On fire for the Lord

PG 7 father joe 1

PG 7 father joe 1Catholic students attend Mass for Life

Father Joe O’Connor grinned as he began his homily at the Mass for Life at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Oct. 24. Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, Father O’Connor and several other priests from the diocese celebrated the Mass, sponsored by the Office of Respect Life and attended by students from all Diocesan high schools, St. Joseph’s in Auburn and Christian Brothers Academy Mass for Life is celebrated as part of the Respect Life month activities in the diocese.

   “Okay, who can name a superhero who throws fire?” Father O’Connor asked. Excited, students for the moment forgot they were at Mass and began calling out names of characters ranging from the Fantastic Four to Harry Potter.

    Picking up two candelabras by the altar, Father O’Connor shook his head. “Actually, I was thinking about someone kinder, humbler and someone who uses his gift of fire to light up the darkness and warm up the world. Someone like Lumiere, the singing candlestick from ‘Beauty and the Beast.’”  

   Father O’Connor began to explain to the students that in the same way a candle brings light to the darkness, Jesus brings the light of life and the fire of truth into the lives of the faithful.

    “Anyone who has that kind of gift, who has that fire within them and brings light to others, is going to be misunderstood,” stated Father O’Connor. “Jesus himself was misunderstood by all those around him. Even Peter couldn’t understand how Jesus wouldn’t defend himself but instead was humble and always ready to lay down his life for what he believed in. If you have that gift inside you, if you have that fire inside yourself and you stand up for what you believe in, you’ll also be misunderstood by those around you. Just as Jesus was.”

   As the homily concluded, Father O’Connor advised students to “always be a light in the darkness,” by standing up for their beliefs. “Remember we don’t own anything,” stated Father O’Connor. “In this world we don’t own our bodies and we don’t own our lives; they belong to God.”

   Following the Mass, the Office of Respect Life arranged for students to meet and hear from Christian speaker, evangelist, author of Holiness Revolution and former participant in the A&E reality show “God or the Girl,” Dan Dematte. Since appearing on the reality show that followed the lives of three men contemplating whether to marry or become a priest, Dematte became a youth minister and program director for Catholic Youth Summer Camp, a camp for high school students interested in learning more about their Catholic faith.

   Brimming with energy, Dematte, a 26-year old husband and father of three, looked out over the students gathered in the Cathedral and explained his concern for their futures.

   “Pope Francis believes that ‘today’s youth are living in a world of crisis’ and I agree,” stated Dematte. “There is a crisis of faith in our world, a crisis of love, and a culture of sin, death, laziness and apathy. People are looking for love but instead find lust. Massive life is lost through abortion. We are a world in crisis.”

   Using bags of rice, Dematte demonstrated to students his concern for the loss of human lives by starvation and abortion. Holding up a one-pound bag of rice, Dematte stated, “There are 25,000 grains of rice in this bag, which is the same number of children who die each day from starvation.” Slowly, Dematte began to pour the rice into a glass bowl. Holding up a second bag of rice, this one weighing five pounds, Dematte looked at the students.

    “Inside this bag are 125,000 grains of rice which equals the same number of babies aborted daily,” stated Dematte. “We have to put an end to this holocaust. You are the future of the world. Be a disciple of life; be a voice for the voiceless. In your everyday activities, live a life in Christ.”

   Shaelyn Weatherup, a senior at Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School in Syracuse, attended Mass with her classmates and felt it was an event that benefitted all students. “It was a great opportunity to come together and build a sense of community between all the schools,” stated Weatherup. Although Dematte’s perspective on a world in crisis was compelling to Weatherup, it was Father O’Connor’s homily that she felt made the greatest impression: “Father Joe just understands how to connect with us.”

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