Posted: October 25th, 2009, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink
Blindness to the Members of God’s Family
After a long exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah brings good news to the Israelites in our first reading today. It’s was time to go back to the promised land! However, he says something very interesting. He says that they were going to be taking the blind, the lame, mothers and women pregnant with children along with them. The journey back to the holy land was a long a difficult one and it would have been tempting to leave the blind and the lame and pregnant women behind. After all, they would just slow everyone else down. God reminds the people that all of these people, especially these marginalized people, were part of his family. God would not allow anyone to be left behind, no matter how much of a “burden” people might have wrongly considered them to be.
A similar thing happens in our Gospel today. Notice where we find the blind man…on the side of the road. He is calling out and the people try to get him to be quiet. They just want him to stay in his place on the side of the road, on the margin. Jesus breaks in as is typical in the Gospel and shows that this blind man is part of his mission and part of his family. Jesus will not allow anyone to be marginalized from the family of God, especially not those who society considers not to have much value.
We continue to do the same things today. We tend to value people more for their use to us and what they can contribute to society. We fail to recognize the dignity of every human person that comes from their being created by God. How often do we hear a child conceived unexpectedly referred to as “unwanted” or a “burden” who is just getting in the way of someone else’s plans. We are currently hearing a lot about how old people at the end of their lives are costing us too much money for all their expensive health care. We make them feel that they are burdens and ask if maybe we couldn’t just leave them behind and “let them die” so we can more easily get on to where it is we think we need to be.
It’s not hard to imagine how Jesus feels about this. To show how important human dignity is, Jesus took on our own human nature. He became one of us and had a special care for those that society considered useless or burdensome. He continues to do so today. He asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” If Jesus, who is God, can have the humility to ask this question, then perhaps we too can find some people by the side of the road in our life and ask them the same question.
Posted: October 24th, 2009, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink
In order to help foster a better understanding and commitment to stewardship of God’s many gifts, the Hayden High School media club helped produce a video featuring many of the local Topeka priests (even me!) talking about stewardship. All the parishes in Topeka are doing our annual stewardship commitment renewal at the same time this year and the theme “Revealing God’s Presence in Topeka” has been chosen for this effort. At the heart of stewardship is a spirit of thanksgiving. Everything we have is a gift from God. Many thanks to the students at Hayden who helped create the video and to the priests, principals and others featured. May God bless our parishes with a spirit of thankfulness and generosity through this effort.
Posted: October 24th, 2009, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink
Living with a Longing to See God
In our struggle to do good and avoid evil as we go through life, we can sometimes start to think that God is keeping track of all the bad we do in some kind of accounting system. We act as though the goal is to try to have enough good things in the book to balance out all the bad so that, hopefully in the end, everything comes close to zero. This we think will then earn us entrance into heaven. This creates a big problem. We’ve got to remember that God is not our accountant…he is our Father.
If we try to make everything “balance out” in life in a strict legalistic kind of way, we will never make it and we will be miserable. St. Paul reminds us that Jesus has won freedom for us. We are no longer slaves of the law and he reminds us that we need not live as slaves to our passions, what he calls “the flesh.” Rather we should live in the freedom of “the spirit.” The psalm from today best sums up the attitude we should have as we go through life in this freedom, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”
Heaven is not about accounting and reward, but about relationship. On earth we should live with a longing to be in relationship with God, to grow in love with God. If we live with this longing, even though we may not be perfect, we will get what we desire. We will see the face of God forever in heaven. That adds up pretty well in my book.
I’m away from the blog this week while on vacation in Colorado. I’m enjoying what might be called my first actual vacation since starting my assignment as a priest. My parents and I have so far enjoyed the beauty of Colorado Springs and yesterday drove north to Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way we stopped at the St. Francis Xavier Cabrini shrine in Denver and Camp St. Malo near Estes Park where John Paul II stayed and hiked when he was here in 1993. It may be a potential retreat location for me in the future. As I write today, it is a beautiful morning looking out the window as the sun is rising on the snow-covered Rockies. It’s cold but beautiful. We’re off to do some hiking and chase some elk.
Posted: September 28th, 2009, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink
Why King Wenceslas Was Good
St. Wenceslas died a martyr in the early 10th century, being killed by his own brother. Wenceslas used his authority as king of Bohemia to ensure that the poor were taken care of. He also very openly practiced his Christian faith, even though this brought him into danger with pagan members of his court and even his own family. Eventually his strong Christian witness would cost him his life. His love for the poor is memorialized in the famous Christmas carol about him. Though written in the 19th century, the full song tells an appropriate story fitting to the life of the saint:
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel
“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather
“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”
In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing
Posted: September 27th, 2009, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink
Unity in the Love of Christ
Our first reading and gospel today recount unfortunate stories in which people are performing good works in the name of God and yet are looked down upon because they do not belong to the “correct group.” How often do we do this today as fellow Christians? There are two key points that Catholics especially must keep in mind. First, we should rejoice when we see our Christian brothers and sisters in other communities doing the works of God and loving Jesus. This is a good thing! Too often we look down on our separated brothers and sisters because they’re not “one of us.” This division is a scandal and not recognizing the good that exists even outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church adds to the scandal.
