On behalf of Fr. Richard Gallagher, Fr. Ramon Velasco and the staff members of Holy Family Parish, I wish each of you a Blessed Christmas.
I'd like to begin tonite by relating something which happened not in a snow covered land, but on one of the sunny islands of Hawaii. In spite of its warm climate, the Island of Molokai was no paradise. Just the opposite: it was where the government sent those afflicted with leprosy, a horrible disease which then had no cure. It attacked the extremities - toes, fingers, ears, nose, eventually consuming the entire body.
In 1873 a young Belgian priest named Joseph Damien de Veuster arrived at Molokai. He ministered personally to the 700 lepers, setting up a clinic and church. As Fr. Damien cared for his parishioners, he realized they were not only suffering physically, but spiritually and morally. Many, in a kind of despair, had given their lives over alcohol and disordered sexuality. The priest tried to reach them, but they knew he was different from them, he did not share their condition.
Fr. Damian always addressed his flock lovingly as "my dear brethren," but one day in 1885 that changed. At the age of 45, in a calm clear voice, instead of "my dear brethren," he began with, "My fellow lepers, I am one of you now." He himself had contracted the terrible disease. During four more years he continued to serve his fellow lepers until his death April 15, 1889.
A century later, on June 4, 1995 Joseph Damien was beatified by Pope John Paul. The state of Hawaii has honored Blessed Damien with a statue which stands in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building. I mention Father Damien at Christmastime because he did for those lepers what Jesus has done for us by his Incarnation and birth. He has taken on our condition to save us from despair.
I received a lovely Christmas present, one I wish I could give to each of you because it helped me understand more deeply the mystery of Jesus' Incarnation. It's a little book called Five Loaves and Two Fish by Archbishop Francois-Xavier Nguyen van Thuan. He was imprisoned nine years in Vietnam. While in prison he stealthfully obtained a small quantity of wine and hosts. Since he had no container to use as a chalice, each day he placed three drops of wine and a drop of water in his hand to say Mass.
Thus Archbishop Thuan held in hands the tiny amount of wine and bread which became Jesus' Body and Blood. As I imagined the Archbishop tenderly holding Jesus, I thought of Bethlehem and the Blessed Virgin cradling her newborn child. The Mass whether celebrated in a prison in Hanoi or a magnificent church like ours - is Bethlehem. It has meaning because of Jesus true presence, once again in a humble, hidden form.
Tonite we hear the invitation of the angelic choir:
Dear brothers and sisters, many of you have come to worship. Others perhaps are here only out of curiosity. And some might even feel they do not belong. I want you to know Jesus was born precisely for you. The purpose of Jesus' birth has been summed up this way:
"If our greatest need was for information, God would have sent an educator.
If our greatest need was for technology, God would have sent a scientist.
If our greatest need was for pleasure, God would have sent an entertainer.
If our greatest need was for money, God would have sent an economist.
But since our greatest need is for forgiveness... God sent a Saviour...a Redeemer."
Today marks 2000 years since Jesus' birth. You might say today is his 2000th birthday. But Jesus is not so much eager to receive a gift as to give you one. He wants to extend to your God's loving embrace, the forgiveness of all your sins.
From the archives:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
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Washington state priest brings natural family planning to Peru's highlands Catholic News Agency article about the Mary Bloom Center by Benjamin Mann
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