Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: December 20, 2015

-Fourth Sunday of Advent-C

 

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Micah 5:1-4a
Hebrews 10: 5-10
Luke 1: 39-45

 

Children are really something.  There was a mother and father who had a two-year-old boy.  They lived in Chicago in a high-rise apartment on the 42nd floor.

Every morning the father would hug and kiss his wife and little boy goodbye and then get in the elevator right across the hall.  And every evening his little boy would be standing in the door of the apartment, ready to greet his dad when the elevator doors opened.

A few years later, this boy was able to verbalize to his mom and dad what he had thought was going on.  He had believed that his dad left the apartment every morning, spent the day in the elevator, and then at night came out again.

Well, that was a two-year-old’s perception.  Children are really something!

We hear in the Gospel today about two babies in the womb who are not only “really something” – they mean everything to us in God’s plan for our salvation.  The Gospel tells us about two expectant mothers.  Mary was carrying God’s own Son, Jesus, in her womb.  And Mary’s older relative, Elizabeth, was carrying John the Baptist in her womb.  And John would point out Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  Both of these pregnancies were so important that they had been announced by the Archangel Gabriel.  Gabriel’s coming to Mary and asking her to be the mother of God’s Son is the first Joyful Mystery of the Rosary:  the Annunciation.

And today’s Gospel is the scene of the second Joyful Mystery:  the Visitation.  Mary goes to visit Elizabeth and assist her with her pregnancy.  And when Mary arrives, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she is the first person to announce the arrival of the Messiah:  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.   And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy, so Mary stays with Elizabeth for three months, until John is born.

Mary and Elizabeth were joyful about their pregnancies, even though they were both untimely.  Mary conceived God’s Son through the power of the Holy Spirit while she was engaged to Joseph and before they lived together.  Elizabeth was beyond the age when women would normally have children.  She conceived with her husband, Zechariah, through God’s intervention.

Mary and Elizabeth were women of faith, but their faith did not insulate them from the sorrows of life.  Both of them would lose their sons at an early age.  John the Baptist was about thirty-three when he was beheaded in prison by King Herod.  Jesus was also about thirty-three when He was crucified for our salvation.  But through it all, Mary and Elizabeth trusted in God and in His love for them.

Marie Pemberton wrote a book about her son, Jeremy, who died from leukemia at the age of four.  They lived next door to another couple who had a four-year-old son named Christopher.  And Christopher and Jeremy were best buddies.

After Jeremy died, Marie found it very difficult to be around Christopher because he reminded her so much of him.  One day Christopher asked Marie, “Why did Jeremy die?”  Marie could not bring herself to attempt an answer, so she told Christopher to go home and ask his mother.  And he did.  It was the month of June.

In December, Marie and her husband decided to soft-pedal Christmas this time around.  And then Ellie, Christopher’s mother, invited Marie to come over to see their Christmas decorations.  Marie was reluctant but finally accepted.

When they got in the house, Ellie said, “Marie, what I really want to show you is our nativity scene.”  Marie noticed that it looked alright, except that there were two babies in the manger.

And Ellie explained:  “Remember in the summer when you told Christopher to ask me why Jeremy had died?  The best I could do was to tell him that Jeremy was now with Jesus.

“So when we were putting up the nativity set and placing Jesus in the manger, Christopher got one of his little sister’s baby dolls and put it in the manger next to Jesus.  We asked him why he did this, and Christopher said that the doll was like Jeremy, who was now with Jesus.”

Marie said that this was a turning point in her grieving.  It did not take away the pain, but it did help to put it in perspective.  That four-year-old theologian named Christopher had helped her understand that Jesus was born in Bethlehem so that we could be with Him forever in heaven.

Jeremy was with Jesus.  Yes, children are really something!

As I look around this church today, I know that some of you are missing someone very badly this Christmas.  Perhaps someone that you love is not with you now because God has called them home to heaven.  But this can still be a very special Christmas for you – as it was for Marie.

Why did Jesus come into our world?  He was born to die for our sins and save us, so that we could be with Him forever in heaven.  That is our faith.

We see two women of great faith in today’s Gospel – Mary and Elizabeth.  Their faith did not protect them from suffering, but it brought them the grace and the strength to get through it.

