I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas day. As we continue in the Christmas season, today the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Innocents. It is a striking reminder of the opposition to Christ even from the time of his birth, but also of the forces of the culture of death which are operatives even on our own day, particularly in the terrible massacre of innocents through abortion.
We must all raise our lament with that of Rachel. Our prayers and efforts must be directed to bring about a society that will protect all children, making it safe for women to have their babies with the support and services that they need to raise their family rather than being cajoled or pressured into murdering their own child.
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On New Year’s eve I will be celebrating Mass at St. Mary Parish in Waltham. The evening will start with a time of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at 10:30 PM. The Mass is scheduled to start at 11:30 PM. The event is organized by the Pro-Life Office and is geared toward young adults and families. In fact, this year we will hear some testimonies of married couples during the evening. If you live in the Boston area, I encourage you to come and join us on Monday evening. I cannot think of a better way to start the new year than celebrating the Eucharist together.
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I was very pleased with the December 18 United Nations vote that ratified a resolution calling for a moratorium on executions. The resolution was approved 104-54, with 29 abstentions. It states that “there is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty’s deterrent value and that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the death penalty’s implementation is irreversible and irreparable.”
Most of the industrialized western nations have already abolished capital punishment but there are still parts of the world where this is practiced, sadly including the United States.
As Pope John Paul II clearly stated, in our modern times we should be able to find other solutions to punish the criminals without going to the extreme of extinguishing a human life.
I think that Church’s concern about abortion, euthanasia and for all human life is what has led the Church to this conclusion about capital punishment. Historically there could have been momentous justification for the death penalty but in our modern times, with the resources and the technology that we have to incarcerate people, it is no longer necessary, and therefore, no longer acceptable.
I was very pleased that the Community of Saint Egidio, a Catholic ecclesial community, was so instrumental in promoting this resolution of the United Nations. They collected millions of signatures and promoted a campaign of prayer and education worldwide to bring this issue to the consciences of the leaders of so many nations. It is a great milestone and we all pray and look forward to the day when capital punishment will be abolished in our own country.
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Last Sunday we ordained two Puerto Rican — Jose Fajardo and Alfredo Nieves —as permanent deacons at the Cathedral.
We will be having a large ordination of permanent deacons in the spring but for special circumstances these men’s ordination was carried out in December. We are delighted to have two more Hispanic ordained ministers to help in the ministry of our growing Hispanic population.
From left: Alfredo Nieves and Jose Fajardo
Rev. Mr. Alfredo Nieves with his family
Rev. Mr. Jose Fajardo with his family
For many people in the Cathedral it was the first time they experienced an ordination, and doing it in the Christmas season added much to the joy and festivities of the day.
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On Monday, I went to Pine Street Inn. I visited the staff, volunteers and the residents there.
Setting the table
Serving a meal…
… a delicious meal
We sang some Christmas carols with different groups who were singing to the residents. We served the meals.
Father Walter Waldron, Msgr. Francis Kelley and other members of our Catholic community were instrumental in establishing the Pine Street Inn, which does so much to address the very serious problem of homelessness in our community. We are grateful to the president, Lyndia Downie for all that is done for the homeless.
Chatting with Msgr. Kelley and a volunteer
They have two shelters, one for men and another for women, and each night they shelter 700 homeless people. But they also reach out to the homeless in the streets of Boston — around 200 of them sleep in the streets. The Inns’ vans travel through the city providing food, clothing, blankets, medical help to those sleeping in the streets. It is an extraordinary outreach.
Meals are prepared with great care
It is wonderful to see that our youth are also willing to help out
This year we had the added pleasure during my visit of meeting Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts who joined some of his parishioners who were volunteers at the Pine Street Inn. It was a nice opportunity to wish him a very Merry Christmas.
With Bishop Shaw
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At midnight, we celebrated the traditional Christmas Mass at the Cathedral.
Blessing the crèche
The Cathedral was very nicely decorated
How grateful we were to the volunteers Ted Fiori and Sal and Marie DiDomenico who did so much to decorate the Church.
The choir was superb, they sang Christmas carols in many different languages because we are such a multi ethnic Church. The cathedral was filled. There were carols sung before Mass and then we began by singing the Martyrology.
