,
For the Host which their fingers caress,
What can a poor sinner do better
Than to ask Him who chose them to bless

When the death dews on our lids are falling,
May our courage and strength be increased
By seeing raised o’er us in blessing
The beautiful hands of a priest.

Homily 125 – 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted: October 24th, 2010, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

The Fight, The Race, and the Faith

In today’s second reading, St. Paul writes to his beloved disciple Timothy and offers a sort of farewell address. In summing up his life, St. Paul beautifully states that he has “fought the good fight,” “run the race,” and “kept the faith.”

St. Paul reminds us that this life is not all about peace and contentment. It’s a fight, a battle. We’ve got to fight and fight hard and it will at times be tough. Today we often make the mistake of thinking that if there is conflict that something has gone wrong. St. Paul promises that there will indeed be conflict. St. Paul did not die at peace with all men; he had real enemies…and so will we. The point is not avoid having enemies, but to make sure that we have the right enemies.

Related to fighting the good fight, St. Paul urges us to run the race to the finish. Life can be long and monotonous like a marathon. We might be tempted to get tied and stop running, to give up. We’ve got to keep running, to get past “the wall” and catch our second wind.

Finally, St. Paul tells us that he kept the faith. As he is near his death he has no possesions. He doesn’t even have his freedom. Objectively speaking it would appear that he has nothing to “leave behind” to Timothy. Yet, despite this, St. Paul does have one treasured possesion that he has faithfully kept. He has kept the faith. This is what he leaves to Timothy and it is what has been left to us. The faith is our great inheritence. We pray that when we die, we can also be proud to have passed on the faith to our children, that we can say with St. Paul that we too have fought the good fight, run the race, and kept the faith.

Homily 124 – 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted: October 17th, 2010, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

A God of Opportunities

Sometimes it seems as though God does not hear our prayers. We pray and pray about things that are really important but there seems to be no answer, or at least not the answer we want. We might be tempted to grow weary and quit praying. We might even get mad at God. This reminded me of the movie Evan Almighty from 2006. There is a great scene where Evan’s wife and “God” sit down to talk. Joan had prayed that God would bring the family closer together, but things don’t seem to be going well. “God” (Morgan Freeman) then has this wonderful line:

“Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”

Sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is just such an opportunity. We’ve all marveled this past week at the minors who were rescued in Chile. Interviews have shown that the minors learned two very important things while they were trapped. They learned that they needed God most of all and, secondly, that they needed other people. One can hardly think of two more important things in life to realize. Yet, how many of us would have prayed that God trap us in a mine for two months for God to teach us this? This difficult situation actually turned into one of God’s “opportunities.”

We may not ever be stuck in a mine, but each of us needs to find time to learn the important things in life, like God and family. The next time you’re praying for something, don’t be surprised if God chooses to answer your prayer with one of his famous “opportunities.”

Homily 123 – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted: October 10th, 2010, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Who Do You Have to Thank?

Today we read in our gospel about 10 lepers who are all healed by Jesus. However, only one returns to thank Jesus. We might look at this and think the the moral of the story is clear; 1 leper is thankful and 9 are ungrateful. Maybe there’s a deeper message. I would think that all 10 lepers were very thankful. The difference with the one that comes back is that he knows not only what he is thankful for, but he knows to whom he has to go to offer that thanks.

Like the lepers, we too have much for which we should be thankful. Likewise we need to realize the one to whom we owe our thanks. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. It is God that deserves our thanks and the Eucharist is the perfect place to offer that thanks.

A Baby Hippo Could Save Your Marriage

Posted: September 28th, 2010, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

A baby hippopotamus was born recently at the Topeka Zoo. While hippos may not be the most attractive of God’s creatures, you have to admit that this little guy is cute. His birth, however, created quite a stir at the zoo because his arrival was a complete surprise. The zoo had recently acquired a male hippo, Tucker, to accompany the already resident female hippo, Mara. On the surface it doesn’t seem so surprising that a new little baby hippo would result. However, this situation has a few twists and the facts may just save your marriage.

You see, the zoo keepers didn’t want Mara getting pregnant so they were giving her a high dose of a contraceptive grain. The comments of a zoo official caught my attention.

“They had noticed that Mara and Tucker were beginning to try and mate, so they wanted to make sure they were giving her the right amount of grain.”

That seems logical enough. If two hippos are going to mate and you don’t want a pregnancy you should make sure that the female is on the correct dose of contraception, right? The following comment throws the first one into a whole new light.

“[T]hey…upped the grain and Tucker seemed to not want to mate anymore so that was a good sign that it was working.”

Did you catch that? The fact that Tucker was interested in mating with Mara was a sign to the zoo keepers that something must be wrong with the contraception. They knew they had fixed the problem when Tucker lost interest in Mara. This reminded me of something that I had learned about contraception within human relationships a long time ago.

I was once at a conference with the famous Theology of the Body scholar Mary Shivanandan. She presented a scientific study on the use of contraception throughout the world and one particular stat has stuck with me to this day. She presented the findings of a study that showed that couples who practice Natural Family Planning have sex way more often than couples who use contraception. I assumed this had to with the greater relational communication that is required of couples using NFP as well as just the more authentic love that is expressed among these couples.

Fast forward a few years and I was at another conference listening to the equally famous Janet Smith talking on contraception. She presented a study done with monkeys in which a male monkey was placed in an environment with multiple female monkeys. When the females were given contraception, the male monkey lost all interest in the females, began engaging in sexual acts by himself and then eventually with other male monkeys. A farmer pointed out that anyone who works with animals knows that “when a cow is in heat the bull will practically rip down the fence to get to her.”

These two conferences came back to me when I read the story of the new baby hippo. Zoo keepers are smart enough to know that males are attracted to females that are fertile, but not to females that are infertile. This is part of God’s design. When is a female infertile for an extended period? When she’s pregnant. That’s how contraception works. It tricks the woman’s body into thinking she’s pregnant…for a long time. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the zoo keepers misjudged the hippos. When Tucker lost interest in Mara they thought it was because they had gotten the contraception right. The truth was that Mara was not experiencing the “fake” pregnancy of contraception but was actually pregnant. The symptoms are the same.

Think today about how many people use contraception because they want to have sex more often and whenever they want. They think that NFP would mean less sex, less often. The studies above and the new hippo show why this is completely backward. We tend to think that we know everything about how our bodies work and that we are in control. The truth is that things are way more complicated than we realize, especially when it comes to attraction among men and women. Even the sense of smell plays an important role. Contraception messes up God’s design in ways we don’t even understand. We should, however, be smart enough to learn a lesson from some hippos.

Zoo keepers knew the contraception was inadequate when Tucker wanted to mate with Mara and they knew that it was working properly when Tucker lost interest. Women, does it seem that your husband has lost interest in you or that your love life just doesn’t have the excitement that it should? It may be surprising, but some hippos may just save your marriage.