And through God’s grace, the faith of Mary and Elizabeth, the faith of Marie and Christopher can be ours too.

Jeremy is with Jesus.  And Jesus is with us.

Emmanuel – God with us – is His name and His promise.

 

 

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: December 13, 2015

-Third Sunday of Advent-C

 

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Zephaniah 3:14-18a
Philippians 4: 4-7
Luke 3: 10-18

 

“Rejoice in the Lord always,” Paul says to us today.  “I shall say it again:  rejoice!  For the Lord is near.”  And with that encouragement, I thought I would tell you a happy Christmas story.

There was a church that, for 20 years, had a Christmas pageant.  And for all of those 20 years, it was directed by the same person.  She wanted everything to be just perfect – perfect lines, perfect singing, perfect costumes and perfect staging.

In her mind, the perfection of the pageant was a bit more important than the children who participated.  The fewer the children, the more control she had and the better the outcome – or so she thought.

Many of the parishioners were parents of rejected Marys and Josephs and wise men and shepherds.  They wanted to have a pageant in which every child could have a part.  And when the director for the last 20 years heard about this, she quit.

On production night, there were 20 shepherds and 30 angels and a couple dozen sheep [that were wandering all over the place].  When Mary and Joseph came on the scene in Bethlehem, the narrator had always read:  “Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem.  Mary was espoused to Joseph as his wife, and Mary was great with child.”

The new director didn’t think that line was very clear.  So she changed it to read:  “Mary and Joseph came to Bethlehem.  Mary was Joseph’s wife, and Mary was pregnant.”

When the little fellow playing Joseph heard that line, he looked at Mary and then at the audience and said:  “Pregnant?  Whaddya mean, pregnant?”  And the audience began to laugh.

One of the dads said, “That’s probably what I would have said if I were Joseph.”  And the former director sat there with a look on her face that said:  “I told you so!”

And then something almost miraculous happened.  They could all see through the church windows that the snow was beginning to fall.   Everyone began to sing “Silent Night.”  And the two dozen sheep surrounded the lady who had been the director for 20 years, and very sweetly they sang “Silent Night” to her – at close range.

Then, when everything got quiet, Minnie McDonald, who was hard of hearing, and who always thought that she was whispering, said to her husband:  “It’s just perfect!  Just perfect!”

And it was.  Not as precise as the earlier pageants had been, but even better.  And it reminded everyone that when we give our fumbling best efforts of love to God, He wraps them in His grace, and they become just perfect in His eyes.

“Rejoice in the Lord always,” Paul says to us today.  “I shall say it again:  rejoice!  For the Lord is near.”

But how can we rejoice with all of the tragedy and violence around us?  We are all stunned and shocked by the killings that have taken place around the world and here in our own nation.

Still, we need to remember that “the Lord is near” – to all of us.  Look at the world into which Jesus was born in Bethlehem.  Roman society was full of violence.  Remember the Holy Innocents, the children who were killed by the jealous King Herod because he had heard that a new King had been born in Bethlehem.  And see the violent death that Jesus suffered for us on the cross.

God is with us – in our pain, in our anxiety, in our grief and in our losses.  And Paul says that we should “rejoice!”  And why?  Because “the Lord is near.”

A teacher asked her students to bring in a gift that they could present to the Christ Child for Christmas.  And they brought in all kinds of things:  blankets and baby food, toys and Pampers – and they placed them near the manger.

But one little boy placed a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus next to the Baby Jesus.  His teacher asked him why he had chosen this statue as his gift.  And he replied:  “Because I thought that Baby Jesus would like to see what He would look like when He grew up.”

What does Jesus look like today?  He looks like us.  We are members of His Body, the Church.  We carry His presence to our world.  We help others see what Jesus looks like.  We help others “rejoice in the Lord always….  For the Lord is near.”

Many of you have children in your homes – or remember when you did.  If your idea of a perfect home is that Better Homes and Gardens Magazine could arrive with their cameras at any time on any day and find everything neat and clean – I would wonder what planet you are from!     Introduce one child into your home for a few minutes, and what are you inviting?  Not perfectionism.  You are inviting love.  And those other things don’t matter so much when there is love in your home – and love can make your home more than perfect.

In the wake of all the unrest around us, tell your children that you love them.  And show them.