I want to share my homily with you:
In the Gospel St. Philip the Apostle says to Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus’ reply is: “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”
Throughout the ages people have desired to see God. In some cases people created idols so as to be able to see God. In the Old Testament Moses speaks with God and asks in the book of Exodus: “Show me your Glory.” Moses hears the answer: “You cannot see my face, for no one can see my face and live…Behold there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by, then I will take away my hand and you shall see my back but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33: 18-23).
At Bethlehem God shows us His face. The transcended God of the Burning Bush is now present to us without the splendor but in poverty allowing us to glimpse the merciful face of our God. He is the Word made flesh and comes in the silence of Bethlehem and the muteness of a baby. But God is speaking. In the starkness of the manger: the Word made Flesh is Emmanuel God-with-us. In His muteness of a child born in a stable. The word is I love you. I forgive you. Follow me.
The Missionaries of Charity are often present at the cathedral liturgies
The phrase that is a mantra repeated again and again in the Infancy narratives of the Gospel is: “Do not be afraid.” To Joseph, to Mary, to Zachariah, to the shepherds and to us God is saying: “Don’t be afraid.”
I love you. I forgive you. Follow me.
Christmas is meant to be a feast of Faith and Joy. We have made it a celebration of sentimentality and fantasy. It takes a great effort to rescue the Christ Child from the commercialism and the hype of the season. To sentimentality and fantasy we need to add Political Correctness the latest Grinch to try and steal Christmas. Just look at the “seasons greetings” on our Christmas cards. It is like sending a Birthday card addressed: “Occupant” or “To whom it may concern.”
During the homily
Christmas is Christ’s birthday. And we have received the greatest present of all — Christ the Lord came as a little child so as to be completely approachable, so that he could be one of us, so that God’s love would be visible and have a face, and so we could be freed from our sins.
That reminds me of a story Cardinal Spellman of New York once shared about being in his office. The phone rang and the new receptionist in the Chancery lobby said, “Cardinal, there is a man here in the lobby claiming to be Jesus Christ. What should I do?” The Cardinal responded, “Look busy!” It was good advice — especially since that homeless schizophrenic man off his meds is Christ in our midst and has a claim on our love.
At the first Christmas Christ truly came into our world. Many people were too busy with the census, with the activity in the inn, parties, business, studies. The first ones to receive the news were the shepherds. They heard the first Christmas carol sung by the angels calling for Glory to God and peace on earth. The first reaction of the shepherds was fear, but the angels consoled them saying: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people… a savior has been born who is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds said to one another — Let us go to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place. The shepherds saw the manger and the baby and they were filled with amazement. They also found Mary there pondering these things in her heart. The reaction of the shepherds was one of joy and wonder before the mystery of God’s love made visible in the face of a little child to assure us that God’s love for us is ever young, ever new, that His love for us never tires, of forgiving us, of giving us another chance.
Today the Church invites us to gather at the manger. There the Good Shepherd is waiting to gather the scattered, to feed us with the manna come down from heaven, the medicine that makes us strong so that we can live His Gospel and be witnesses of His love.
A few months ago I was asked to write the forward of a book called Priestblock 25487 — it is a memoir of Dachau written by Father Jean Bernard, a priest of Luxemburg who was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camp with almost 3000 Catholic priests and Bishops. I was quite moved by his account of Christmas 1941 in Dachau. The author describes the horrors of the camp and lamented that the priests were not allowed to celebrate Mass. Then Father Jean is approached by a Bavarian capuchin, Father Heinrich Zöhren, who tells him he has a surprise for him. Some one had smuggled in some consecrated hosts in a folded piece of paper. He was told it was ichthys — the Greek word for fish. In the early Church it was a code for the Eucharist since the first letters from the phrase “Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior” spell out the Greek word for fish, ichthys. A group of priests gathered inconspicuously in front of their barracks and divided the precious pieces into as many particles as humanly possible. And Father Jean Bernard writes: “Then the Christ Child entered our hearts.”
