Christmas Greetings from Father O’Connor

December 20, 2015

I wish each of you a happy, peace-filled and joyful Christmas celebration. I am sending my greeting in writing because I might not have an opportunity of expressing my wishes to you personally. Christmas, the anniversary of Jesus’ birth, is less than a week away, and my wish and prayer for you is that your heart will be filled with the spirit of Christmas.
 
During Advent I have noticed that Mass attendance at St. Mary and Assumption parishes increased. I was delighted to see that. I believe strongly that the spirit of what took place in Bethlehem touches the heart of most people whether pious or not. My reflections for the Sundays of Advent were:

First Sunday: Too many of us are constantly in a hurry with little or no time for God. Find some time each day to talk with God, and more importantly, to listen to God.
Second Sunday: Hope is different from wishful thinking. It is trusting that what we desire will happen because of the promises of God who is faithful to his promises. Pope Francis has designated 2016 as a Jubilee Year, and he has invited us to experience God’s mercy.
Third Sunday: God calls us to rejoice despite the fact that we live in a world with much sadness, loneliness, hunger, selfishness, greed and violence.
Fourth Sunday: A young and pious Jewish girl (Mary) from a relatively insignificant place (Nazareth) was invited to be the mother of the Savior of the world who would be born in a place of no importance (Bethlehem). From her conception, she was preserved free from original sin (Immaculate Conception).

In Assumption and St. Mary parishes during 2015, many of our families dealt with the death of a loved one. Some also had to deal with disappointment, illness, loss of job, anxiety, and loneliness. I am also thinking of the sadness caused by separations, family breakups, imprisonment, employment away from home, and military service overseas. I, too, lost my brother-in-law to cancer in November. I pray that this Christmas will bring hope, love, and healing to all who are hurting.
 
Pope Francis has designated 2016 as a Jubilee Year, beginning December 8, 2015 and concluding November 20, 2016 – Feast of Christ the King. In his announcement, Pope Francis said, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” The church worldwide and every parish are to proclaim and lovingly offer experiences of the Father’s mercy throughout 2016. Each church member will be invited and encouraged to discover and acknowledge the deep and dark areas in their lives that need the healing power of the Father’s mercy. Issues and events in individual’s lives that might have happened many years ago may still need healing. I hope that our parish celebrations will help individuals to experience the fullness of the Father’s mercy.

As we begin this Year of Mercy, I want to reach out to all of our present parishioners and to every person who was ever a member of one of our parishes (or any parish elsewhere) who might have become distant or alienated from us to ask you to give us another chance. I and our parish leaders invite you to come home for Christmas and remain with us and make your church home with us. So whether you have been an active member for many years, or struggled with your faith, or need help with an annulment, or think you have committed a serious sin that is beyond God’s forgiveness, or simply “lost your way,” give us another chance. As a congregation, we are not perfect; and as the priest, I am not perfect. Call me and come talk with me. I will try to help you. I also ask you to pray for me.

Wouldn’t it be a blessing if our parishes (St. Mary and Assumption) increasingly became great places of welcome, support, insight, and love during this Jubilee year? Many people in our parishes are actively involved in parish work. Because of this, the sick are visited, the poor assisted, the hungry are fed, habitat housing is built, the young are taught and nourished in the faith, opportunities of spiritual growth are offered, and church property and funds are used to promote Gospel values. Also, many people in our parishes take roles in liturgical celebrations. I consider myself blessed to be among you as your priest.

Two Redemptorist priests, will lead a four (4) day program of spiritual renewal for St. Mary Basilica and Assumption parishes January 23–28, 2016. This type of program is sometimes referred to in Catholic circles as a ‘parish mission’ (and in Protestant circles as a ‘revival’). The theme of this renewal program is based on Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year theme. The aim of this program is to present the message of Jesus in a fresh way so that participants will open themselves to God’s grace and infinite mercy.
The daily schedule will include:

8:00 am Mass (St. Mary) followed by coffee/discussion. Monday will be a school Mass.
11:00 am Mass (Assumption) followed by discussion and lunch
5:30 – 6:15 pm (St. Mary) light dinner
6:15 – 7:30 pm Presentation on specific themes.

The Wednesday evening of this week will include a parish reconciliation with a number of visiting priests. The presentation on Thursday evening will be within the closing Mass. I ask each parishioner to help in three ways: (1) pray for the success of the renewal program, (2) clear your calendar so that you and your family can attend each day, and (3) think about at least one inactive Catholic whom you will invite to the four day program.

During Christmas , spend a few minutes in prayer before the manger. The shepherds found the newborn Messiah in a manger (Luke 2:16-17). The Magi inquired of Herod where they would find the newborn king and their journey led them to Bethlehem (Micah 5:1). May you also find Jesus at the manger. My wish and prayer is that all of you be abundantly blessed during this Christmas season and throughout 2016. Know that you will be included in my Christmas Masses.