Monday, December 24, 2018



The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
"Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
Matthew 1:18-25

“The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.” This is one of four times that Joseph gets instructions from God “in a dream.” God also used dreams and visions to communicate with Joseph (son of Jacob), Solomon, Jacob, Peter, John, and Paul. Many of us, no doubt, remember times when we found solutions to our problems or gained new insights in a dream.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in my own spiritual life was communicated to me in a dream sometime around 1976. I have told the story many times and some of you could probably tell it for me. 

It was during my years at Saint Peter Mission Church in Monticello that I had a significant Saint Paul conversion experience. It happened in a dream, a very vivid, memorable and life-changing dream. In the dream I was on top of a small mountain. It had no trees or bushes or rocks. It had only very short green grass like a golf green. I was sitting in a folding lawn chair and God was sitting in one next to me. We were sitting side-by-side facing the setting sun without speaking. We were both smoking cheap King Edward cigars! I knew it was God, but I was afraid to look over. We just puffed on our cigars and watched the sun set on the horizon. Finally, God leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Ron, isn’t this wonderful!” I woke from the dream at that point and the world looked forever different to me, including the way perceived God. All of the emotional chains of guilt and unworthiness that were holding me back had melted away. I felt a lightness in my heart that I had never felt before. For the first time in my life, I felt that it was OK to be me. I fully understood that day what it meant to be “created in the image and likeness of God.”

As I get into this homily and talk about Joseph's dream, I want to recognize the pain and grief that so many of you are going through or have been through tonight: everything from suicides, a dreadful diagnosis, automobile wrecks, untimely deaths, drug addiction and job losses. To give you an example of just how much some of you have been through, here is part of just one of the e-mails I got last week. I have eliminated the names for privacy. 

My aunt is coming. She had three boys, the youngest, was five years old in 1975 and died 11 days after a terrible garage fire. The oldest, was shot in 1980 by a neighbor. I think he was 17 years old. The middle son, died just 11 years ago by being thrown by a garbage truck and it landing on him. He was 43. A couple of years later, the father of her sons, died by a tractor flipping over on him. My other aunt by marriage is also coming. A tornado hit their house the year they were married and her husband died from blunt force trauma. My aunt was pregnant at the time and lost the baby. 

For some the pain is fresh and raw and tender. For others it is perennial, is still unhealed only to be reopened again every holiday. It has been a year of loss for me personally. I lost my youngest sister to a brain tumor. I lost a beloved brother-in-law last week from a rare aggressive infection of the abdominal aorta. He was fine last Saturday but died a day and a half later. I lost a man who was practically an adopted father. I lost a cousin to cancer. I lost four long-time very close friends. All that happened this year! 

It was for people like you and me that I started this Blue Christmas Mass back in 2011. It ended in 2016 because I was retiring from Bellarmine University’s Our Lady of the Woods Chapel where I served in campus ministry with Melanie Prejean Sullivan for fourteen years. After a two-year hiatus, she and my friends Jim Patterson II, Elaine Winebrenner and Deacon Pat Wright, who are here tonight, have generously helped me revive this tradition this year. It is for you that we have revived this special Christmas Mass because we heard from so many of you that you missed it and so many more of you find yourselves in situations now where you need it.

Each year, during those first five years, I tried to find something in the readings that I thought might help you to cope and help ease a small bit of your pain and grief. At this year’s Blue Christmas Mass, I want to focus on Saint Joseph to see if we can all learn something from him about how to handle disappointment, confusion, loss and grief. 

The Gospel of Matthew tells us of four dreams in which Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, is visited by an angel of the Lord to receive specific instructions and warnings of impending danger. All four dreams come from the period around the nativity of Jesus and his early life, between the onset of Mary's pregnancy and the family's return from Egypt to Nazareth.

Like many of you tonight, Saint Joseph, in each of his dreams, is a man with a heavy heart and a burdened mind. He does not know where to turn or what to do next, but in each dream God tells him where to take his next step and the way forward.

The birth of Jesus was, for Saint Joseph, one disaster after the other. All his life he dreamed of marrying some day and having a family. He had been matched from his youth to a young virgin from Nazareth. He had gone through the first two steps that would lead up to marriage, only to find out his spouse-to-be was pregnant and he knew it was not his! I am sure he tossed and turned many nights wondering what to do – bouncing between anger, disappointment and fear. He knew that Mary was in danger of being stoned to death if that news got out. Being an upright man, he decided to quietly end their marriage plans. That is when he has his first dream, a dream in which an angel instructs him to proceed to marriage because the mysterious child was “of God,” not “of man.”

When the time came for the birth of Jesus, the young couple had to take on a donkey-back government-mandated trip to Bethlehem because of a census. Out of town, with no place to stay, they end up in a barn-delivery mess! If that was not bad enough, a crazy king sets out to kill their new-born son. When he went to sleep one night a short time later, in a dream, an angel warns him to run for their lives, to get out of town now – not only out of town, but out of the country - to a foreign country, to Egypt, for God’s sake!

After some time in Egypt, when the coast was clear and the crazy child-killer king was dead, Joseph has his third dream in which he is instructed that it was now safe head back home!

In his fourth and final dream, Joseph is told not to go to Judea, but to Galilee! I am sure Joseph wondered when his life would ever settle down again! 

My friends, know this! The first Christmas was certainly not cutesy and sentimental like some Hallmark card! No, it was hell! It was one disaster after other! Those of you who are hurting have more in common with the first Christmas than all those who get to enjoy warm, fuzzy and sentimental feelings tonight!

Friends, I know you are hurting. I am sure you can appreciate some of the problems and pains that Saint Joseph faced. I know I can’t fix everything for you! I know I can’t make your pain go away! I know I can’t stop your grieving, but I am going to do what I can! I am going to introduce you to one of Pope Francis’s favorite devotions – his devotion to the Sleeping Saint Joseph. Here is what Pope Francis said about his devotion to the Sleeping Saint Joseph on November 25, 2016.

“If there’s a problem, I write a note to St. Joseph and put it under a statue that I have in my room. It is the statue of St. Joseph sleeping.”

To those who asked him what the secret is of his “serenity,” the Pope replied jokingly: “I do not take tranquilizers!” I have had a very special experience of profound peace since I was elected. It does not abandon me. I live in peace. I cannot explain” If there is a problem, I write a note to St. Joseph and put it under a statue that I have in my room. It is a statue of St. Joseph sleeping. And now he sleeps on a mattress of notes! That’s why I sleep well: it is the grace of God.”

As I said, I cannot fix all your pain, but tonight each family will be given a Sleeping Saint Joseph figurine. When every family has one, we can see if we have some left to give to a few individuals who could not here tonight, but who can benefit from having one personally. We will wait until each family has one to see how many we have left. You can meet me after Mass and take one to them if we have some left. 

Friends, whatever loss you are feeling this Christmas, write it down and put it under your statue of the sleeping Saint Joseph. Ask him to help remove the pain from your heart! After you have turned your grief over to Saint Joseph in this way, then go to bed each night and sleep in peace while you wait for guidance from an angel of God! Maybe relief will come to you “in a dream” too! 

God bless all of you as Saint Joseph watches over you, while he takes over your grief for a while so that you can “sleep in heavenly peace” as the hymn Silent Night puts it!

The official count was over 350. This was the distribution of the Sleeping Saint Joseph figurines. 

"All I know from my own experience is that the
more loss we feel the more grateful we
should be for whatever it was we had to lose.
It means that we had something worth grieving for.
The ones I'm sorry for are the ones that
go through life not knowing what grief is." 
Frank O' Connor

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