Father's Homilies


posted Dec 22, 2018, 6:53 AM by Mary Tocimak

EGGNOG - Eggnog has a festive history as a staple for the British aristocracy. It’s based on a medieval drink called posse, which consisted of milk, often eggs, and some form of alcohol like sherry or Madeira. Since all the ingredients were expensive at the time, it became a drink of the wealthy. In the winter, the wealthy would drink warm milk and egg drinks with exclusive spices and liquors. Eventually, people in the American colonies were able to harvest the ingredients from their own farms and the drink caught on again. In fact, the drink you sip around the holidays today is uniquely American thanks to the rum—a critical component of American 'nog which never really caught on with the British upper classes.

CHRISTMAS COOKIES - In the more recent history of Christmas cookies, cut-out cookies are now almost universally associated with the holidays in the US. We can trace these cookies back to mumming, a Christmas tradition in colonial areas where the Church of England was influential. In mumming, Christmas stories were acted out and food was used to help depict the stories. Yule doughs were cut-outs made in this tradition, often in the shape of the baby Jesus. In the 1800s, Pennsylvania Dutch children created large cut out cookies as window decorations. Around this same time, Yule doughs became popular again and were called Yule dollies. They were made with tin cutters and shaped like people, elaborately decorated with icing (like today’s gingerbread men). The face was always made out of a scrap of paper cut out of magazines, which had to be removed before the cookie was eaten. They were controversial because some factions felt the cookies were not religious enough (i.e., not depicting Jesus).In the 1840s, Santa became associated with Christmas and dollies representing him, with a scrap face, were made. Some of these cookies were so beautifully decorated that they weren’t actually meant to be eaten (like today’s gingerbread houses). Yet another connection to Santa comes from the Dutch, who believed that pepernotencookies were thrown around on Christmas by Black Peter, Saint Nicholas’s helper.

GINGERBREAD - Cookies became associated with Christmas in Europe in the 1500s. Gingerbread was a similar food, but laws restricted its baking to guildsman, however at the holidays these regulations were relaxed and people were allowed to bake their own at home, making a very special once a year treat.

Gingerbread originated in the Crusades and was originally made using breadcrumbs, boiled with honey and seasoned heavily with spices. It was pressed onto cookie boards (carved slabs of wood with religious designs) and dried. Gingerbread evolved to become more secular and to use more modern ingredients. Eventually it became associated with Christmas when speculaas (gingerbread cookies) were made into animal and people shapes and used as holiday decorations.

COOKIES and Milk FOR SANTA - Ever wondered why size-challenged Santa is left cookies to fuel him on his one-night journey? Historians believe the tradition began during the Great Depression, as a way for parents to encourage generosity in their children. The tradition stuck, and Santa isn’t in danger of needing a smaller suit any time soon.

APPLE CIDER - It’s said that Julius Caesar and friends found the British drinking cider in 55 BCE. Europeans brought the tradition to the New World, where cider was such an important beverage that the trees Johnny Appleseed was planting were actually for cider making. In the early 20th century, the combination of improved refrigeration technology and the teetotalism movement allowed humans to drink the unfermented juice of apples, which led to Americans calling an unfiltered juice cider (the rest of the English-speaking world continued to use "cider" to mean an alcoholic beverage, though).


FRUITCAKE - Fruitcakes are just cakes with candied or dried fruit, nuts, and spices. The modern version of the much-maligned dish was likely whipped up in the Middle Ages, when dried fruits and nuts were really expensive. Because of the price of ingredients and the time and effort that went into making the dessert, it's assumed December festivities were felt to be the time most worthy of the hassle.


CRANBERRY SAUCE - Cranberries are harvested mid-September to mid-November, making them perfect to consume during holiday times. Marcus L. Urann first canned the berries in 1912 as a way to extend the short selling season, creating a jellied treat that acted as a sauce when warm.


