Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: December 27, 2015

Feast of the Holy Family-C



1 Samuel 1: 20-22, 24-28
1 John 3: 1-2, 21-24
Luke 2: 41-52


There are certain things that have happened to all of us in the past that are stored in our memories.  Today’s Gospel passage finished with this line:  “Mary, His mother, kept all these things in her heart.”

If you had the chance to interview our Blessed Mother, what questions would you ask her?

She would probably want to talk about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.  She might want to recall the wedding feast in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine.  She would certainly wish to reflect upon His crucifixion and His resurrection.  And, very likely, she would bring up today’s Gospel because it says that she “kept all these things in her heart.”

On this Holy Family Sunday, it is important that we realize that even in the family life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph there could be tensions and misunderstandings.

The Gospel begins by telling us that every year the Holy Family went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.  On this pilgrimage, Jesus was twelve years old.  When Mary and Joseph were heading back home to Nazareth, Jesus stayed behind – unbeknownst to them.  When they realized this, they left the caravan and spent three days looking for Him.

Now put yourself in their place.  How would you feel?  And then they found Jesus in the temple, “sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers,” the Gospel says.

And Mary, quite understandably, was upset:  “Son, why have you done this to us?  Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

And Jesus says to them:  “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Jesus did not answer in a smart-alecky way.  But it was a mysterious answer that Mary and Joseph did not fully understand at the moment.  And so Mary “kept all these things in her heart.”

The whole scene tells us that even in the Holy Family there were times of tension and misunderstanding.  And we see how they met those circumstances.

Mary did not get into a shouting match with Jesus.  But she did make it very clear that she did not appreciate His disappearing act – and that He had better not ever do that again.  Yet she treated Jesus, and Jesus treated her, with respect and with love.

In your own family life, how do you deal with tension and misunderstanding?  We look to the Holy Family for their prayers and example.

Listen again to today’s Opening Prayer:  “O God, who were pleased to give us the shining example of the Holy Family, graciously grant that we may imitate them in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity.”

A medical researcher who had made several significant discoveries was asked how he got interested in this field.  He recounted something that had happened at home when he was a small child and that he kept in his heart all these years.  Here is what he said:

When I was a little boy, I went to the refrigerator one day for a glass of milk.  I took hold of that plastic gallon jug, took off its cap, lost my grip and it fell on the floor, splattering milk everywhere.

And then my mother walked in the kitchen.  [Put yourself there!]  And she said, “Robert, I don’t know that I have ever seen such a colossal mess with spilt milk before.  But since the damage is already done, would you like to play in it for a couple of minutes?”  [Now put yourself there!]

After he frolicked in the froth, she said, “Now it’s time to clean this up and I would like you to help me.  Would you like a mop or a towel or a sponge?”  He chose the sponge and together they cleaned up that mess.

Then his mother said to him, “Robert, this was kind of a failed experiment in getting that large bottle of milk out of the refrigerator.  Let’s take that empty container out in the back yard and fill it with water.  Then you can practice handling it full so that the next time you go to the refrigerator for a glass of milk, you will be able to do it without having an accident.”

That left a lasting impression on him.  It told him that he was going to make some mistakes in life, but he could turn those mistakes into power if he learned from them.  And it led him to become a research scientist.

“After all,” he remarked, “what is research anyway?  You try things and they don’t always turn out the way you think they are going to turn out.  Sometimes you clearly make mistakes.  But sometimes the unexpected happens that leads you to a real discovery!”

It was a lasting lesson for life that he learned from his mother – and kept in his heart – and all over the way she had handled some spilt milk.

How do you handle tensions and misunderstandings in your family life?  Like the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph?  Parents, you all know that you can talk about proper behavior until you are blue in the face, but your children are far more likely to imitate your example than follow your words.  And your kids can drive you crazy sometimes, can’t they?  [Of course they can.  They are kids after all!]

A kindergarten teacher noticed that one of her students was having trouble putting on his boots.  So she knelt down to help him and had a dickens of a time getting them on.  When she finished, he said:  “Teacher, you’ve got them on the wrong feet.”  And so she did.

So she took them off and put them back on again, and it was still a struggle.  And then he said:  “Teacher, these aren’t my boots.”  And she bit her tongue lest she say what she was thinking, and took the boots off again.

And then the little imp said:  “They’re my brother’s boots.  My mom couldn’t find mine this morning so she made me wear his because it was snowing outside.”  So she put the blasted boots on one more time.

Then she said:  “Now where are your mittens?”  And he said:  “I didn’t want to lose them so I stuffed them in the toes of my boots.”

Kids, you can drive your parents nuts.  And parents, you can drive your kids nuts – no matter what their age.  Why?  Because in family life there will always be tensions and misunderstandings.  Then how do we deal with these things?

We should imitate the Holy Family – with their respect and their love.

And how did today’s Gospel end up?  It says:  “Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them….  And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”

And so should we – as we imitate the Holy Family in our own family circles.

Let us listen once again to today’s Opening Prayer – and keep its meaning in our hearts:  “O God, who were pleased to give us the shining example of the Holy Family, graciously grant that we may imitate them in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity, and so, in the joy of your house, delight one day in eternal rewards.  We ask this through Christ, Our Lord.  Amen.

