Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Homily Podcast



Homily 313 – The Importance of Miracles – 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 5th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Sistine AngelOne day as I was visiting the Library of Congress in Washington, I noticed an exhibit on “Thomas Jefferson’s Bible.” I was very intrigued to see this relic, looking forward to what margin notes the founding father might have written. Instead, I found that what Jefferson had done was to take the Bible from different languages and then literally cut it all to pieces so as to save only those parts that he thought “actually happened.” Not making the “cut” were all of the miracle stories, including today’s gospel. The result was a book he called “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” Disappointed, I realized that this “bible” was really no Bible at all. It wasn’t even “good news.”

You see, Jesus wasn’t just some moral teacher who’s life we could imitate on some intellectual level of appreciation. You just can’t take the “teaching” of Jesus and then ignore all those parts about being God and doing things only God can do. Perhaps even more than anything he taught, it was doing the miraculous that most attracted people to Jesus. Miracles revealed not ideas, but a person; they revealed who Jesus really was.

Given the important role that miracles played in attracting the first Christians, how strange would it be to think that we could come to know and follow Jesus without miracles. A lot of people today tend to think of the miracles of Jesus as something of the past, or just unnecessary, or even fake like Jefferson. Maybe this is why we don’t experience them as much. We don’t expect miracles, so we often don’t see them and, worse, we don’t even ask.

In today’s homily, I look at the first reading and the Gospel, both just your average “raising from the dead stories” (ho hum) and then even consider a time that I prayed for a miracle and God sent me an angel.

New Assignments from the Archbishop

May 22nd, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Effective July 1, 2016, Archbishop Naumann has appointed me as follows:

Defender of the Bond – Archdiocesan Marriage Tribunal
Pastor – St. Philip Neri Parish, Osawatomie
Pastor – Sacred Heart Parish, Mound City
Pastor – Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, La Cygne

I will be continuing as Archdiocesan Scout Chaplain

The Catholic World of Maurice Duruflé

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

Rouen CathedralI spent yesterday afternoon driving back and forth across Washington in pursuit of some really wonderful music. After the noon Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with its always amazing choir, I quickly scooted off the the University of Maryland where the Marine Chamber Orchestra and UMD Symphony Orchestra were combining for a concert of music inspired by World War I. Still applauding the end of this magnificent concert I quickly jumped back in my car and headed to the Kennedy Center where the Washington Chorus was performing an evening of French sacred music.

Two of the major works on the program were by the great composer and organist Maurice Duruflé. The first half featured his Messe “Cum Jubilo and the second half his most famous Requiem. Some secular directors might try to distance these sacred works from their proper Catholic context (as a guest conductor with the U.S. Army Band did at a recent concert where O Magnum Mysterium was described merely as “An inward looking piece” with no mention of Christmas or even religion at all…but I digress). Such was not the case yesterday with director Julian Wachner. He went out of his way to explain how the music of Duruflé was liturgical music and its context of the Catholic Mass. At one point, seeming almost taken up into the beauty of the liturgy, he asked the audience to picture the “gold vessels, incense, gorgeous vestments, and a cathedral with 6 seconds of reverb…” finally declaring, “This music just sounds so…so Catholic!”

I was struck by how much the soul was made for this beauty and longs for it, even when it is so hard to find these days. The music of Duruflé and Fauré are today more likely found in the concert hall than the cathedral. What a travesty that we’ve lost so much of what sounds and looks “so Catholic” in the modern world, all in the name of “progress.” In addition to the description of maestro Wachner, I was particularly moved by the program notes on the life of Duruflé and the context that gave rise to this beautiful music. Consider the following notes from Dennis Keene and see if you don’t long for this…and weep for its absence:

It was Easter Sunday, 1912, and young Maurice Duruflé and his father were traveling from their home town of Louviers to the great city of Rouen. It was the most exciting trip the ten year old boy had ever taken. One can almost imagine his eyes bulging as they arrived in that great metropolis and came upon the huge and ancient gothic cathedral. What a day he must have had, getting the grand tour, including a visit to the boychoir school and a talk with its director.

But his excitement at all this was completely dashed at the end of the day when his father informed him that he wouldn’t be returning home, but, starting that very night, living there for the next several years! In Duruflé’s own words, “I needn’t say what was my reaction. That night in the dormitory I sobbed on my bed.”

Fortunately, the kind choirmaster of the Cathedral heard the boy crying, and raised his spirits by telling him of all the exciting things in store for him how he would get to study music all the time, be a part of all the great High Masses and ceremonies of the Cathedral, and one day play the organ. Duruflé said of this turning point in his life, “A great page opened in front of me.”

