Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Day: December 29, 2006

Rejoicing in His birth

Good day everyone. I hope you all had a very blessed Christmas and are enjoying this beautiful and holy season.

I began my activities on the morning of Christmas Eve visiting with the residents, staff and many volunteers at the Pine Street Inn. Those people were there serving our homeless brothers and sisters during this Christmas season. I was accompanied by Msgr. Frank Kelley, who was instrumental in founding Pine Street Inn. Msgr. Kelley is a member of their board of directors and is very much involved in their activities.


A happy group of volunteers


I was happy to help out too


Since the Pine Street Inn is only a couple of blocks away from the cathedral, we have a special affinity for the residents there. Some of them come to Masses at the cathedral. As I mentioned in my Christmas homily which I have posted below in the Virgin Islands when we opened up shelters for the homeless we named them Bethlehem House because at Bethlehem our God made Himself homeless in order to lead us home. At Christmastime, Jesus, Mary and Joseph found no room at the inn, but at Pine Street Inn there is room for all of Gods children. We are very grateful for the work that is done there. So many people and so many volunteers support that effort. We are especially grateful to the president of the inn, Lyndia Downie, who is doing such a. wonderful job.

Msgr. Kelley prepares to help out


Some of the folks I got to meet at Pine Street



Sharing some light moments



The carolers did a wonderful job

I celebrated several masses at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross for our Christmas celebration in the Archdiocese of Boston. The Christmas Eve Mass for the Vietnamese community is always a magnificent celebration. Were very blessed to have a vibrant Vietnamese Catholic community in the archdiocese, and I am always glad to have the opportunity to celebrate with them. The music and the pageantry of the Christmas Eve Mass was very, very moving. The choirs were magnificent, and children dressed as angels and women in their native costumes gave a great solemnity to the occasion. The cathedral was filled with Vietnamese from throughout the archdiocese.


Many members of the Vietnamese community
joined in for the Mass

The little angels were quite adorable



Women presented the gifts dressed in their traditional dress

Members of the Vietnamese community in the United States are the heirs of the Catholic tradition in Vietnam, a tradition of martyrdom and suffering for the faith. Many Vietnamese Catholics have come to be a part of our country and a part of our local Church. A very large percentage of the Vietnamese in the United States are Catholic, and its a community that takes their faith very seriously. Although the Vietnamese and other Asian Catholics are probably only one percent of the Catholic population, they represent 12 percent of the ordinations each year in our country. It shows the great faith they have, the spirit of fidelity to the Gospel that is inspiring so many young Vietnamese to choose priesthood and religious life.

When welcoming the Vietnamese community to the cathedral, I told them that the cathedral was built by the original boat people, the Irish, who had to flee their country at a time of persecution and of famine. Those Irish immigrants built our beautiful church, the cathedral, which has served so many different immigrant communities that have come to Boston to make their home and become a part of our local community.

Later that night I celebrated the archdiocesan Midnight Mass. It was a beautiful celebration of the Eucharist. The choir under Leo Abbot had prepared so well, and the carols and hymns were very uplifting. Ted Fiore and Jim did a wonderful job decorating the cathedral.


The cathedral was splendidly decorated for the Midnight Mass

The cathedral has two crches, one at the door where the people outside can see it and a second one in the sanctuary. Both of the manger scenes were very, very beautiful, and the Christmas crche is an important part of our celebration. It was St. Francis himself who began the practice of a Christmas crche so the people could see the symbols of Christmas and realize that our God loves us so much that He was born in poverty and simplicity to be close to us. The crche is the centerpiece of our Christmas celebration. Although the Christmas tree has become such a symbol of Christmas, for us as Catholics the crche is really the primary Christmas symbol.


The outside display is set in one of the front doors of the cathedral

The creche beside the altar

I would like to share with you my homily from the Midnight Mass:


Delivering my homily

In the Virgin Islands, we opened shelters for the homeless with the help of many wonderful volunteers. Without hesitation, we all agreed the shelter should be called Bethlehem House because at Bethlehem Our God became homeless so that we could find our way home.