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

Christmas Eve and Day




Garrison Keillor, of National Public Radio, “Tales of Lake Wobegon,” has written an essay on “Christmas gift-getting” – and not “Christmas gift-giving.”  This is what he says:

A few years ago, someone near and dear to me gave me a Polo shirt for Christmas.  And I said, “Thank you,” of course.  But what I was really thinking was, “Burgundy!” 

 In my experience, burgundy shirts are worn by guys who smoke cigars, drive full-size Buicks, sit in dark corners in cocktail lounges, and place large wagers on basketball games.  I’m more of a wheat-type of person, or maybe antique blue.

But I did not turn to the giver and say, “Sorry, I don’t wear that color.”  No, I put it in a special section of my closet where I keep never-to- be-worn clothes.  And after the three-month Christmas gift cooling off period required by law, I gave the shirt to a shelter for the homeless.

I hope that it is being worn by someone.  And yet, I can imagine a homeless person being offered this shirt and saying, “You wouldn’t have something in pale green or aqua now, would you?  Just because you are homeless doesn’t mean you look good in burgundy!”

Well, that’s Garrison Keillor.  I happen to like burgundy!  But he drives home a fine point about Christmas gift-getting.  When somebody gives you a gift, it doesn’t necessarily say a lot about who you really are.  But it does say a lot about who they think you are, or who they would like you to be.

Now, imagine someone giving you that perfect gift that they have selected.  And they want you to open it in front of them.  You do – and you are stunned! You look for something to say:  “Isn’t this interesting?”  “Oh, who would have ever thought?”  “Where exactly did you find something like this?”

That is what you are saying.  But what you are really thinking is more like:  “What am I supposed to do with this?”  “Who do you think I am, anyway?”  “Are you crazy?”

It is sometimes more difficult than we think to be the perfect gift-getter.  And today, we celebrate the greatest gift that God could ever give us.  He gave us His Son, born as a baby in Bethlehem.  “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.”   God is the perfect gift-giver.  He waits to see how we will receive His gift.

A kindly ninety-year-old grandmother found buying presents for family and friends a bit much one Christmas, so she wrote out checks for all of them to put in their Christmas cards.  In each card she carefully wrote, “Buy your own present,” and then sent them off.

After Christmas festivities were over, she found the checks she had written under a pile of papers on her desk!  Which means that everyone on her gift list had received a beautiful but empty Christmas card from her with “Buy your own present” written inside!  I am sure that was a Christmas they would long remember.

We sometimes fail in our gift-giving and disappoint.  But not God – He always delivers, as promised.

We exchange gifts with one another at Christmas.  And this involves a three-part process:  the gift given, the gift received, and the gift accepted.

Someone who cares about us chooses a gift carefully and gives it to us.

We receive the gift and open it to see what it is.

The gift given and the gift received are fundamentals in the gift-giving process.  But the third part – the gift accepted – is sometimes missing.  How many sweaters are never worn?  How many bottles of cologne are never opened?  How many games are never played?

The stores were crowded through 24 December with shoppers looking for gifts to give to loved ones.

The stores will also be crowded during the days after Christmas with loved one returning Christmas gifts they received – but did not accept.

Look at the mounds of returned items after Christmas, which are no longer being handled carefully at all by the customers or by the sales personnel.   And they are evidence of gifts given and received – but not accepted.

God has given us the gift of His Son, Jesus.  We are here today – and so we can receive God’s gift.  But will we accept God’s gift?  Or will we return God’s gift on 26 December – thinking that what Jesus has to offer me does not fit the way I want to live, or that He is someone that I do not really need?

Perhaps finding a Baby born in Bethlehem is not the gift that you had in mind.  But God knows that this Baby is the perfect gift for all of humanity – enabling each of us to become the best versions of ourselves.

And today Jesus hopes that we will receive and accept His gift of Himself.

A woman mailed Christmas packages to her college-student granddaughter and to her old friend, Hilda, a self-described “plain Jane” – a lovely lace and satin nightgown for her stylish granddaughter, and a pair of thick woolen socks for practical Hilda.

Mistakenly, she switched the mailing labels on each package.

A few days after Christmas she received two letters.  The first was from her granddaughter who thanked her for the socks, which she described as being “so retro,” and which she would wear on her upcoming ski trip.

The second letter was from a very grateful Hilda.  No one had ever thought to give her something so beautiful.  Hilda wrote that when she put on that lovely nightgown, for the first time in her life she felt pretty.

Both received the perfect gift.

And so do we.  Maybe not the gift we expected, a Baby born in Bethlehem.  But God has given us the perfect gift we needed, nonetheless.

“Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.”  Jesus gives the gift of Himself to you.  Receive the gift.  Accept the gift.  During this “Year of Mercy” I invite you to discover or rediscover the gift of your Catholic faith all over again.

Our parish has a gift to give you, as you leave church today, to help you do this:  a copy of Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscover Jesus.  It is easy to read – 40 chapters of 3-5 pages each.  Please receive and accept this gift.  It will help you know Jesus even better during this New Year!

I look forward to seeing you and welcoming you here again on Sunday with His family – with your family – the Church.

May the Christ Child bless you richly and warmly in your gift-getting – as well as in your gift-giving.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

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

-Fourth Sunday of Advent-C



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.