CANDY CANES - They didn’t always have their stripes! According to legend, the original candy cane, made some 350 years ago, was an all-white sugar stick that was completely straight. In 1670, a choirmaster at a German cathedral bent the sticks to represent a shepherd's staff. The canes were given out to children during a nativity scene. The candy arrived in America sometime during the 19th century, and around that time the refining process for sugar had gotten to the point where it could be pure white and the development of better food dyes could create that strong red for the stripe.


OPLATKI - The tradition of the Oplatki originated in Poland during Early Christian times. This Christmas Custom began with a simple white wafer, baked from flour and water. The wafers are wonderfully designed to display Christmas images, such as the Nativity. 

            How to Celebrate the Oplatki Tradition - The Oplatki are enjoyed by families, typically right before the Christmas Eve meal. The entire family will gather around the table with the Oplatki.  Generally the eldest member of the family will begin the ritual by breaking off a piece of the wafer and passing it to another family member with a blessing.  This blessing can simply consist of what you desire for your loved one in the upcoming year – whether it be good health, success, or happiness. The purpose of this act is primarily to express ones unconditional love and forgiveness for each member of his or her family.

            The Symbolism - The significance of the Oplatki Christmas wafer is in that it shadows the Eucharistic meal that Catholics participate in at each Mass.  Just as we share in the Eucharist as one family in Christ and receive Christ’s love through the Eucharist, the Oplatki allows for one’s immediate family to come together and share the love they have for one another.  This symbolism is deepened by the fact that the name of the town where Jesus Christ was born, Bethlehem, means "House of Bread," which makes the Oplatki tradition an especially beautiful way to celebrate the charity and unity so characteristic of the Christmas season.

Why do we say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Christmas”?

posted Dec 22, 2018, 6:53 AM by Mary Tocimak

Have you ever wondered why we say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Christmas? There are several historical and linguistic reasons. Happy comes from the word happenstance. This means our emotion of feeling happy is based upon some haphazard event or just by chance, we encounter something that makes us happy. It is a temporal feeling. On the other hand, Merry means a more joyous disposition of our heart and soul. It is a constant demeanor throughout our everyday lives. The first expression of “Merry Christmas” occurred in 1534, when John Fisher, an English Bishop, wrote a Christmas letter to Lord Thomas Cromwell. Then in 1843, Sir Henry Cole sent the first Christmas card wishing the recipient a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


When Christ comes into the world on Christmas, it is not a chance happening, but rather a part of God’s designed plan for our salvation. Immediately after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God promised to send his Son to save us. That is why we celebrate with great joy, this blessed event. That is truly the Good News of all the Scriptures; that God sent his only Son into our world to save us from our sins. As a result, we don’t have to suffer like he did. This is truly not only good news, it is news so great that it should be the one thing we focus on in our daily lives. If we do this, rather than worrying about the problems and issues of everyday life, we will have true joy in our hearts. Our lives will be Merry, rather than stressful and burdening. If we start each day thanking God for the gift of his Son, we will orient our hearts towards gratitude and love, rather than getting caught up in the day-to-day struggles of everyday life. Sure, we will have some good days and bad days, but our joyous disposition will sustain us in the constantly changing world we live in today.


Today, I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Joyous and prosperous New Year.

                                                         Fr. John

Catholic Terms - As talked about Nov. 17-18

posted Nov 18, 2018, 1:56 PM by Mary Tocimak

Catholic Terms


1.              Disciple vs Apostle


Disciple - A pupil, a student; name sometimes applied to one of the early followers of Jesus, one of the seventy-two.


Apostle- One sent to spread the Gospel or the name often given to a missionary to a country.



2.              Son of God vs Son of Man


Son of God – Jesus is fully Divine


Son of Man – Jesus is fully human


When did Jesus use them?  He used Son of Man when he talked about how He came into the world to suffer and die for our salvation. He used the Son of God when He talked about how He came to do the will of his Father. He will come again as the Son of Man to bring us back to the Father on judgment day.