However, secondly, we must also avoid falling into the trap of thinking that it doesn’t matter which church you happen to go to. Jesus really did found one Church and wants everyone to be a part of it. He really did give us leaders that he promised to guide and protect from error because he knew that was the only way we would be able to remain unified. He really did want us to have the Eucharist and the other Sacraments. He really does want everyone to be Catholic. While the Church does not have a monopoly on the truth, only the Catholic Church has everything that Jesus intended his Church to have, the “fullness” of the truth. It would be very offensive to Jesus to pretend that none of this really matters.
The challenge is to hold both of these points together at once, and to do it with love. The fact that as Catholics we have the fullness of truth doesn’t mean that we use it very well and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a lot we can learn from our separated brothers and sisters. We should desire that everyone would be Catholic, but we should desire this from a knowledge that we love our brothers and sisters and want to share with them all the good things that Jesus wants them to have. There is no room for a triumphalist “I’m better than you” attitude in the Church. Let us thank God for the beautiful faith we see all around us, even outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church, and let us work as Jesus prayed, “That all may be one.” Let us share the truth with love.
Posted: September 21st, 2009, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink
Grace is Given According to the Plan of Christ
Matthew himself thought that he was an unlikely choice to be an apostle. Yet, the words of the first reading remind us that “Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Jesus chooses not those who seem most qualified in the eyes of the world. Rather, who gives his grace to those he chooses. He chose Matthew for a special mission and he has given each of us the grace we need for the special mission entrusted to us. May we have to courage to leave behind anything that would keep us from following Jesus on this mission.
Posted: September 20th, 2009, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink
Competition can be a good thing. St. Paul himself urges us to “compete well for the faith” and likens the whole of Christian life to the competition of a race. He reminds us that all compete for a single prize…”Run therefore so as to win!” Competition can indeed be a good thing when it causes us to strive to be the very best we can be. Yet, as is often the case, the devil can take what is good and twist it.
A good spirit of competition can degrade to the spirit of “jealousy and selfish ambition” spoken of by St. James in the today’s second reading. Instead of competing to be the very best we can be, how often to we instead try to bring others down? How often do we fall into the trap of thinking that putting someone else down somehow makes me higher? This is what is happening in our first reading today. Here we have a just man who is mocked and attacked all because he is trying to be holy and others don’t like it and try to tear him down. This is competition turned to jealousy and selfish ambition indeed.
We see this tendency in the corporate world too where getting ahead can often mean pushing back a bunch of others. In climbing the corporate ladder too often we see people not at all concerned about the people they are stepping on while trying to get to the top. All of this is summed up in one word, “use.” We can be guilty of using people for what they can do for us. We try to win friends and influence people by having the right friends that can get something for us.
As John Paul taught us, the opposite of love is not hate, but use. We should never use another person as a means to an end. To disrupt the cycle of jealousy and selfish ambition of our society we need love. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel. In the face of selfishness and a desire for power, Jesus gives self emptying. He who is on top of the power chain, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, gives it all up. He uses his power to serve and wins with love.
The apostles obviously don’t understand and famously argue about who it the greatest. They are still stuck in the cycle of jealousy and selfish ambition. To disrupt this Jesus gives the example of a child. If you think about it, what advantage is a child in this scheme of using people to climb higher. You really don’t gain anything by having “influential friends” amongst 2nd graders. A child has nothing to offer your selfish ambition. Rather, a child must be served. This is how we should see people, someone to be served without jealousy or selfish ambition.
Posted: September 15th, 2009, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink
The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Today’s memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows reminds us that Mary shared intimately in every aspect of the life of Jesus. This means that she shared in many great joys, but it also means that she felt, more than anyone, the sorrows of his life. The Church has traditionally reflected on seven events in the life of Mary that have come to be called the “Seven Sorrows of Mary.”
The prophecy of Simeon that a sword would pierce her heart
The flight into Egypt
The finding of the child Jesus in the temple
Mary meets Jesus as he carries his cross
Mary stands at the foot of the cross
The body of Jesus is placed in Mary’s arms after being taken down from the cross
The body of Jesus is placed in the tomb
We remember that to be close to Jesus means to share in both the joys and sufferings of his life. No one did this more perfectly than Mary. We ask her to help us to carry our cross well through the difficulties of life that we may share in her joy and the joy of all the saints as we one day behold Jesus face to face. May we always stay close to Jesus as Mary did.