And what a page it was! His life for the next six years was centered on one of the glories of France, the Cathedral of Rouen. Built in the 1200s, the magnificent cathedral had attracted countless visitors down through the centuries. One famous visitor, Claude Monet, was painting his famous Rouen Cathedral paintings just eighteen years before Duruflé arrived.

Although life at the choir school was strict (up at 6:00 every morning, no heat in the dormitories, prayers at 6:30, studies and rehearsals all day) young Maurice was thrilled by all the musical activity and he was quite overwhelmed by the great liturgies of the Cathedral. His years there were to have an extraordinary influence on him, arguably the single strongest artistic influence of his life. For the world of the Gregorian chant, its melodies, modal harmonies, the rise and fall and supple contours of the lines, and the spiritual and mystical aesthetic-this special world remained at the core of his artistic soul for his entire career.

Every morning of the week the choirboys would study and rehearse the chants for the upcoming Sunday. There were evening rehearsals as well, when the boys would be joined by tenors and basses. On Sundays they sang at the High Mass in the morning and Vespers in the afternoon. At the end of the Vesper service was the liturgy of the Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament, for which the Rouen townspeople packed their ancient cathedral week after week. Duruflé described the grand procession as follows: it was led by two Swiss men in specially designed uniforms, followed by the boychoir, then fifty seminarians, dozens of canons and clergy of the cathedral, all dressed in white and grey ermine, and finally by a large velvet canopy under which processed the Archbishop carrying the Holy Sacrament. Directly in front of the canopy were eight thurifers-men carrying pots of incense which they waved regularly, creating great clouds of smoke. This was the kind of ceremony he lived with every week during this part of his life. And it is important to remember that the central musical component of this and all other liturgies was Gregorian chant. This influence was to become a part of his very being.

Homily 312 – Purple Rain – 5th Sunday of Easter

April 24th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Prince“When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue= purple… purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.” – Prince

The key to investing is to buy low and sell high. You’ve got to know not only what something seems to be worth right now but, more importantly, what value it will have in the future. The ideal is to find something that most people don’t think is worth very much right now but then will become very valuable in the future. With that in mind, ask yourself this question, “What is the value of this world?”

If we look at right now, there are two possible extremes. We could say that this world is so messed up that it is just a pile of junk. There’s no good in it and we can’t wait to leave this world and go to heaven. On the other hand, we could place so much importance on this world that we live as if this is all there is. It is important that we don’t fall too far to either extreme. Yet, the more important question, the one hinted at above, is not what the world seems to be worth now, but what will it be worth in the future?

Our second reading today gives us the “insider trading” information about the end of the world. We shouldn’t treat the world as though material things are bad because the scripture tells us that such things will exist in eternity; there will be a “new heavens and a new earth,” not some intangible “spiritual” life without either. Yet, we are also told that this world is “passing away;” it won’t last, so don’t put too much stock in it.

Many people have been caught up this week in the sensation of the death of the famous pop singer, Prince. People are turning things purple all over the place to honor the memory of the singer who’s most famous song is entitled, “Purple Rain.” For full disclosure, I have to say that I do in fact like much of his music and grew up with it, but I in no way condone much of his personal life or even most of the lyrics of his songs. I was, however, interested to learn more about this strange phrase, “Purple Rain.” While many people have opinions, the one I found most interesting was an answer given by Prince himself, and that is the quote above; it’s about the end of the world… and therefore a fitting topic for today’s readings (a stretch..but go with me)

The red in the sky is of course a reference to the Book of Revelation and Prince says as much when he says the song is about the end of the world. Note that the red represents all the struggle and suffering and death in the world while the blue represents the peaceful beauty of creation. In Prince’s mind, the two end up mixed together and you get purple. I’ve read that Prince did have a “spiritual side,” but you wouldn’t call him a theologian by any means. And yet… there’s something very theologically right about the purple. This world is a mix of both suffering and beauty. There’s much right with the world, but also much wrong. The answer is not to look only at the extremes, but to accept the world as it is…purple.

In a beautiful way then, Prince is right that the answer is not to escape the world, or to worship the world; you go through it. When faced with the ambiguity of the purple, the answer is “letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.” The result is a new creation where every tear is wiped away, when things are no longer purple but pure beauty.

At the risk of giving Prince more theological credit than due, consider this interesting tidbit: The “B side” of the Purple Rain single is a song called “God” and it’s about the Book of Genesis. I don’t know if he intended it, but it is absolutely theologically sound to look at the end of the world as really just the “flip side” of the creation of the world. Just as God created everything in the beginning, he will make a new creation at the end of this world.

