Christmas Greetings from Father O'Connor

December 23, 2012

I wish each of you a happy, peace-filled and joyful Christmas celebration. I am writing this message to you because I might not have an opportunity of expressing my wishes to you on a one-to-one basis. The great anniversary celebration of the birth of Jesus is only a few days away. My wish and prayer for you is that you will be renewed by the spirit of Christmas.

The season of Advent has invited us to prepare for the celebration of Christmas, the anniversary of Jesus first coming, to be conscientious in preparing for His second coming, and to mindful of His presence in our midst now. The theme for the first Sunday in Advent was ―Listen to the promises of the Lords coming, be hopeful and get ready.‖ On the second Sunday we were encouraged ―to be filled with the hope that has God's word as its basis.‖ On the third Sunday we were reminded ―that we live in an imperfect world and we must seek joy and inner peace‖ Today, the fourth Sunday, we are told, "The long awaited fulfillment of God's plan to send a savior will be fulfilled, and we recognize the beginning of that fulfillment in the life of Mary as she visits Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist."

The prophet Micah (living about 500 B.C.) and Luke (one of the four evangelists, writing between 65 - 70 A.D.) tell us:
"You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth one who is to be the ruler in Israel: whose origin is from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:1)

"Caesar Augustus ordered a census of the whole (known) world. Everyone went to register in their own town. Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the city of David, Bethlehem where his family came from to register for the census along with his wife, Mary. While they were there, she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger." (Luke 2:1-7)

As we prepare for Christmas, I am thinking of members of our parish who have experienced grief, disappointment, illness, loss of a job, anxiety and loneliness this past year. I am also thinking of the sadness caused by separations arising from family breakups, imprisonment, employment away from home, and military service overseas. I pray that the Christmas season will bring hope, love and healing to all who are hurting – physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Our parishes have people who are actively engaged in ministry work and who seek spiritual growth. The sick are visited, the poor are assisted, the hungry are fed, habitat housing is built, the young are taught and formed in the faith, opportunities of spiritual growth are offered, church property and funds are used with a gospel vision, and many take roles in liturgical celebrations. I consider myself blessed to be among you as your priest.

One very special event occurred a few months ago. The new Family Life Center on Main Street had its grand opening on September 23rd. I am grateful for the committees that planned this new building and the many individuals and family who contributed to its construction and renovation. The impact of this new facility on our parish is seen in many ways. A weekly parish dinner every Wednesday evening has become an accepted event for parishioners. This program has become a focal point for a number of other parish programs on Wednesday evening, including the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd 4:00 - 5:15, choir 6:30 - 7:30, 6:45 - 8:00 Confirmation Focus, children's fun activities 5:30 - 6:30, etc.

Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed a Year of Faith that will continue until Advent 2013. His purpose in doing so is to encourage all Church members to try to strengthen their faith, and in the process to become a witness for other people. The invitation of Benedict has a special application to parents and those who can be witnesses for the faith. I want to extend this invitation in a special way to those who are teenage, college age and older who can become great spokespersons for the faith and for the parish. If you have not been attending Mass on a regular basis, I ask you to pray about this and take your place with us each weekend when we gather to worship God. Even in the midst of a congregation that is not perfect (such as ours), God’s message of compassion and mercy can be heard and witnessed. If you are not a formal member of our faith, I invite you to think about becoming one of us.

We already have two programs scheduled for 2013 that we hope will help many people stir
up their faith and enter into the spirit of the Year of Faith. The first is an all day program of spiritual renewal on Saturday, January 26, led by a lay evangelist Allen Hunt. The second is a women's retreat, scheduled for Saturday, March 2, that will be led by Dr. Nancy Ehret. I want to also note that the vision for 2013 for the Pastoral Council (now including a number of younger members) is to seek out ways to reach out and welcome every baptized member of the parish.

All of us have been saddened by the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, last week. Our hearts go out to the grieving parents, families and friends of the victims. We are asked to reach out to these through our prayers.

I am grateful for many people, including the sick, who spend time each day praying for the work of our parishes and for me. Please continue. I am also grateful for the help, encourage- ment, hospitality and love that so many offer me. May all of you be abundantly blessed during this Christmas season and throughout 2013. Know that you will be included in my Christmas Masses.

Sincerely, Father David O’Connor