My name is Father Tim O’Connor. And I come to you today as the new pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Amherst and the new administrator of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in South Amherst. And I am delighted to be with you!
The prophet Ezekiel was in a very different situation in today’s first reading. God sent him to the Israelites with this warning: “Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you.” I received no such warning from God – or the bishop – in my being sent to you!
For me, I am coming home to Lorain County and I am very happy about this. I was raised for the most part in Elyria – at Saint Jude Parish and later on at Saint Mary Parish, where I celebrated my First Mass 40 years ago last month.
For eighteen years I was the pastor at Saint Joseph Parish in Avon Lake at the other end of Lorain County. I come to you from Saint Vincent de Paul Parish in Akron where I was the pastor for two years. And now I am back home and ready and willing to serve you.
Father Larry Martello was in the class one year ahead of me in the seminary. I was privileged to get to know him and his family and enjoy his friendship over the years. And I am not really replacing him. I am following him – whom you know as a faithful and loving priest.
And I am very happy that Father Michael Denk will be serving here for one more year as all of us together use this year to figure out how one priest can serve both of our parishes next year at this time.
I have come home to Lorain County. In today’s Gospel, Jesus has come home to Nazareth. And the people of Nazareth thought they had Him all figured out. They knew Him growing up. And they knew His family. How did He have the nerve to preach to them in their synagogue?
They had put Jesus in a box. And putting someone else in a box is a human inclination which can become a lifetime habit.
The fact is we are all more than other people think. And other people are all more than we think. And sometimes this “more” breaks through when people say: “I didn’t know you had that in you.”
And that is what was happening to Jesus. His hometown people thought they knew everything there was to know about Him. And my, were they mistaken!
Popular fiction is full of box-breaking stories. And we love to hear them and read them:
- There is Clark Kent who was placed in the box of being a mild-mannered reporter. But he literally soared over the heads of others as Superman.
- There was the floor-scrubbing Cinderella who became an elegant princess.
- There was the ugly duckling that became a beautiful swan.
- There was the kid from Kansas named Dorothy who got to visit the Land of Oz.
We love these stories and others because they give us the courage to strive for our dreams and not be limited to the boxes that others have put us in.
We are more than others see. And this is the call of the Gospel: to become the person that God has created us to be, the best version of ourselves.
There was the spoiled rich kid, named Francesco Bernadone, who ran around with his rat pack. And then one day he had a dream where the Lord said to him: “Serve the Master, and not the man.” Francesco became less and less interested in good-timing with his friends. And then there was the time he got off his horse and embraced a leper. He went home and renounced all the family money and privileges. And he walked away to become the happy poor man that we know today as Saint Francis of Assisi. And his friends had thought they had him all figured out. Were they mistaken!
There was the poor and rather uneducated French girl named Bernadette Soubirous who claimed that she saw the Blessed Mother at Lourdes. The people in authority did not at first believe her. They thought she would cave in and take back her story. But they didn’t know what she had within her! Now she is known as Saint Bernadette.
And the people of Jesus’ own home town thought they had Him all figured out. But there was far more to Him than any of them thought. And, as His followers, there is more to us than others may think as well.
So what am I saying to you today?
We are called – every single one of us – to be holy: to live outside of the box that others may have put us in. To turn from being indifferent to our Catholic faith to being in love with Jesus Christ and His Church. To live in everyday faithfulness to Him. And to make our discipleship evident to those around us.
And how can we do this? “My grace is sufficient for you,” the Lord told Saint Paul in today’s second reading. With God’s grace and God’s plan, we can do this.
And do what? To become a saint. Our goal is to be exactly as God thinks of us: to become the best version of ourselves.
And if this causes some box-building people around us to wonder, so much the better – for them and for us!