Finally, I can’t help but notice Prince’s reference to going through this purple rain “with the one you love.” In the gospel today, St. John gives us the best investment tip we could ever hope for. Invest in love. It only increases in value. We don’t take anything from this world with us into the new creation…except love. This life is difficult, but we are not meant to go through it alone. Take care of your brothers and sisters. There will be a day when the new creation arrives and we pray we’re in heaven together. Until then, we need to help each other make it through the messy, ambiguous mix of joy and suffering in this life. We’ve got to help each other through the Purple Rain.

Homily 311 – Past to the Future – 5th Sunday of Lent

March 13th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Woman In AdulteryThe readings today cause us to look back to the past. Specifically, we are to be reminded of the ways in which God has saved us in the past. It is common to find the movie “The Ten Commandments” on TV during this time of year. Each year at Passover, the Jewish people continue to recall this most important way in which God saved us from slavery in Egypt and brought us through the Red Sea.

Yet we are not meant to look only backward in history. The same God that saved Israel thousands of years ago wants to save us today. Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to our being saved is not knowing how much we need saving. In the gospel today we read of the woman caught in adultery. There is much we can learn from the way Jesus handles this situation. Notice that he does not minimize the seriousness of the sin. Rather, it is precisely because the woman knows that she is rightly condemned that she is then able to experience the joy of the merciful forgiveness of Jesus.

Do we try to minimize our sin, tell ourselves that “its’ not really that bad?” If we do this, not only are we lying to ourselves, but we can’t really experience the mercy of Jesus. To put it succinctly, if sin isn’t bad, then mercy isn’t good. We need not fear to acknowledge the true ugliness of our sin because we have a merciful God who died to take away that guilt. Bring it to him. He will not only forgive you, but then give you the power to do what he told the woman to do, “Go and sin no more.”

Homily 310 – Three Weapons Against Our Three Enemies – 1st Sunday of Lent

February 14th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Jesusin the WildernessAs we begin the season of Lent, we see Jesus go out into the desert to be tempted. There he encounters the same enemies that you and I face every day: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Jesus is victories, and we can be too. Today’s homily looks at the three traditional weapons the Church gives us to fight these enemies: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.

Homily 309 – Turnpike Mass for Life – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 31st, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Turnpike MassEven with the normal crowds of half a million or more, the March for Life almost never gets much coverage from the left-leaning media. With a major snow storm predicted to hit DC right at the time of the March, this year’s March was one of the smallest, only a couple hundred thousand (I know… not so small, right?), and thus got almost no coverage again. That is…until… until a bunch of buses on their way home got stuck for 22 hours on the Pennsylvania turnpike.

Not wanting to go a day without the Eucharist, students from these buses got out and…get this… built an altar out of snow and celebrated Mass with several hundred people on the side of the frozen turnpike. Now medial started covering this. Almost in spite of themselves, they had to report that all these people were coming from the March for Life in DC. The March got more coverage this year than any year I can remember.

This is the way God words. He takes what looks like a huge disappointment, and turns it into a great victory. Today’s homily points out some of the many ways that God did this in the past week. May we all take spiritual joy and confidence from these days, knowing that we win in the end despite whatever obstacles Satan thrown in our way.

Thoughts on the Footwashing Decree

January 21st, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Foot WashingThis morning, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a decree with authority from Pope Francis to amend the liturgy for the Holy Thursday liturgy. The rite for Mass on that day contains an option for the “washing of feet.” Until this morning, it was required that only males be chosen as the entire rite was meant to be a presentation of Jesus washing the feet of his apostles at the Last Supper which is described in the gospel read on that night. With the new decree, not only can women have their feet washed, but the explanations indicate a preference for creating a group representing a cross-section of the parish.

As sometimes happens, I go into some discussions regarding this on Facebook. Without much editing, I am copying some of my comments from that forum to this site so as to make them more accessible.

Things began with the following comment from a priest:

For me, this action has always been about the priest exercising his ministry as servant, particularly to the people to whom he has been entrusted, rather than a re-enactment of the Last Supper. I always hated the implication that the priest is only there to serve the men.

My replies to various postings follow:

No one at Mass on Holy Thursday actually needs their feet washed. The priest isn’t actually serving anyone. It’s symbolic. The question is, “What does it symbolize?” The modern addition of a foot washing ceremony to the Holy Thursday liturgy has created something completely of it’s own making whose meaning is only found in what the community thinks it means.