3.              Mercy vs Pity


Mercy - Compassion for the sufferings, whether bodily or spiritual. When we ask for God’s mercy, we are essentially asking him to relieve us of a heart that is in misery.


Pity –The desire to feel sorrow or compassion towards the misfortunes of others. Grief or pain aroused by the suffering or misfortune of another. To have pity on someone is to feel the same suffering they do.


They asked Christ to have pity on them so that He would alleviate their suffering.  They asked Jesus to have mercy on them to restore their sinful hearts and physical ailments.  Mercy is something that can be given right away.  If they ask for pity, you first need to see their pain and feel sorry for them, then you can extend mercy.


4.              Three types of Love


Eros – Sexual love; the love expressed between a husband and wife.


Philla – Brotherly love; Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love.  Love between close members of a family. is expressed variously as loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality, and familiarity.


Agape – We love everyone equally and unconditionally, in the same way that God loves us.  We have no favorites or any enemies, just like God.  It is the perfect love because is the greatest expression of this type of love.


5.              Law vs Commandment

Law - The rule of reason by which a person is moved to act or restrained from acting. In the Church this has the meaning of an action which ought to follow upon recognition of a precept or an order. Catholic Church laws that are binding under conscience, which the Church by lawful authority has made and imposed on the faithful. The laws: usually six in number, for the spiritual good of the faithful impose obligations under pain of sin They are: (1) To hear Mass on Sundays and Holydays of obligation; (2) to fast and abstain on all days appointed; (3) to receive holy Communion during the Easter season; (4) to receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year (5) to contribute toward the support of our priests; (6) to refrain from marrying within the fourth degree of kindred, or to solemnize marriage during the forbidden times.

Commandment - The commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai; the ten commandments. These have a higher place in our moral conscience because these were given to us by God.  Laws are given to us by humans.



6.               Meek vs Humble

Meek -  Docile, overly submissive, compliant, tame, spiritless

Humble -  Humility - The moral virtue which prompts us to recognize that of ourselves we are nothing and can do nothing without divine assistance; the reasonable evaluation of ourselves and recognition of our dependence upon God, It is a virtue which is joined to the virtue of temperance in that it moderates the desire for honor, self-glorification, and the esteem of others.

We should be humble and not meek.  We need to stand up for what we believe and not let others take advantage of us or allow ourselves to be put down.

7.              Love vs Charity

Love – Willing the good of the other for the sake of the other

Charity - A divinely infused virtue by which we prefer God as the sovereign good before all else and by which we do His will and are united with Him. The virtue that disposes us to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors for the sake of God and not for our own glory. Charity is also love that we put into action.

Homily for 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

posted Sep 30, 2018, 2:17 PM by Mary Tocimak

            In today's first reading from the book of Numbers and from the Gospel from St. Mark, we hear about being a part of an in-group and about how this may cause some problems. At the time of Jesus, an in-group consisted primarily of your immediate and extended family, plus your close friends. This close knit group worked together for the common purpose of survival. For example food had to be procured every day; it was difficult to store food and the group’s first priority was to ensure that everyone would be fed. This was also true with water and other basic necessities like clothing and shelter. Families often times shared the same dwelling place to save on heating. Work was divided up among members of the in-group. There was also a leader of the in-group; it could have been the oldest male, or a teacher, or religious leader but there was always somebody in charge.

            In the reading from the book of Numbers, Moses is clearly the leader of his in-group, the Israelites. Yet he is being totally overburdened by the needs of the people. He needs help and to do this he wants to break up this large group into 70 different but related smaller groups. Yet this break up causes some infighting, jealousy, and envy. Rather than focus on the task at hand, getting to the Promised Land, they are worried about their own positions within the structure. Moses has to take corrective actions by redirecting their focus to that of the Promised Land.

