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home : from the bishop : from the bishop February 21, 2019

Bishop O'Connell's homily for Christmas Mass During the Night in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Trenton

Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.

December 24, 2015

The Christmas story tonight is no different than it has ever been.  Same characters; same stable; same angels; same shepherds; same star year after year after year.  You would think after 2,000 years, Christians would get tired of telling the same story.   And, yet, they never have and I suspect they never will.  The real miracle of the Christmas story is precisely that: it never gets old!  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.  Humanity is different because Jesus Christ --- the Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, the long awaited Messiah, the Eternal Savior --- became one of us.  How could we be the same after recognizing that?  It is news, it is a story truly worth repeating!

When we were children, we learned the story of baby Jesus.  Our attention, however, was often easily diverted by lights and presents and Santa.  But as we grew and matured, we realized there was more to the story than those things, as beautiful and joyful as they are!

The Prophet Isaiah announced in the First Reading, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great like ... for a child is born to us, a son is given us ... His dominion is vast and forever peaceful." The Psalmist sang "Today is born a Savior, Christ the Lord." The Letter to Titus, our Second Reading, reminds us on this Christmas night that "the grace of God has appeared, saving all .... The appearance of the glory of our great God Jesus Christ who gave himself to deliver us ...!"  Take all of those scriptural sound bytes as context, as background, as interpretation and we can understand the ancient Christmas story; why we tell it over and over again; why we celebrate the events of today's Gospel of St. Luke as though they just happened: new, fresh, energizing, uplifting, filled with joy.  That God loved us, loves us enough to give us his Son and his Son loved us, loves us enough to give us his life is a fundamental fact of our faith that never wears out or wearies our minds and hearts.  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 in love, in compassion, in forgiveness, in mercy.

This Christmas, the Catholic Church celebrates the birth of Christ during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Hopefully, mercy will come alive in us and all around us. This past week, Pope Francis gave a talk at the Vatican that really put this Holy Year's celebration of Christmas and the story with which we are so familiar in a great perspective. Quoting St. Augustine, the Holy Father offered us the Christmas reflection of this great Saint:

Christmas 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? 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.”

What a profound thought, really a meditation and prayer for us on this Christmas night. As Christ came to give himself fully to us, let us who tell the story again make of ourselves a Christmas gift of mercy to one another. Merry Christmas!  

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