Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: November 1, 2015

Feast of All Saints

 

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Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14
1 John 3: 1-3
Matthew 5: 1-12a

 

A father was showing his son the stained glass windows in their church.  He pointed to one of the windows and said it was a picture of a saint.  Then he asked him:  “Son, can you tell me what a saint is?”

The little fellow looked at the window and said:  “I know – a saint is someone that the sun shines through.”  And he was right.  A saint is someone that the Son – the Son of God – shines through.

Today we celebrate the feast of All of the Saints in the kingdom of heaven.  Very often when we hear the word “saint” with think of those holy people who have been canonized – that we know for sure are in heaven – and they have a special feast day.  We think of people like the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Teresa., Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II.

But today is the feast day of all of the people who were God’s friends here on earth and now live with God forever in the happiness of heaven.  They were people like you and me.  They loved God and they loved their neighbor.  They were sorry for their sins and, with God’s grace, they tried to do better.  They tried to be like Jesus – and they let the light of Jesus shine through their lives.

I think of all of the good, holy people that I have known in life who have since died – people like my parents and grandparents, priests and sisters that I have known, teachers that I had in school, kind neighbors, parishioners whose funerals I have celebrated.  I think of all of those people who lived as friends of God and who are now with God in heaven.

Do you want to be a saint?  I hope so.  God has created every single one of us to be ‘the best versions of ourselves” – which is another way of saying that God has called us to be saints.  God gives us the grace to be saints. But God does not force us to be good.

All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to become one.  All it takes is for us to allow God to make us what He has created us to be.  All that we have to do is let God take over our lives.  In the words of that Army recruiting ad:  “Be all that you can be.”  Be a saint!

If anybody wonders what God expects of us, Matthew’s Gospel today is a helpful “how-to guide.”  We know it as the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are…” it begins.  With those two words, Jesus gives us a beautiful instruction on how to live the life of a saint.

Pope Benedict takes this one step further in his book, Jesus of Nazareth.  The pope says that the Beatitudes are a self-portrait of Jesus.  And in acting like Jesus, we become like Jesus.

To be poor in spirit, to be meek, to be merciful.

To hunger and thirst for what is right.

To be clean of heart and to make peace.

There are some phenomenal stories in the lives of the saints that we read – like Saint John the Baptist and Saint Paul and Saint Joan of Arc and Saint Clare.  But there are countless stories – millions throughout the centuries – that we don’t read about.  They are the anonymous saints who went about their daily lives doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.  They were people very much like you and me.

What does it take to join them?  With God’s grace, all you really need is to want to be a saint – to live like Jesus – and God will do all of the rest.

What is a saint?  “A saint is someone that the Son – the Son of God – shines through.”  That little boy had it right.

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: October 25, 2015

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

National Priesthood Sunday

 

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Jeremiah 31: 7-9
Hebrews 5: 1-6
Mark 10: 46-52

 

This is Priesthood Sunday here in the United States.  It is a day that we give thanks to Our Lord for the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The second reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us about the one priesthood of Jesus Christ:  “No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God…. You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

The Eucharist is at the center of our Catholic life.  And so, in order that we can have access to this great gift of Himself, Jesus gives His ordained priests a share in His own priesthood.

Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders we are doing right now what Jesus did at the Last Supper when He took bread and wine and said:  “This is my Body, this is my Blood.  Do this in memory of Me.”  We are now doing this in memory of Him.

I thought today I would share a little bit about my own calling to the priesthood.  It has been forty years since I was ordained as a priest.  Where did my calling come from?

My vocation really came from God.  But He used my family as His instruments. There were five boys and one girl in our family and I am the oldest.

In our family life, my parents cooperated with God in creating an environment of faith.  We went to Mass EVERY Sunday.  It was not an option.  The only excuse that one could use not to go to Sunday Mass in our family was if you were very sick.  And believe me, you needed to be sick enough to be in bed even after the Noon Mass was finished on Sunday.  Mass was the center of our family life.