            In the Gospel, Jesus is faced with the same problem. He has moved out of Nazareth when he started his public ministry and established a residence in Capernaum. He recruited many of his own group. It is made up of his 12 apostles, and their related families and friends. Although the 12 apostles formed his closest group, Jesus and the disciples were very dependent upon the others in the group, especially the women to help provide them with some of the basics such as food and clothing. Other followers of Jesus that were unable to accompany Jesus as he traveled the countryside established their own groups and spread the good news about Jesus. However the closest followers of Jesus felt they had the privilege of being in the only real in-group of followers of Jesus. When John tried to suppress the other followers of Jesus, Jesus corrects John. Jesus’ message is of love and fellowship not separation and division.

            Now let me discuss another in-group, the Catholic Church. We as a church came out of the in-group of Jesus. He designated that Peter be the head of this church and over the past 2,000 years this church has grown and evolved, but it's primary mission is to provide us a way to truly love God, especially in the holy sacrifice of the mass and to provide a means for us to love our neighbors by helping those in need. There are more Catholic hospitals, charities, schools, and other organizations that meet the needs of others then any other organization on the world. However we are not the only church that follows the teaching of Christ. We all know many other Christian denominations and at times we may be in disagreements with them over the singular message of the Bible compared to our beliefs of scripture, tradition, and the Magisterium, or the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, or the authority of the pope. Although we may have these differences, we are still all followers of Christ and all have the same goal of spreading the good news of Jesus to others. As Jesus says in the Gospel, “for whoever is not against us is for us”, meaning those that spread the message of salvation are related to us and our mission.

When I attended Catholic school in the early 60’s I was taught that only Catholics went to Heaven. Fortunately, Vatican II changed all that teaching and we now teach that many others besides Catholics can be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. Those at the council more than likely used this passage from Mark’s Gospel to change the position and teaching of the Catholic Church.

            We too in this local parish can get caught up with petty jealousy or get into some infighting with other Christian denominations or even members of our own parish regarding the true mission of our parish and the Catholic Church. However, as Jesus says whoever is for us can't be against us regarding the overall mission of following Christ. We are all called to love God and our neighbor and that needs to be the focus of our efforts. Just think of how much more good we can do here in Altoona for the needs of others if all the Christian churches in this city worked together for the betterment of the needy rather than focusing on our differences. We should focus on what makes us the same since we are all followers of Christ. This week pray for more unity among Christian churches so that we can turn our focus to loving God and helping others rather than focusing on our differences. In this way, we will truly be united in our efforts to be followers of Christ.

Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Faith and Works

posted Sep 18, 2018, 11:49 AM by Mary Tocimak

Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Faith and Works



            Today I want to try and clarify a long standing dispute between Catholics and some Protestant denominations. The dispute is about salvation by faith or salvation by faith and works. The dispute came about when Martin Luther was struggling with his own faith journey. Luther grew up believing that he had to earn his way into heaven and became very scrupulous.  He often went to confession several times a week and spent most of his early life in fear of going to hell because of the slightest little sin. Once he realized that he was saved by faith alone, he began the great reformation against the Catholic Church. However, we as Catholics believe that we are saved by faith and works.

            Let me start with a definition of faith.  Faith is a gift from God that we receive when we are baptized.  We, or our parents and godparents, accepted this gift on our behalf.  With this gift comes another gift, the gift of free will.  It is in this gift of free will that we have the ability to either love God or to reject him in our lives.  If we accept this gift of faith, we will be granted entry into the kingdom of heaven, we are also called to put this gift into practice by our works.  If we reject this gift, and turn our back on God in our lives, we will be condemned on judgment day.

            Now what are works?  They are our actions that show that we truly love God and love our neighbor.  Our works should be done for two purposes.  The first is that we perform these works in thanksgiving to God and want to show our gratitude to him.  And second, we do these works as an example to others so that they too want to accept this gift of faith themselves, or for them to renew this gift and turn their lives around.  We do not do these works as a way of gaining entrance into heaven.  Christ already did that for us and we do not earn our way into heaven by our works.

