Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

A Christmas Message for Families

A blessed Christmas Eve to you all!

Over the weekend, I was visited by Father Simeon Gallagher, who was a classmate of mine.


He was in the area giving retreats in some of our parishes, so it was great to see him once again.

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On Friday, I attended the wake of Father Marc Piché at Immaculate Conception in Newburyport.


Father Marc was ordained in 1968 and served in different parishes throughout the archdiocese in his 42 years of priestly ministry, of course most recently at Immaculate Conception.

He also held various leadership posts in the archdiocese, including Episcopal vicar for the former Natick and Brockton regions and Regional Director of Liturgy in the former Lynn region.

The church was filled with those who had come to pay their respects, including many priests and members of his family. It was a beautiful tribute to him.

Father Marc was very beloved and served that parish so well. Many people there told me they had been married by him and he had baptized their children.

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Saturday morning we had the Women Affirming Life Mass and Breakfast in Norwood. I celebrated a Mass and enjoyed a lovely breakfast with them.


I was so pleased to see such a large turnout for this very important event. It was a sellout crowd of over 300 people, which I am told was a record.



The event began with a Mass and, during my homily, I spoke to them about our Blessed Mother — particularly that Mary was the first “woman affirming life” in the Catholic Church, and is our model today.


I thanked all of them for their dedication to life and invited them to be a part of our New Years’ Eve pro-life Mass at St. Leonard’s Church in the North End.

I also encouraged them to work to send young people to Washington for the March for Life, which marks the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, and to support the Deacons for Life, who are organizing Holy Hours for Life in the parishes of the archdiocese in January.




During the breakfast that followed, Mary Ann McLaughlin of our Worship and Spiritual Life Office gave the keynote address.


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On Tuesday I paid my annual visit to MCI-Framingham, which is a women’s correctional facility. I spent almost the whole day there.

During my visit I was accompanied by Deacon Jim Greer, who oversees our prison chaplaincy program, and Sister Maureen Clark, who has been the chaplain there for many years and is doing an extraordinary job. They also have a wonderful group of Cursillistas and volunteers.

I visited all the women who were in solitary confinement, those who were in the hospital section.

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Then I visited those in a kind of a step-down program they have, which is minimum security in another part of the compound.

Later we had the Mass and confirmation.

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I was very pleased to be able to Confirm two inmates

At Christmas time, it’s very hard for those in prison, particularly these young women, many of whom have children. The separation from them at this time of year is very difficult.

We were there to tell them they are not forgotten, they are part of our Church and that we wanted to be present to them to bring the message of Christ’s hope and peace. The spiritual message of Christmas is one that can bring us joy even in the direst circumstances.

Unfortunately, because our society has allowed Christmas to become a merely sentimental celebration, when the material and sentimental things are not there it can sometimes bring about terrible depression or feelings of isolation and despair.

However, focusing on the spiritual message of Christmas — how our God made himself poor, made himself little to be close to us and to assure us of his continued presence in our lives and in our history — can bring great consolation.

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This year, we designated the last two Wednesdays before Christmas as times when the Sacrament of Reconciliation would be made available in all our churches and chapels as part of our program, The Light is On for You.


I was happy to be a part of this effort to make the sacrament of confession available and accessible to our people at the Cathedral Wednesday evening.


Many people took advantage of this moment to prepare themselves spiritually for the celebration of Christmas by making a good confession.

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That evening we were also very pleased to be visited by Father Kevin Deeley, the brother of Msgr. Bob Deeley. (Both of them are Boston priests.)

He has been serving as a Navy chaplain for over a decade and was back in town. So he came pay a visit.   He serves on a ship out of the port of San Diego, and has just returned from a tour of duty in Italy.

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Also recently I had a meeting with Giuseppe Pastorelli, the new Italian consul general in Boston.

I had met him in Rome when he came to the Mass I celebrated at my titular church in Rome, Santa Maria della Vittoria, in October.


With Consul General Pastorelli in October

Now he’s come to Boston and he visited us to invite me to participate in the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, which they will celebrate this coming year. I am certainly looking forward to that.

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to record a Christmas message  for the Univision Spanish-language in the Boston area.


I was glad to have this chance to bring a message of the importance and meaning of Christmas to our Spanish speaking Catholics here in the archdiocese.

Also, I want to invite you all to tune in to WHDH Channel 7 at 11 a.m. Christmas morning for our televised Christmas Mass.

In years past, we have often celebrated the Christmas Mass at 7 a.m., which was very successful, but I am hopeful even more people will be able to join us at this later time.

We are very grateful to all the folks at Channel 7 for the assistance the give us every year.

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Finally, Christmas is a very special time for families so I want leave you with my Christmas Massage for Families. I have asked that it be  printed this week’s issue of The Pilot and I want to share it with you here:

At Christmas we are summoned to Bethlehem where faith gathers us to witness the Incarnation. With the eyes of our heart we gaze at God’s humility and love which comes to us as a child. Like Mary we ponder this mystery in our hearts. God has become one of us. He is part of a family.

Jesus’ longest sermon is the 30 years of his hidden life at Nazareth. Our Savior wants to teach us about the importance of family life. With Mary and Joseph, Jesus lives a life of family, of community, of love, of prayer, of work and of play. It was a life that prepared him for his mission.