My parents went to Confession regularly.  Whether or not we went along with them, they went and set the example. Prayer was in our family life:  grace at meals, the family Rosary every day – I grew up with that practice and it’s still a practice in my life.  Night prayer – when it was time for the youngest of us to go to bed, we would all kneel on our favorite step going up to the bedroom level of our house, and we would say night prayer together, led by my mother and father.

My own calling to priesthood, I believe, happened when I was about four or five years old.  (We moved a lot as a family, and I can associate different ages with different houses we lived in.)  I was attending Sunday Mass at St. Jude’s in Elyria.  I was in the third row on the main aisle.  (I liked to sit there so I could see).  It was the Offertory of the Mass, and I was watching the priest, Father John McCaffrey.  I was looking at the altar, and at the cross that was above the altar.  And then I said to myself, “I could do that!  I could DO that!”  I believe, as a four or five year-old, that’s when God first gave me the vocation, the calling, to be a priest.

There is a line in Graham Green’s novel, The Power and the Glory, that goes:  “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”  That was the moment when the door opened and let the future in for me.

St. Jude’s in Elyria outgrew their original church and built a larger one.  Father Frank Kosem, the pastor of St. Jude’s, knew the story about that cross over the altar in their original church, and when their new church was completed, he delivered that cross to me.

I had it restored and placed it in the fellowship hall at Saint Joseph’s in Avon Lake.  The people of Saint Joseph’s all new this story, and when I said good-bye to them to to serve at Saint Vincent’s in Akron, they insisted that I take this crucifix with me.  And now I have brought it with me here to Saint Joseph’s and I hope soon to have a place to display it.

It was before that crucifix that the Lord gave me my calling to be a priest.  That is when the door opened and let the future in – for me as a four or five year-old boy.

I went to the seminary after eighth grade, when I was fourteen.  I was ordained a priest at the age of twenty-six on June 14, 1975 with twenty-five of my classmates.

In these forty years of priesthood, I’ve been stationed in many places. My original idea was to be a parish priest – that’s what I always wanted to be, but God had some other ideas for a period of my life.

I taught in our seminary – at Borromeo Seminary College.  I did some diocesan work at St. John’s Cathedral, in the Diocesan Worship Office, and for nine years I was Bishop Pilla’s secretary – although I always continued to have involvement in a parish somewhere.

I was appointed as the pastor of St. Joseph’s in Avon Lake in August of 1995, and then as the pastor of Saint Vincent’s in Akron in June 2013 and now as the pastor of Saint Joseph and the administrator of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in July of this year.  I love doing full-time what I always wanted to do:  to be a parish priest.  And I am very, very happy and grateful to be here with you!

As parents, you want your children to be successful.  That’s the mark of being a fine parent.  But I would ask you as parents – and as grandparents – do you see being a priest, a deacon, a sister, or a brother as a successful way for your children to live?   I do.  I had other opportunities.  I could have entered a number of other professions, but I am still thankful today that God called me to be a priest.

If I had it to do all over again, forty years after my ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, would I still do it, even knowing what I know today?  The answer is, “Absolutely!  Yes, I would!”

All of us are ambassadors of Christ for vocations to priesthood and religious life in the Church.  If you know a young person that you think might have that calling, let them know.  Tell them you think they have what it takes.  Encourage them!  Pray for them!  I am convinced that many of our future priests, deacons and religious are right here – right here in the pews of our own parish.

And so I am going to ask everyone right now to pray along with me – for someone in our parish – for someone here today – who thinks God may be calling them to the priesthood, the diaconate or the religious life.  If God is calling you, listen now:  we are praying for you:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  Amen.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: October 18, 2015

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time-B

 

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Isaiah 53: 10-11
Hebrews 4: 14-16
Mark 10: 35-45

 

This is our Annual Stewardship Renewal Commitment Sunday here at Saint Joseph Parish.  Thank you for being a part of this great opportunity for our parish family as we make our stewardship commitments together in the areas of time, talent and treasure for the next twelve months..
I know that many of you have brought your commitment forms with you today, all filled-out.  Thank you!  Others of you have already mailed in your commitment forms.  Thank you!
Perhaps you forgot to fill-out a commitment form – or left it at home.  Well I am going to give you the opportunity to do so right here.  Just raise your hand and one of the members of our Stewardship Council will bring a commitment form and a pencil to you right now.
At the time of the collection, we may all deposit our completed commitment forms in the basket along with our regular Offertory envelopes.
Since this Commitment Sunday is so important, if you have not already completed a form, I invite you to do so right now while I reflect on today’s Gospel – which calls us to become even better disciples of Jesus, even better stewards of God’s bountiful blessings.
So please go ahead and fill out a stewardship commitment form while I speak with you.