            In St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he clearly states that faith without love is like a bell that cannot make any noise.  Faith opens the door to the kingdom of heaven, but love, love of God and love of our neighbor, allows us to take up residence in the kingdom of Heaven. Yet, it is our intention in performing these works that is just as important.  We need to perform these works out of gratitude to God and to lead others to God, and not for our own selfish desires. This week, put your faith into practice and thank God for the gift of faith that you have received and share that gift with others.  In this way, you too will be able to take up residence in the kingdom of heaven once your time here on earth has been completed. 

Homily for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

posted Sep 8, 2018, 12:35 PM by Mary Tocimak

Homily for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B


With all the kids going back to school, I thought it would be appropriate to have a short Scripture lesson about today's Gospel from St. Mark. As a way of background, the overall theme of St. Mark’s Gospel is that he wants his readers to come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Son of God. Mark writes more of a historical aspect of Jesus’ time here on earth compared to St. John who portrays Jesus in a more divine manner.

            In today's passage, Jesus is traveling from Tyre and Sidon into the Decapolis, the area of the 10 cities. Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis are pagan areas or Gentile areas in Israel. Mark wants to explain to his readers that Jesus came not only to save the Jews but also to save the pagans and Gentiles. This goes against the true beliefs of the Jews because they believed that the Messiah would come to save only them and not other people.

            When the people bring the deaf and dumb man to Jesus, they do it out of love and compassion for that man. They too want him to be able to hear and speak to Jesus like they can. Jesus then takes the man off by himself to a quiet place where he can be alone with the man. This shows that Jesus loves us each individually and cares for each of us as a child of God. He lays his hands on the man as his first act of healing. During the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, the priest lays his hands on the person in the same manner that Jesus did for this man. Next, Jesus puts his fingers into the man’s ears and touches his tongue. During the sacrament of baptism, the priest or the deacon, as well as the godparents of the person being baptized, do the same. This is to follow the example of Jesus, allowing the person being Baptized to hear the message of Jesus and then to proclaim it or tell this message to others. Because Mark does not name this man, the man represents all of us. We too are called to go off to a quiet place to be with Jesus so that we can listen to him and talk with him.  However, this doesn't have to be in a church. It can be in your car, or in your office, or taking a quiet walk, or in my case on the golf course. Jesus talks to us in our conscience, that little voice inside of us that helps us to make the right decisions. He talks to us in our daydreams. He talks to us through other humans. I experienced this when others tried to get me to stop drinking. He talks to us when we read the Bible.  Yet, regardless of how Jesus talks to us, we have to be in a position to listen to him. We can't be so busy or surround ourselves with so much noise in our lives that we can't listen to him.

            Finally why does Jesus tell the people not to tell anyone about this healing?  Jesus wants them to experience his healing as power that he has as the Son of God. Remember what I said earlier, Mark wants his readers to come to believe that Jesus is the son of God. Jesus doesn't want to only being known as a healer of the sick but someone much greater. We too may have our own idea of who Jesus is in our own lives. Who is Jesus to you? Is he a friend, a Savior, someone you turn to in your time of need? To me he is all of these.  This week, take time to quiet yourself down during the day. Maybe you can turn off your radio in the car or take a short walk by yourself and allow Jesus to talk to you. He will, you just have to be ready to listen to his voice.

Homily for Christmas, Midnight Mass, Cycle B - 2017

posted Jan 2, 2018, 11:52 AM by Mary Tocimak

            Merry Christmas and on behalf the entire parish family here at the Ss. Peter and Paul, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and blessed New Year.

            I don't know about you, but I really like all the preparations that go into getting ready for Christmas, especially the Christmas carols on the radio. However my message to you is this, don't be like a radio station, yes don't be like a radio station. Let me explain in more detail.  It starts sometime in mid-November;  the radio stations start easing into playing Christmas carols and then just after Thanksgiving, some stations play nothing but Christmas songs. We hear the angels harking, the drummer boy drumming, the chestnuts roasting, the dogs barking jingle bells, the call to go shout it from the mountain, the dream of a white Christmas, or trying to get home for Christmas, and then we sing Joy to the World on Christmas, and the next day we have a silent night; no more Christmas carols. No more grandma's getting run over by a reindeer, no more Santa's kissing mama, no more need for two front teeth, no more jingle bells. All we have left to look forward to is the coming of the three wise men. My message is simple don't be like the radio stations and shut off Christmas so soon.