The food from the manger in Bethlehem fed that group of prisoners in the most hellish place on earth. Jesus came to bring light to the darkness, forgiveness of sins, then He invites us to follow Him.
God calls us to experience His love and then to share that love with as many people as possible. Like the priests in Dachau breaking the hosts into little pieces so that more people could receive communion in the concentration camp on Christmas.
The shepherds left the manger only to tell everyone what they had seen. If we truly celebrate Christ’s coming into our world, it is not something we can just walk away from. God has come into our world. He calls us to friendship and to share a mission of making His Kingdom more present, more visible.
At Christmas our God comes to us as a humble pilgrim in search of hospitality. Nourished by the bread of life that comes to us from the manger, let us open our hearts in welcome to this Divine Humble Pilgrim, to the Lord Jesus. By reaching out with compassion and loving care we can give Him hospitality as he comes to us disguised in the hungry, the homeless, the mentally ill, the imprisoned, the stranger, the immigrant. Jesus came to reveal the merciful face of the father: the poor, the sick, the marginalized were the protagonists of His Gospel. It is our task to be the merciful face of Christ — as the Father sent me, so I send you Jesus tells us.
Struggling to remain awake
He does not send us alone but with our brothers and sisters whose faith and solidarity sustains us. And He gives us the spiritual food of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. At Christmas we come to the manger to see the Baby Pictures and rejoice as we look at our Family Album. But our faith tells us that Christ born at Bethlehem 2000 years ago is still God with us. He comes to offer us His friendship and love and to invite us to a life of discipleship in His Church.
At Bethlehem the Shepherds were filled with joy and wonder and were anxious to share that joy with others. Knowing the Lord, carries with it an obligation to make Him known and loved.
Christmas is the feast of the Child, the Christ child, our God who made Himself small to be close to us. Jesus says in the Gospel — Unless you become like a little child you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. God came to us in the humility and simplicity of a little baby — we can go to Him only in the humility and simplicity of a child. Children have a sense of trust in their parents — God wants us to have that trust in Him — to pray the Lord’s prayer — Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done — we don’t need to say my kingdom come, my will be done because we trust in the Father’s love for us.
Children have a sense of wonder in seeing the magical and the miraculous in what to others seems commonplace and trite. A child never tires of hearing the same familiar stories over and over without being bored or disillusioned. Bethlehem means drawing near the manger with the same sense of wonder and awe like a child, like those shepherds to ponder the story anew.
Mary pondered all this in her heart, the miracle of the Virgin birth, the message of the angels in the stark setting of a stable.
Our God became a little child to enter our world and invites us to become like a little child full of trust and wonder to enter into heaven.
At Bethlehem if we have the trust and faith of a child we will discover the treasure, the pearl of great price and our lives will be changed.
Let me conclude with a couple of excerpts from a beautiful Christmas prayer written by Robert Louis Stevenson, author of “Treasure Island”:
“Give us, Lord Jesus the eyes of children
To see your birth with Christian wonder.
Help us to share in the song of the angels,
The gladness of the shepherds,
And the worship of the wise men.
Close the door on hate,
And open the door of love, all over the world.”
“May Christmas morning
Make us happy to be your children
And Christmas evening
Bring us to rest with grateful thought,
Forgiving and forgiven. Amen.”
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The next day I celebrated Mass at Channel 7 — WHDH — studios.
Getting ready for Mass in a peculiar “sacristy”
A large group of Daughters of St. Paul were there
helping and participating in the Mass.
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After celebrating Mass at Channel 7, I went to Saint Francis House, which in its origins back in 1984 was tied to Saint Anthony shrine. It is an agency that serves over 800 homeless people each day giving them shelter and some auxiliary services that they need, such as a place to wash their clothes, showers, and a place to get their mail.
It was a pleasure to spend time talking with the residents
It was edifying to see that among the volunteering there, beside our own Catholic volunteers, there were a number of Jewish men who were helping out at Christmas
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For the photo of the week, here it is a picture of the baby Jesus displayed in the crèche at the Cathedral.
Unto us a Child is given,
Christ our savior bring release;
Counselor, Eternal Father, God made man, and Prince of Peace
(From the evening prayer hymn for Christmas Eve)