A teacher was telling her class that if you carry your cross here on earth, one day you will wear a crown in heaven.  And then she asked, “Who do you think will wear the biggest crown?”
A little boy answered, “It will be the person who has the biggest head.”

That sounds a bit like today’s Gospel.  James and John had pretty big heads – not literally of course.  But they had inflated egos.  They said to Jesus, “Grant that in your glory we may sit, one at your right hand and the other at your left.”
But are they really so different from us?  Everybody wants their moment of fame, their time in the sun, and recognition for all they have done.
When we think that nobody notices what we have accomplished, it can feel like we are in a prison.  In fact, a person who did not like their job very well penned these descriptive words:
“In prison, you spend the majority of your day in an 8X10 cell.   At work, you spend most of your time in a 6X8 cubicle.  In prison, you get three meals a day.  At work, you only get a break for one meal, and you have to pay for it, and it tastes like prison food.
“In prison, you get time off for good behavior.  At work, you get rewarded for good behavior by getting more work to do.  In prison, all expenses are paid by taxpayers, with no work required.  At work, you get to pay all of the expenses in order to get to work, and then they deduct taxes from your salary to pay for prisoners.”
Mary Kay, of Mary Kay Cosmetics, said this:  “Always remember that everybody wears an invisible sign around their neck that reads, ‘Make me feel important.’ Remember that whenever you work with people.”

Now, before we get too tough with James and John and their request to sit on either side of Jesus in heaven, remember that they were not lightweight in their commitment to Him.  They had left father and mother and a very profitable fishing business to follow Jesus.
Jesus did not condemn them for their ambition to be His disciples.  Rather, Jesus got after them for not setting their sights on the most important things.
They are like us in many ways, I believe.  But, in spite of their misguided ambition, they loved Jesus.  And Jesus knew this.
A couple by the name of Harvey and Patricia lived in Arizona.  In their neighborhood was a lady named Adele Astaire who loved to host dinner parties.  And Harvey and Patricia were regulars on her guest list.  One night, Adele invited her brother, Fred Astaire, to dinner.
As the evening drew on with a lovely dinner and lots of candlelight and beautiful music, Patricia turned to Fred and said, “Mr. Astaire, would you dance with me?”  He graciously got up from the table and Fred and Patricia circled the room.
Harvey said that from that day on, whenever they were out to dinner with friends, Patricia would always manage to mention the night she had danced with Fred Astaire.  It was a memorable and a defining moment in her life.

When Jesus invited James and John to follow Him, it was a memorable and defining moment in their lives.  They believed in Him and they loved Him.  But sometimes their ambition was a little misguided.
So Jesus says to them, “You do not know what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I drink?”  And Jesus meant the cup of suffering.  “We can,” they replied.
“You will,” Jesus told them.  And they did.  In fact, James was the very first of the Apostles to give his life for Jesus as a martyr.  And John, his brother, was the last of the Apostles to die, and at a very old age.
Their faith started small and it needed to mature.  And it did.  Their ambition needed to be purified.  And it was.
When was the defining moment in your life when Jesus called you to follow Him, and you accepted?  How are you maturing as His disciple?  And where is Jesus calling you now to grow further as a grateful steward of His bountiful blessings?

Whether or not James and John are now seated on either side of Jesus in heaven, we do not know.  We will know someday.  But whatever the seating arrangement, we do know that they are indeed with Jesus.  And from their place in heaven, they guide us still in becoming even better disciples of Jesus, and even more grateful stewards of God’s bountiful blessings.