            Like I said earlier I like all the preparations for Christmas, putting up decorations, sending Christmas cards, buying presents, going to dinners and parties, traveling back to Philly to spend time with my family, and celebrating mass here at the Cathedral especially since it is completely full. I also enjoy helping those in need by visiting the hospitals, visiting the nursing homes, and helping those in need. Why do I enjoy it so much? Because of all the love. Think about it, don't we send out Christmas cards so that we can express our love for others in our lives?  Don't we buy presents to express our love and gratitude for others in our lives? Don't we invite others over for dinner or to a party because we want to spend time with those we care about and share in the fellowship of eating and drinking together? It is all about love. Don't we help those in need because we feel blessed by God's bounty in our lives and want to share that with others? Why, because of love. Why are we here this evening? Why did we come to mass?  We are here to joyfully celebrate the birth of Jesus. But why was Jesus sent here to earth and why was he even born? He had to be born to show us that he is fully human. He came to earth as one of us, as a man.  Mankind was the one that sinned when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and God knew he had to save mankind in the same form, by a human. So why did God send his son and not another human? Because God sending his son was the greatest act of love ever in the history of mankind. God became man and came to this world as a humble tiny baby and to eventually suffer and die for our sake and for our salvation. So why are we so joyful today? My belief is because of all the love that we are sharing today; that is, the love we express towards each other and towards God here at mass.  With all this love in the air, it is hard not to be joyful.

            Wouldn't it be great if we could feel that same joy all year round? Wouldn't our world be better if we were this loving, compassionate, and considerate all year long? Well we can be. In 1 John, Chapter 4, we hear that God is love.  In the Gospels, Jesus tells us we are all called to love God and to love our new neighbor. If we do this we will receive the joy and peace of Christ in our lives. Well today is proof that what Jesus says is true; we are more joyful because we are loving God more and our neighbor more than any other day of the year.

            So how do we keep this feeling of joy in peace and our lives long after Christmas is over, the tree taken down, the decorations put away, and the presents stored away? We need to continue to express our love for others on a consistent basis. I am not saying you need to go out and get presents, or send cards all year long. What I am asking you to do is to give everyone the gift of kindness, the present of a smile, a complement rather than being judgmental or gossiping, give the gift of patience and consideration rather than always being so demanding and insisting on what you need now. If we think of others’ needs rather than our needs and wants, and try to make others feel better for being a part of our lives, then we will experience the joy and peace in our lives that Christ promises us and that we are experiencing today. Again it doesn't take much, just invite Jesus into your hearts today and keep him there by being more loving and kind to others. If you want to keep them there forever, talk to him more often, make him your friend. In this way his love will fill your heart now and forever. Sure I would greatly appreciate for all of you to be back next week and every week of the year. However if you just try and bring a little joy to others during each day, you will be given that same feeling of joy in your life that you are experiencing today. We have spent so much time and effort preparing for his coming, now we need to not let him go away after Christmas is over. It would be such a shame to spend all that time and effort getting ready for Christmas, and then just let Christmas fade away until next year. Let us make a concerted effort to extend the joy we have in our hearts today for a longer period of time throughout the year by being kinder to others, by spreading our love to others more consistently throughout the year, by becoming friends with Jesus and by helping others in need. Christmas is a special time of year yet is up to us to keep it going long into the New Year. Don't be like a radio station and shut off Christmas tomorrow rather extend the joy and peace you feel today long into the New Year. In this way you will truly experience the gift of Christ coming to earth and Christ coming into your life. He will give you the joy and peace we so all desperately want. Again Merry Christmas to all of you and may you have a blessed and joyful new year.