Perhaps, as you look towards Christmas this year, you may be wishing that some things were different.  You may be afraid that Christmas for you this year will not be perfect.

Look at Mary and Joseph on that first Christmas:  away from home, staying in a barn, and laying the Baby Jesus in a manger.  And it was all just perfect in God the Father’s eyes.

This Christmas may not be perfect in your estimation.  But with the love that you find there, it might well be better than perfect, from God’s point of view.  It might be the best Christmas ever for you.

“Rejoice in the Lord always,” Paul says to us today.  “I shall say it again:  rejoice!  For the Lord is near.”

In fact, He is with us now.

 

 

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: December 6, 2015

-Second Sunday of Advent-C

 

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Baruch 5:1-9
Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11
Luke 3: 1-6

 

One Sunday, a man stood up in church and in a very loud voice said:  “I have a word from God for you.”  And then he shouted it again.

Very smoothly and efficiently, the ushers moved in and escorted that man to the church door.

A person reflecting on that scene said:  “Isn’t it something that the clergy get up and week after week and announce that they ‘have a word from God for us,’ and most often there is very little reaction.”

It says something about the effect we allow God’s word to have on us.  Sometimes God’s word is very comforting and assuring.  Sometimes it is challenging and alarming.  But most of the time we pay very little attention to it.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist stands up, claiming that he has a word from God for all of his listeners.  He came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  He was the “voice of one crying out in the desert:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make straight His paths.’”

And that message was not simply for John the Baptist’s audience.  It is also a word from God for all of us as well.

C. S. Lewis says that Christmas really has no message for anyone who thinks that they are without sin.   The true message of Christmas only comes across when we admit that we are sinners and that we need a Savior, Jesus Christ.

And so I ask you today, before the Lord whose word you hear:  what are your sins?  What needs to be forgiven in your life?

Tuesday, December 8th, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patronal feast of the United States, and a holy day of obligation.

It also marks the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy where we take to heart – and “take advantage of” – God’s tender offer of mercy for each one of us.  And Advent is an excellent time to celebrate God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance.

We hear confessions every Saturday morning here at Saint Joseph from 11:00 until 12:00 noon, and every Thursday evening after the 7:00 Mass until 8:30.  And on the Fourth Sunday of Advent at 7:00 in the evening, we will be having a Communal Penance Service here with individual absolution.  This is a wonderful way to celebrate – and benefit from – God’s tender, personal mercy.

C. S. Lewis also says that good and evil both increase at compound interest.  If we admit sin into our lives, it multiplies.  We cannot afford to just look at a couple of “polite” sins in our lives – like telling white lies or being distracted in our prayers – and ignore all the rest.  We need to work on everything that blocks “the way of the Lord” in our lives.

There was a woman who called the humane society about a skunk that came to live in her basement.  She was told to take some bread crumbs and make a trail between her basement and the garden outside.  And she did.

An hour later, she called the humane society and said:  “I took your advice.  Now I have two skunks in my basement!”

With God’s grace, we have to be vigilant in nurturing virtue and eliminating sin.  For good and evil both increase at compound interest.

There was a woman who had ten children and lived near a construction site.  One day she couldn’t find one of her kids.  After quite a search, she finally found the little fellow in a barrel of roofing tar.

She reached down and picked him up.  And as she looked at him, in frustration she said:  “You know, it would be easier for me to have another one of you than to get you all cleaned up!”

Do you ever wonder if God feels that way about us when we sin badly and mess things up?  But God never regrets that He created us.  God never stops loving us.  He picks us up and cleans us up with His merciful forgiveness.  All we need to do is ask Him.

Saint Jerome translated the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, giving us the edition called the Vulgate.  At the end of his life he lived in Bethlehem.  One night he had a dream in which the Christ Child appeared to him.  And he said to the Christ Child:  “Let me give you a gift.”  And Jerome gave Him some money.  And the Christ Child said:  “That’s not what I want.”  And then Jerome gave Him some possessions that were very dear to him.  But again the Christ Child said:  “That’s not what I want from you.”

Finally Jerome asked:  “Then what can I give you?  What do you want?”  And the Christ Child said:  “Give me your sins.  That’s why I came.”

That is the merciful word from God that I have for you today.  Give Him your sins.  Repent, confess and be forgiven.  “Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make straight His paths.”