As such, we now have a ceremony that has come to symbolize the willingness of the priest to serve his people. Such an understanding almost necessitates that women’s feet be washed. But we also have to see that this has almost nothing to do with what was intended by adding this to the liturgy in the first place. I think what is more likely is that this ceremony will in time disappear from the Holy Thursday liturgy. It was an innovation when it was added in 1950’s and the very fact that we don’t even know what it means would indicate that its staying power is probably limited.

In the end, priests that were already disobeying the law will continue to wash women’s feet as they always have. Priests who followed the law probably did so because they also understood what the whole thing was supposed to be about in the first place. They will likely not take the option to wash women’s feet and will continue with only men’s feet. Over time, more and more will take the option of not doing it at all. As a liturgical rite, I think it’s a product of a time that is quickly fading.

Later on:

My personal feeling is that the footwashing is becoming too much like an event or show to be watched rather than a sacred action intended to be prayed over. The actions of the liturgy are ritual symbolic actions, not mere spectacle. So again, the question is “What does the footwashing symbolize?”

As I said, the answer has come to be that it symbolizes the desire of the priest to serve his people after the example provided by Jesus. Consider though that a symbol represents something; it stands in for something not evident or present so as to make it present through use of the symbol. We don’t really need to “symbolize” the desire of a priest to serve his people on Holy Thursday when he is in fact at that very moment serving them in concrete reality. Celebrating the Eucharist and feeding his flock with the Bread of Life is the greatest service that a priest could ever provide for his people. No symbol of this is necessary when the reality is right there.

If the footwashing is meant to visibly present what is read in the Gospel, namely Jesus washing the feet of the 12 apostles, then symbolism is necessary as neither Jesus nor the twelve apostles are present in physical reality. They must be symbolized. Neither the priest, nor his desire to serve need to be symbolized. They are both there in concrete reality.

And finally:

On a pragmatic level, consider the new potential for conflict created for the average parish priest. Under the old law, you picked 12 men. There wasn’t too much arguing about why people were chosen. They were chosen to represent the apostles, nothing more. The great criteria that made you worthy of being chosen was that you were born male.

With the old law, people were chosen to represent an apostle. In the new law, people are to be chosen as an honor for some function they perform in the parish or to represent an important group in the parish. The desire seems to be to create a “cross-section” of the parish.

Immediately we have questions such as, “Why was he/she chosen and not me or this other person?” “Why was the sandwich making ministry honored with a footwashing spot but not the blanket making ministry?” “Why did the Legion of Mary have a representative foot to be washed, but not the Daughters of Isabella?”

Even if all goes well without any bickering or hard feelings, there is still a major shift with the new law. Under the old law, the whole point was to use a visible symbol, 12 men, to help take our thoughts to the Upper Room. They served as an aide to meditation in which we were perhaps more easily supposed to picture Jesus at the Last Supper washing the feet of his apostles. The footwashing served as a sort of living stained glass window. Under the new law, the action in front of us not only doesn’t as easily remind us of the Upper Room, it deliberately distracts our attention from the transcendent to focus on the here and now.

As a symbol points to a reality beyond itself, one could say that the best symbol is one in which the symbol itself falls to the background as the reality signified becomes more and more present. In the use of 12 men for the rite, the ideal would be that we would totally lose sight of who was having their feet washed and who was doing it. We would be drawn in meditation beyond what was in front of us to think only of Jesus and the apostles in the Upper Room. Naturally, a desire to serve after the example of our Lord would flow from such meditation.

The innovation of creating a representative group of the parish for the priest to minister to as some act of service no longer functions as an effective sign of what was originally intended. Rather than the people themselves fading into the background in service of some transcendent reality, now the choice of the people becomes an integral part of the rite. We are no longer to see Jesus washing feet; we are meant to focus all the more on the person of the priest and precisely who’s foot is being washed. It is “my” pastor washing “my” feet or some other representative foot.

The decree issued today, as well as the original one of Pius XII in the 1950’s indicate that it is important for priests to explain the meaning of the footwashing rite to the faithful. I would simply note that the new legislation lends itself to a meaning that is very different from what was originally intended. Obviously, Pope Francis prefers this meaning. The footwashing is now to be a small token of service in the here and now. If it symbolizes anything, it symbolizes not Jesus and the apostles, but a relationship between the priest and the one having his or her foot washed. Rather than the transcendent, the here and now is the focus.

My own personal opinion is that there is far too much focus in the celebration of the Mass these days on the relationship between the priest and the people assembled. I rather prefer that the priest’s own personality fade into the background during Mass so that the people may more easily see him as standing in the person of Christ. The priest is to be, at least in part, a symbol at Mass that points people to Jesus. As I said above, the best symbols fade to the background in favor of what they signify. Like John the Baptist, we priests should desire to decrease that Jesus may increase. In my mind, the old law for the footwashing, requiring men representing the apostles and the priest representing Jesus, had better potential to accomplish this; the new rite, not so much.

