Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., incenses the Nativity scene in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, where he celebrated Midnight Mass. Vic Mistretta photos
Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., incenses the Nativity scene in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, where he celebrated Midnight Mass. Vic Mistretta photos

Following is Bishop O’Connell’s homily delivered at midnight Mass on Christmas Eve/Christmas morning in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

In my Christmas Message to the Diocese this year, I wrote, “The whole world becomes different at Christmas.”  Those are my words, yes, but they are not my idea. 

Photo Gallery: Bishop celebrates Midnight Mass in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral

The prophet Isaiah – 800 years before the birth of Christ – expressed the idea this way, as we heard in our First Reading tonight, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  Light makes the dark world “different.”  It enables people to see.  And what do we see at Christmas?  “A child is born for us,” Isaiah explains, “A son is given us.  Upon his shoulders dominion rests.”  This is what we see; this is whom we see at Christmas.  A Child.  A Son.  “They name him: Wonder Counselor, God-Hero, Father Forever, Prince of Peace.”  It is the Child, the Son who shatters the darkness of this world and brings his light.

In his Letter to Titus, our Second Reading, St. Paul wrote about that divine light: “The grace of God has appeared, saving all ... the appearance of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to deliver us.”  That is why the whole world becomes different at Christmas, because of Christmas.  God has appeared in the grace of a Child, a Son.  He has appeared to us, for us ... to you, for you.

St. Luke told us the story of this Child, of this light, of this grace in his Gospel tonight, a story so familiar that we have spent the last four weeks of Advent, indeed the last 2000 years, preparing to hear it again, to experience it again with joyful expectation as though we were hearing it, experiencing it for the first time.  With the Psalmist we proclaim “Today is born a Savior, Christ the Lord.”

The whole world becomes different at Christmas but truly, deeply, profoundly only if we allow Christmas to touch and move our hearts.  Today is Christmas Day.  But what about tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that?  Christmas must continue to make those days different too, must continue to make us different, too, or it makes no difference at all.  Faith must be stronger.  Hope must be stronger.  Love must be easier because of Christmas.  Faith, hope and love are the great light in the darkness of this world.  Those things are the grace that has appeared.  Those things are the “good news of great joy that must be for all people.” 

Pope Francis has reminded us once “how we behave is far more persuasive than how we speak ... talk a little, listen a lot, say just enough and look everyone in the eye (Pope Francis, A Man of His Word).” Then, and only then will the world become different; then, and only then, can we sing with the angels of that first Christmas night 2,000 years ago and on this Christmas night “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  Merry Christmas!