Cardinal Dolan delivered his homily on the birth of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Luke at Christmas Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan Dec. 25 by sharing his conversation with an inmate a week earlier at Ulster Correctional Facility in Napanoch.
“One of the prisoners after Mass commented to me, ‘You know, Cardinal Dolan, here is the way I figure it. If the Son of God can be born in a cold, dingy, dark stable surrounded by cows, sheep and donkeys, well, I guess we can sure be reborn, even in a convict’s heart,’” the cardinal told the faithful at a packed St. Patrick’s.
The Christmas visit to Ulster Correctional Facility took place Dec. 17.
“That, my friends, has to be one of the most profound professions of faith in the mystery and meaning of Christmas I’ve ever heard. You see the real message of this Christmas celebration is not just that the only begotten Son of God was born to a virgin in a stable 2,018 years ago, as dramatically significant as that certainly is, but this Savior named Jesus wants to be reborn in the hearts of believers.”
Cardinal Dolan referred to the passages from St. Luke’s Gospel, in which the baby Jesus was born in a stable surrounded by animals and shepherds, and was placed on a bed of hay used to feed animals.
“This is the simple, unassuming, humble way God chose to send us his Son as our long-awaited Messiah, all so ordinary, so childlike that we could have easily missed and overlooked him, as a fact we do,” Cardinal Dolan said. “The prisoner, he got it. For him, if Jesus can be born in such an unexpected way, then he can be reborn in an embarrassed, darkened, sinful soul.”
Cardinal Dolan closed the homily by sharing a story about a retreat where he was instructed to imagine what he would do if he approached the stable in Bethlehem with the baby Jesus. He was asked later to share his story with the retreat director, and after initial hesitation, he shared what happened.
“Finally, I confessed to him, I asked Mary if I could hold her little baby, and she let me,” said Cardinal Dolan said. “I whispered to that baby in my arms that I loved him with my whole heart and soul, that I needed him very much. I believed him to be the way, the truth and the life.
“I raised my head expecting the retreat director to maybe snicker, or dismiss this rather unsophisticated insight, and instead he replied, ‘Way to go. That’s why he came, so we could hold him and embrace him reborn in our childlike, simple, trusting hearts.’ See, that prisoner was right.”
The opening procession concluded with Cardinal Dolan placing a figure of the baby Jesus in the Christmas crèche. He sprinkled holy water and blessed the crèche with incense before stepping up to the altar for the start of Mass.
“A blessed Christmas everyone,” said Cardinal Dolan in opening Mass. “We all want to be home for Christmas and you are. You’re at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We gather as family in this beautiful midnight Mass and we accept the invitation of the angels. Come let us adore Him.”
Auxiliary Bishop John O’Hara and retired Auxiliary Bishop Dominick Lagonegro joined Cardinal Dolan on the altar. Other concelebrants included Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Father Joseph LaMorte, vicar general and chancellor of the archdiocese.
Deacon James Bello, director of diaconate life and ministry, read the Gospel from St. Luke. The prayer intentions were spoken in Italian, German, Creole, Igbo, Chinese, Spanish and Tagalog.