I should be clear that the above comments only regard the footwashing rite as it has been introduced into the liturgy. The idea of a ritual of symbolic service of footwashing outside the context of the Eucharist is an entirely different matter. There may well be a place for a free use of the gesture of footwashing outside the celebration of Mass. Time will tell. Regardless, one thing that I am very grateful for is that the legal matter is finally settled. It might not be prudent, but is certainly no longer illegal to wash women’s feet on Holy Thursday. At the very least, we no longer have to debate this every Holy Week, and for that I am most grateful.

Homily 308 – Half Empty Water Jars – 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 17th, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Stone Water Jar Found at CanaToday’s gospel recounts the story of the wedding at Cana where Jesus famously turns water into wine. St. John tells us that there were six stone water jars, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. These are not small jars! In fact they weren’t meant for drinking, but contained large quantities of water for ceremonial washings. In listening to this story, naturally focus on the miracle of the wine. However, in today’s homily, I would like to focus more on the water.

Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” and Jesus tells them to bring him about 180 gallons of water…now. Maybe this meant going to a well, or even a stream. Whatever the source of water, it could not have been easy to produce so much water on a moment’s notice. Yet, St. John gives us another seemingly insignificant detail that turns out to be of great importance. He tells us not only that the servants filled the jars, but “they filled them to the brim.”

I know I would have been tempted to maybe “sort of” fill the jars. After a dozen or so trips to get more water, I think maybe two thirds full or even half full would have seemed like plenty to me. But these servants don’t do that. They fill the jars “to the brim.” Now we see the importance. The servants didn’t know that Jesus was about the make the greatest wine the world has ever known. Imagine if that had only filled the jars half way. Jesus still works his miracle, but there is less than there could have been. Perhaps there would have even been regret on the part of the servants that they had only filled the jars half way.

The servants in the gospel have no regrets. They did everything Jesus told them just as Mary commanded, and they gave it their best. Sometimes God asks things of us that we don’t understand right now, that seem tedious or burdensome, like bring bucket after bucket of water not knowing what it’s all about. It’s not a coincidence that the miracle in today’s gospel takes place at a wedding. God is telling us the kind of relationship he wants with us. He wants to marry us! If he asks us something, something we might not understand, it’s because he loves us and wants us to be happy.

The question then is whether we trust this relationship God is offering us. When he asks us to do something, maybe something hard, maybe just repeated little things that seem pointless, how to we respond? The truth is that God is working a miracle right now with the story of our lives. Just as the reason for all the trips to the well was eventually made plain to the servants in the gospel, so too the reason for everything God asks us will eventually be made plain. The question is, will we fill our jars to the brim, or will we one day look back with regret, knowing that we gave God only half empty water jars.

Homily 307 – Lessons from the Magi – Epiphany

January 3rd, 2016, by Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

Adoration of the Magi

Epiphany is often seen as the completion of the Christmas story. The three kings finally arrive in Bethlehem and our Christmas manger scene is now complete with all the figures in place. While this does provide a nice sentimental bookend to the season, in today’s homily I explore five ways in which the message of the magi remains relevant for us today.

1) God will in fact speak to us and give us directions. However, as was the case with the magi, we should not expect huge unavoidable signs. Rather, we should expect God to give us subtle directions, like the astronomical events that that guided the magi.

2) We should expect that, whatever path God asks us to take, it is going to be difficult. The magi had a rough time getting across the wilderness to Jerusalem. Often times the more difficult path is the path God asks us to follow.

3) Be suspicious of following the crowd. In God’s way, the crowd is often wrong and the truth is found by only a small few. The magi were a small group, maybe just three. Still, they recognized the birth of the Messiah while “all Jerusalem” missed it. With God, the minority is often the right place to be.

4) When the magi finally encounter Jesus, the fall down and worship him. They give him their treasures, the very best they have. We are called to do likewise. At every Mass were are in the presence of Jesus. Do we react like the magi, falling down and giving Jesus our very best?

5) Finally, after meeting Jesus, the gospel tells us that they “returned to their own country by another way.” More than just geographical, they returned changed. When we meet Jesus, we can’t go back the same way as if nothing happened.

I pray that this celebration of the Epiphany may inspire you listen carefully for God’s direction and to boldly set out where he calls. May the encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist change your life and set you off on a new way, inspired by the example of the magi.