The Christmas cards we send and receive — the stained glass windows in our Churches, the manger under the tree — are the family album of our family, the family of Jesus.Christmas affords us an opportunity to behold once again these signs of our faith which invite us to build on the foundations of Bethlehem and Nazareth.

Jesus’ love and humility and his obedience to the will of the Father are an example to us and the secret of building a strong family life. We begin our life of discipleship in baptism. There God gives us newness of life and calls us to holiness. We must discern our individual vocation in an atmosphere of prayer and trust. For some, the path to God and to holiness leads through the carpenter shop, the factory or the office. For many, the call is to marry and raise a family. The vocation of Catholic marriage is “to marry in the Lord,” to make a life-long covenant with one’s spouse and with God. It is a profoundly religious act and has far reaching repercussions in the life of the community.

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To a believer, love means a decision, a surrender and self-sacrifice. Love requires great strength and great humility. Learning how to love is the best preparation for marriage and family. We learn love by experiencing God’s love, and we teach love by loving. In the Church we talk about conversion; what it means is learning to turn our back on our selfishness and sin in order to grow closer to God, the source of all love. Some people fear that loving God diminishes our capacity to love our family and friends. Actually, quite the opposite is true. The greater our love for God, the more it will enhance our love for others. Certainly the life of Mother Teresa is a clear indication of this.

For the family to be a school of love, it is necessary for the members of the family to have time together. This is often difficult in today’s world because of work schedules and the many demands on our time. Nevertheless, if the health of the family is going to be a priority, the family must come together, especially at the dinner table. The dinner table can be the altar in the home. More than all the negotiating tables at the United Nations or the White House, what happens at the dinner table can profoundly affect people’s lives and the future of society. When a family can pray together, get to know one another and share their aspirations and fears, they experience a sense of belonging, an identity.


A family also needs to share together at the Lord’s Table, the Sunday Eucharist. It is there that we experience our spiritual family in the parish and are nourished by the Word of God and the Bread of Life, Holy Communion.

One of the painstaking, yet beautiful tasks of young parents is teaching their children to speak. I am always touched to see a young Mom or Dad patiently repeating a sound, a word or a phrase. Every parent accepts that responsibility lovingly because they realize how important speech is. By the same token, these parents must be teachers of prayer. They must teach their children to speak to God. Children are often bored at Mass if they do not know how to pray. When we pray, going to Mass makes sense.

One of the best ways to revitalize the family is to recapture the sacredness of the Lord’s Day. At our Sunday Eucharist we gather as the household of the faithful. Together we witness to the world that Jesus Christ is risen and we recognize him “in the breaking of the Bread.” The miracle of the Mass takes place to forge us into a spiritual family, the Body of Christ, the Church.

The Eucharist finds its origins in the Infant in the manger at Bethlehem. It is because Christ is born with a human body, of the Virgin Mary, that he can later give us the same body under the form of bread and wine. The very name Bethlehem means “House of Bread,” and the first crib was a manger, a box containing feed for the flock. Now the tabernacle is the manger that contains the body and blood of Christ, there to share our poverty and to feed us, strengthen us for our mission in the world.

Ecumenical celebration Festival of Lights. Sacred Heart Church Quincy Jan. 8, 2006

Nothing is more formative of children than the example of parents and their involvement in the religious formation of their children. Catholic parents are usually very good about sending their children to religious education, CCD, especially so that their children can make their First Communion, and receive Confirmation, but this is not enough. The parent’s example and interest are paramount in the faith formation of their children. Parents must speak to their children about God, the Church, the Sacraments and the Commandments. Children need to see the faith lived in the lives of the important people in their lives. The selection of godparents and sponsors should reflect this concern to provide the children with role models whose lives and values allow the child to see our faith as a way of life, a life of spiritual relationships that bind us to God, to the saints, to all our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Parents, when you take your children to visit the crèche in your parish Church take them also to the tabernacle to adore the Messiah who received the homage of the shepherds, the Magi and of all creation. Talk to your children about Jesus’ love for them, his desire to be close to us, to feed us.


The manger scene also teaches us about what is truly important. The center is Christ. The center is a baby. The baby is surrounded by loving parents and not much else. The greatest thing a man can give his children is to love their mother. The greatest thing a mother can give her children is to love their father. The love of Mary and Joseph is the only treasure the Christ Child has. Being born in poverty and simplicity is God’s way of speaking to us about what is truly important. Eisenhower used to say: “When I was young, we were very poor, but we didn’t know it.” He did not notice his family’s poverty because there was so much love and joy in his home.

As you explain to your children that “There was no room at the inn,” teach them to have compassion for the poor, the sick and the suffering. Teach them that we need to share what we have received. When we do that, we are giving gifts to the Christ Child Himself. It might also be an opportunity to tell our children that success is not measured in money but in goodness and love.

What will the future bring? Much depends on our families and our ability to form new generations of families firmly committed to following Jesus Christ. To do that, we must love them very much, pray together, spend time together and teach our children how to love by showing them what love is. The star is over the manger. Let us go the Bethlehem to glimpse God’s love in the face of a child in a loving family.