In the film Contact, scientists in New Mexico have a huge array of radio telescopes to listen for signs of intelligent life in outer space. Finally, contact is made as a message is received that is a sequence of prime numbers. A spaceship is built, and one of the scientists takes off for outer space. It is all science fiction. Yet it is true that people are curious about possible life on other planets. Christmas is different. It is not science fiction, although we surround the celebration with fantasy and escapism.

Midnight Mass is a call to stark realism. In literature, Realism came out of France and was a reaction to Romanticism. It has often come to mean works of art that emphasize the ugly or sordid.

The amazing thing about Christmas is that in all its starkness, the meaning of Christmas is so powerful and so beautiful that it far surpasses our efforts at tinsel laden sentimentality and crass materialism that characterizes our modern secular holiday. At Christmas, realism is beautiful and the winter wonderland themes and department store window displays are a poor substitution for the joy that radiates from the poverty and simplicity of Bethlehem and our loving God who becomes homeless in order to help us find the way home.

We start gearing up for Christmas in October, but God started gearing up centuries before. For God nothing is improvised. The prophet Isaiah centuries before Christ is telling us that a virgin shall conceive and her child will be Emmanuel God with us. The Gospel passages for the Christmas season contain four announcements made by Gods messengers, the angels. The messenger announces the Birth of John the Baptist to Zachariah, the messenger announces Jesus birth to Mary, then to Joseph, then to the Shepherds. On each of these occasions, Gods message begins with the same words, Do not be afraid! Our God loves us so much that He wants to be with us, to be close, to Emmanuel. Do not be afraid! One reason that our God comes in poverty and in the helplessness of a little child is to keep us from being afraid. No one need fear a little infant.

The Good News is not in the past tense. Our Savior lives. He will deliver us. He manifests His love in the face of a child because Gods love is always young, always fresh. Gods love never tires of giving us another chance, never tires of forgiving us, of encouraging us. Jesus has come to save us from sin and from death. We can see the joy in a persons eyes when the doctor says: Its not malignant, you are not going to die. Jesus tells us that if we believe in Him, we will live forever with Him. That Jesus changes our perception of death is part of the joy of Christmas. Gods words Do not be afraid are liberating. Love casts out fear. On Christmas, love is born in a stable.

The real joy of Christmas is the firm conviction that there is a reason to celebrate because our God has come into our world, that He emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave, becoming obedient unto death, even death on the Cross for love of us.

If we fall into that Spiritual Alzheimers that allows us to forget the meaning of Christmas, we forget who we are, our identity and why we are here. Christmas is not just celebrating a birthday party and digging out the baby pictures. Christmas is the joy of knowing EmmanuelGod is with ushere and now.

When we read the Gospels about Jesus birth and the events that surround the first Christmas, we can identify two aspects of Bethlehem that should be part of our celebration of Christmas: worship and witness.

At Christmas, we want to worship our God. The first Christmas carol, sung by the angels at Bethlehem is an invitation to worship Glory to God in the highest. When we sing O come all ye faithful the refrain is Come, let us adore Him. The shepherds went to the stable looking for this extraordinary child in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.

The shepherds glorified and praised God for all they had seen and heard. But, they also witnessed to what they had seen and heard. The Gospel says: All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

We have to worship our God who loves us so much and who has come into our world to show us His love, to take away our fears, to lead us home.

To know the meaning of Christmas is also a responsibility to share that joy with the world the way the shepherds did. Those who listen will be as amazed as the people in the Gospel.

I urge parents to share this joy with your children. Take them to the crche, and tell them the story of Bethlehem. It is the story of our family. It is the story that shapes our lives, our hopes, and our aspirations.


I was glad to see many children at the Midnight Mass


…even if it was a little late for some of them


Larry King was once asked if he could interview anyone in history who would he interview. Larry replied that he would like to interview Jesus Christ. And what would you ask Jesus? they asked him. Larry said: I would ask Jesus if He were born of a Virgin. For me that defines all of history.

That is our definition of history that Jesus is born of a Virgin, in other words, our God has become our brother. Around Christmas little children often ask me if I am Santa Claus. I tell them unfortunately I am not but Santa Claus was a bishop.

Santa wrote us a letter – a prayer that we pray each Sunday at Mass. St. Nicholas the Bishop was one of the Council Fathers at Nicea in 325 that wrote the Creed that we will recite. Today we genuflect at the phrase in the Creed –

by the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.

