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.”

 

 

Fr. O’Connor’s Homily: November 29, 2015

-First Sunday of Advent-C

 

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Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Thessalonians 3: 12-4: 2
Luke 21: 25-28

 

Today there is a shift in the mood of the liturgy.  Last weekend, the last Sunday of the Church year, was the Feast of Christ the King, a day when we were decked out in vestments in white and gold, and we heard of the triumph of Christ.  This Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent (and Advent means “coming”), we are a little bit more somber, decked out in violet, and we lit the first candle of the Advent wreath.  We completed a Church year last weekend and we open a new one today.

Whenever we finish a year and begin a new one, two questions come to mind.  One is a rather pleasant one:  how has God touched you this past year in all of the good things that have happened in your life?  Family, friendship, success, dreams fulfilled…all those happy things.  How aware have you been of God’s presence in your life during those good things?

The second question is more difficult:  how has God touched you this past year in the tough things that have happened in your life?  The disappointments, the dreams that did not get fulfilled, loss, death, tears.  How aware were you this past year of God’s presence during those difficult times?  And yet Advent reminds us that God is always with us.

I thought I would tell you a story about a gentleman whose name was Henry Viscardi.

Henry was born without fully-developed legs.  Henry learned to walk on those stumps, and he used to endure the ridicule of the other kids.  Coming home crying and hurt, he would ask his mother:  “Why did this happen to me?”  His mother used to say:  “Henry, before you were born God called a meeting of all of the angels.  And God said to them:  ‘We are going to send into the world a little boy with a disability.’  And the angels asked:  ‘Where shall we send him?’  And God said:  ‘We are going to send him to the Viscardis, because there is a lot of love in that family, and they will know how to love Henry.’”

That used to make Henry feel pretty good, because he knew that he had a place in God’s plan and that God had something special for him to do.  So early on in life Henry made up his mind that he was going to accomplish some great things.

Henry did well in school.  As a matter of fact he graduated from Fordham.  But by this time in his life he had done a lot of damage to those stumps by all of the walking.  Medical people here in America did not have the technology to fit him with a prosthesis, with artificial legs.  But he heard of a doctor in Germany who was willing to try.  That doctor did so successfully, and for the first time in his life, Henry could stand tall and look people right in the eyes.

Henry wanted to pay the good doctor.  The doctor said:  “No – your debt to me will be fulfilled when you do something that is significant for one other person.”

Henry set out to do just that.

When World War II broke out, Henry joined the Red Cross, and he had a special interest in people that had lost a limb.

Eventually, when the war was over, he took an interest in disabled veterans who didn’t have employment.  He founded an organization called “Just One Break” – JOB.  Then he continued that work with another group that eventually became the National Center for Disabilities Services.

I tell you that story about Henry because it is easy to sense the presence of God when things are going very well.  It is much more difficult when things are tough.  But God is ALWAYS present among us.

We look for signs of God’s presence.  During this season of the year, when the days are shorter, the nights are longer, the temperatures are colder and the snow is soon to come, we look for signs of hope.

The Cherokee Indians had an insight about that. This is the story that comes from them:

When God created the world, God gave a gift to each species.  And each gift came with a test.

“You will be the guardians of the forest,” God said to the trees and the plants.  “Even in the seeming dead of winter your brother and sister creatures will find life protected in your branches.  So your test is to stay awake and keep watch over the forest for the next seven days and nights.”

The young trees and plants were so excited to be entrusted with such an important job that the first night they did not find it difficult to stay awake.

The second night was not so easy and just before dawn a few fell asleep.

Even more fell asleep during the nights that followed.

By the time the seventh night came, the only trees and plants still awake were the cedar, the pine, the spruce, the fir, the holly and the laurel.

“What wonderful endurance you have,” exclaimed God.  “You shall be given the gift of remaining green forever.”

Ever since then, all the other trees and plants lose their leaves and sleep all winter while the evergreens, ever alert, give color to the bleak landscape.

The evergreens are around all year long, but we pay special notice of them this time of the year.  They are a symbol to us that God is with us all of the time – when the sun is bright, when the darkness is around, when the weather is warm, when the weather is cold.  God is always with us.

The activities of this world can be very bleak too.  There are wars right now.  We are under threats of terrorism and violence.  But in our midst is Jesus Christ, whose love is ever green.

On this first Sunday of Advent we open a brand new Church year.  We lit the first candle on the Advent wreath, a symbol of Christ, the Light of the World.  And His name is Emmanuel, a name which means “God with us.”

The four candles mark the four weeks of Advent, as we prepare for His coming at Christmas and also for His second coming at the end of time.  But notice the branches of the wreath as well.  They are evergreens.  They are a sign of hope that God will be with us as this year unfolds – in the good times and in the tough times that lie ahead.

God has sent His Son to be with us.  And the love of Christ is ever faithful and ever green.

 

 

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.”