Bishop O'Connell preaches the homily during midnight Mass early Dec. 25 in St. Rose Church, Belmar. At right is Msgr. Edward Arnister, pastor. YouTube screenshot
Bishop O'Connell preaches the homily during midnight Mass early Dec. 25 in St. Rose Church, Belmar. At right is Msgr. Edward Arnister, pastor. YouTube screenshot
Acknowledging the challenges the pandemic-stricken world has experienced in the past year, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., urged every faithful person to look to the hope Christmas brings.

“This Christmas is an invitation to us and to all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to let the mystery in, to let it warm our hearts and make them feel new, to let it influence our way of looking at the world he came to save, to give ‘glory to God’ as we embrace one another – although at a distance, although online, although livestreamed yet no less real or compelling – in love, in compassion, in forgiveness, in mercy,” Bishop O’Connell preached during the Christmas Eve Vigil Mass he celebrated Dec. 24 in St. Gregory the Great Church, Hamilton Square, and midnight Mass in St. Rose Church, Belmar. 

PHOTO GALLERY: Christmas Eve Mass with Bishop in St. Gregory the Great Church

The Bishop spoke of how those Christmas graces will come alive in and around every faithful person, because “they always have since that first Christmas and always will.”

Faithful across the Diocese tuned in via livestream video for both Masses, which were accompanied by cherished Christmas hymns and carols, creating a sense of warmth and familiarity in an otherwise unconventional year. 

Joining the Bishop at the altar in St. Rose Church were Msgr. Edward Arnister, pastor, Father Christopher Dayton, parochial vicar, and Father David Baratelli of the Archdiocese of Newark and chaplain in Newark Liberty International Airport. Father Jason Parzynski, diocesan vocations director, served as the Bishop’s master of ceremonies at both Masses. In St. Gregory the Great, Deacon Joe Latini assisted, and Father Michael Hall, pastor, helped administer Holy Communion.  

Christmas, Bishop O’Connell preached, is truly the feast of God’s infinite mercy.

“Could there have been any greater mercy shown to us unhappy men than that which led the Creator of the heavens to come down among us, and the Creator of the earth to take on our mortal body?” Bishop O’Connell said, quoting from St. Augustine of Hippo. “That same mercy led the Lord of the world to assume the nature of a servant, so that, being himself bread, he would suffer hunger; being himself fullness, he would thirst; being himself power, he would know weakness; being himself salvation, he would experience our woundedness, and being himself life, he would die. All this he did to satisfy our hunger, alleviate our longing, strengthen our weaknesses, wipe out our sins and enkindle our charity.”

Such thoughts are a meditation and prayer for the faithful on Christmas, he said. “As Christ came to give himself fully to us, let us who tell the story again make of ourselves a Christmas gift of love and kindness to one another.”

Indeed, the Christmas story never gets old, Bishop O’Connell said, which one might find surprising considering it’s more than 2,000 years old.

“The real miracle of the Christmas story is precisely that: it never gets old!” he preached. "That God became man, that the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, has an impact upon us; it has an effect upon us; it means something important and changes us. It is news, great ‘Good News’ and a story truly worth repeating again and again!”

And just as how those who walked in darkness saw “a great light” when Jesus was born, so, too, can those who hear the Christmas story again and again find peace.

“Although those words were first spoken to foretell the coming of the Messiah, they evoke a special hope after the year we have just experienced together,” Bishop O’Connell said, reflecting on Isaiah 9:1-6. “The COVID pandemic has been a time of darkness, but we have not now nor can we ever let it block out the light of Christ’s presence among us.”