Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: November 15, 2015

-Thirty-third Ordinary Sunday – B

 

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Daniel 12: 1-3
Hebrews 10: 1-14, 18
Mark 13: 24-32

 

A cartoon had a man dressed as a prophet and holding a sign which read:  “Resist temptation.”  In the next frame was a rather scruffy-looking fellow who said to the prophet:  “I’m not looking to resist temptation.  I’m looking to find it!”

That cartoon tells us something about our humanity.  We know that, with God’s grace, we are to resist temptation.  But sometimes we actually look for temptation, and then feel guilty after we have fallen for it and sinned.

What do we make of our guilt?  That is something that the Letter to the Hebrews tells us about today.  It says that Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins, and took His seat forever at the right hand of God.”

There are people who suffer from overwhelming guilt.  Edgar Allen Poe’s story, “The Telltale Heart,” deals with a man with a guilty conscience.  He had killed a man, and his own heartbeat was a reminder of his sin.  As his heartbeat grew louder and louder to his senses, he eventually loses his mind.

There are people who suffer from guilt in extreme ways and without any proportion.  My heart goes out to people who suffer from scrupulosity.  While venial sin is sin indeed, the scrupulous person tends to see every sin as a mortal sin.  And they can become obsessed with guilt.

But for most of us, guilt can be a very healthy tool.  As someone put it:  “Guilt is for the soul what pain is for the body.”  We do not go looking for pain, but when we have a physical pain it tells us that something needs attention so that we can feel better again.

Guilt can do that for our souls.  It tells us that something is wrong and needs attention.  It can lead us to God’s mercy and forgiveness, so that we can feel better.

A preacher was talking about the weight of sin.  And someone in the congregation asked:  “How much does sin weigh?  Five pounds?  Ten pounds?  One hundred pounds?”

The preacher thought for a moment, and then replied:  “If you put a two-hundred pound weight on a corpse, will that body feel anything?”

“Of course not,” the man answered, “because that body is dead.”

The preacher went on to say:  “When our spirit is dead, we stop feeling the weight of our sin.”

That is an important observation because guilt, if properly felt, can lead us to God’s mercy and grace.  But sometimes people would rather live “dead in their sins” – and prefer to change their beliefs rather than change their behaviors.

Where can we go with our guilt?  It should lead us to Jesus Christ.  Today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins, and took His seat forever at the right hand of God.”  We can go to Him because He is the only one that can forgive our sins.  And His cross shows us how ready and willing He is to offer us His mercy and grace.

A novelist writes about a man who is on his deathbed.  He is very sorry for his sins and begs Jesus for His mercy.  The man then closes his eyes and dies.

He is then standing before Jesus Christ, and looking rather dirty and disheveled.  Jesus smiles at him and takes a wet sponge and begins wiping the smudges off this man’s face until he is clean.

And then Jesus says to him:  “Your heart is repentant and I have forgiven you.  Now go play in my kingdom of heaven.”

Our guilt is a good thing if it leads us to Jesus.  For He is the only one who can forgive our sins.  He is always ready and willing to do so.  He simply waits for us to ask Him.

He has given us the great Sacrament of His love – Confession, Penance, Reconciliation – in which He wipes away our sins and removes our guilt.

As we prayed in today’s Responsorial Psalm [16]:  “You are my inheritance, O Lord.  You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.  You are my inheritance, O Lord.”

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: November 8, 2015

-Thirty-second Ordinary Sunday – B

 

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1 Kings 17: 10-16
Hebrews 9: 24-28
Mark 12: 38-44

 

The First Reading, the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel this Sunday all speak about widows.

I would like to tell you about a widow who was born in New York City in 1774.  At the age of 20, she married a very wealthy man who was also a New Yorker.  Both were Episcopalians.

When her husband lost his fortune and then contracted tuberculosis, the couple and their five young children moved to Italy, hoping a milder climate would help him.  But six weeks later, he died.

A very generous Catholic Italian family helped this new widow and her small children to stay together and return to America.  The goodness of this Italian family led the young widow to investigate and join the Catholic Church in 1805.  This led her relatives and friends to virtually disown her.  She managed to support her family by teaching.

In 1809 she founded the first American branch of the Sisters of Charity.  They opened schools for Catholic children and this widow-now-nun began the American parochial school system.  She died at the age of 46 on 4 January 1821.

By now, many of you have recognized her as Saint Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton.  She was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975, the first native-born American saint.  She is popularly known as Mother Seton.

In today’s Gospel, a widow put all of her money in the collection box in the temple.  Jesus praised her.  Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton – also a widow – gave her all for the glory of God.

I believe that it is important that we recognize and show appreciation for our widows – and widowers – who give so generously of their time and talent and treasure to help the family of God, the Church.

There are so many kinds of widows:  young and old, rich and poor, healthy and infirm.  Some are strong in their faith and others are weak.  Some adjust to the demands of widowhood, while others struggle to adapt to the new conditions.

We offer our prayers and our support to all of our married persons who are now alone – because of death or because of separation.  May the Lord comfort you in your grief and your loneliness.  May God enlighten you in your problems and strengthen you in your struggles.  Always keep in mind the words of today’s Responsorial Psalm:  “The fatherless and the widow He sustains” [Psalm 146].

We also salute our veterans – living and deceased – on this Veterans’ Day weekend who have given their all for all of us.  We remember with gratitude their heroic sacrifices – which took them away from their loved ones – in defending our nation and in keeping our world safe and peaceful.  We also remember their widowed spouses and families with our love and appreciation.

We give our special thanks for the widowed who have drawn closer to God because of their being alone.  Many of you participate in weekday Masses.  Many of you are active in our parish ministries.  Many of you volunteer and visit the sick and the home-bound and those who are grieving.

Many of you make tremendous sacrifices to care for and educate your children and grandchildren.  Many of you are so generous and faithful in supporting the work of the Church, the family of God.  And, above all, so many of you do a lot of praying – for your loved ones, for our parish, for vocations, for the missions, for the Pope – for me – and for every intention which is so close to the heart of Jesus Christ.

Like the widow in today’s Gospel, like the widow Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, may you continue to give your all generously and graciously – for the glory of God and for the good of God’s people.

May Jesus smile upon you and bless you and those you love, now and forever.

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.