Prior to St. Nicholas the Church considered only the martyrs as saints they witnessed to the Churchs faith in Christ by their courageous death. St. Nicholas was canonized because he witnessed to his faith in Christ by his love for others especially the poor and the needy. His faith in the Christmas event transformed his life and transformed the way he treated people with love, mercy, compassion. We witness to our faith when we suffer and courageously witness to the Gospel, but we also witness in our love for the poor and the sick, in our ability to forgive, to share.

For Nicholas the Creed was not just information, but good news not just data, but a way of life and discipleship. A life of worship and a life of witness.

At Bethlehem the shepherds worshiped at the manger today we worship this same Christ at Mass. Christmas is Christs Mass.

Christmas is in part a celebration for children who see that God becomes one of them. We must witness to our children, the message of the angels, the testimony of the shepherds. Teach the lyrics of the wonderful Christmas carols that speak to us so eloquently of the Saviors birth.

Help your children to be a part of the worshiping community. Bring them to worship at the crche and at the Eucharist. Some parents send their children to the religious education programs but do not bring them to Mass. It is not enough to know that Christ was born at Bethlehem; we must worship him. Our faith is not information, it is good news. The Catholic faith means being part of something bigger than ourselves. The Body of Christ is Church.

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Help your children to be amazed by Gods love and amazed by His desire to be close. Celebrate Christmas as they did in Bethlehem by worshiping and by witnessing. Then the joy and meaning of Christmas will not fade on December 26 it will only grow stronger.

On Christmas morning I was pleased that we were able to celebrate Mass televised from the studios of WHDH-TV, Channel 7, in Boston. The televised Mass reaches so much of New England, and we know that it allowed so many shut-ins and people at home to participate in the Eucharist. It was also beautiful to have the Daughters of St. Paul there who sang magnificent Christmas carols.

Celebrating Mass in the Channel 7 studios

On Christmas Day we also visited St. Francis House, which had originally had come out of the ministry of the Franciscans at Arch Street and is a wonderful service to so many people. Homeless people often have nowhere to go during the day. They have no place to wash their clothes, get a shower or have a telephone number to give to a potential employer. St. Francis House provides many with those opportunities.


Talking to some folks at St. Francis House


The pie certainly looked good

The executive director there, Karen LaFrazia, and some of the other directors told me of the rising need for services for the homeless. It was disturbing to hear that the population using their services is up by over 100 percent over last year at the same time. Housing is a critical problem for our people. Many of our homeless people have jobs but are still unable to get housing. This is a very grave social problem that we all need to be concerned about and try seek solutions.


Boston media accompanied me through the visit


Leaving St. Francis House

After all the celebrations in Boston, I was very happy to be able to spend Christmas evening with about 60 members of my family. We had a big Christmas dinner at the home of one of my cousins. Christmas has always been an important day in the life of our family as it is in the lives of so many families.

I also wanted to mention that this Sunday is Holy Family Sunday, and the bishops have asked that in the prayer of the faithful all of the Catholics in Massachusetts lift up a prayer for families and the institution of marriage. Were praying that the Legislature will finally vote on the protection of marriage initiative at the Constitutional Convention on Jan. 2.

This is the recommended text of the prayer sent to all pastors of the four dioceses in Massachusetts:

We pray for Gods blessing on all families and on family life. We pray God will bless our state legislators with courage and conviction on Tuesday as they consider whether or not to bring the Marriage Amendment to the people by way of a ballot vote. We pray to the Lord.

We hope that people will understand that the Churchs sincere interest is in protecting family life and the institution of marriage. Marriage has already been undermined by easy divorce and cohabitation. This year the number of married households in the United States was the lowest percentage in our history. People say, Oh, the sky hasnt fallen in because of redefinition of marriage. But the sky has fallen in for children and for families. This is our great concern. We hope that people will not believe that in any way is the Church against homosexual persons or supporting those who promote discrimination. It is wrong to diminish in any way the dignity of any member of our community. Instead, we must protect the important institution of marriage because so much is at stake.

I hope you are all enjoying the Christmas season with your families as I have, and I look forward to writing you next week.

Yours in Christ,

Cardinal Sen

December 2006