Fr. John’s Christmas Message

posted Dec 21, 2017, 2:09 PM by Mary Tocimak

On Behalf of the entire parish staff here at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, I want to wish all of you a most Holy and Blessed Christmas.

I am sure almost all of you have heard the phrase that it is better to give than to receive.  I preach about this topic all the time and you have been most generous in responding to the needs of others.  As a result of your generosity, our parish has been blessed by a tremendous growth in spirituality, joy and love.  When I visit other parishes, I can see that these people do not share in the same level of peace and tranquility that we have here at Ss. Peter and Paul. 

So the question I have for all of us to ponder this Christmas season is the following:  Is there a time in our lives when it is better to receive than to give?  Sure, if you are in need a blood transfusion, or an organ donation, it is only logical that you would accept these gifts.  However, this time of year, we are so focused on buying the perfect gift for others, do we prepare ourselves to receive gifts from others?  I know that when I receive cards and gifts, it is a very humbling experience.  Yet, are we prepared to receive the greatest gift ever on Christmas, the baby Jesus into our hearts. 

When we are baptized, our souls are made clean and free so that we can accept the gift of Christ into our heart and soul.  Unfortunately, as we grow older, our hearts get filled with other things that tend to squeeze Jesus out.  For example, we focus on accumulating possessions, power, prestige, and many other things.  We also store up emotions such as anger, guilt, jealousy, pride, and others that replace Jesus in our hearts.  Yet, when we give to others, these self-centered traits are cleared out to make room for Jesus to re-enter our hearts.  Even-though we make room for Him, do we truly receive Him fully, or is it just for a short visit?  As much as we may feel we are not deserving of this great gift, Jesus wants to take up residence in our hearts forever.  To do so, we must fully accept Him and His love, His mercy and His grace. 

So how do we keep Him in our hearts permanently?  By living a life full of gratitude for the things God has blessed us with.  By letting Jesus be our guide in our decision making; what would Jesus do in this situation?  By living a life of love of God and others like He did.  To make this commitment, we need to make Him a bigger part of our lives.  That is where prayer and the sacraments help to nourish and strengthen us.  It is not easy to live like this on a consistent basis. That is why Jesus gave us himself and the Holy Spirit to help and guide us.  My Christmas wish for all of you is for you to receive the greatest gift this Christmas, the baby Jesus into your hearts forever!!

Origin of Christmas Traditions and Customs

posted Dec 19, 2017, 11:39 AM by Mary Tocimak


1)  Origin of Christmas Holiday


            According to some legends, the Christian celebration of Christmas was invented to compete against the pagan festivals held in December. The 25th was sacred not only to the Romans, but also to the Persians whose religion of Mithraism was one of Christianity's main rivals at that period in time. The Church was, however, finally successful in removing the merriment, lights and gifts from the Saturanilia festival and transferring them to the celebration of a Christian Christmas.

            Christmas means "Christ's Mass" and is the celebration of Jesus Christ's birth and baptism. Although December 25th is generally accepted as being the time when the Christ Child was born, the exact date has never been chronicled with any degree of accuracy. There is neither scriptural nor secular evidence to establish the exact moment. One thing is relatively certain, however, the event did not take place in December. Since the child was born when shepherds were "abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night" (Luke 2:8), it is unlikely that shepherds in Israel would have been sleeping outside with their flocks during the month of December. In winter, the herders would have led their sheep outside only during the daylight hours...the nights would have been far too cold. It is known that during the very early Christian centuries, the birth of the Christ Child was not celebrated in any manner. However, tradition dictates that the occasion has been commemorated since 98 A.D. In 137 A.D., the Bishop of Rome ordered that the birthday of Jesus Christ be observed as a solemn feast. In 350 A.D., Julius I (another Bishop of Rome) selected December 25th as the observance of Christmas. This date was made official in 375 A.D., when it was formally announced that the birth of Jesus would be honored on this day...the announcement also allowed some of the older festivals (such as feasting, dancing and the exchange of gifts) to be incorporated into the observance of Christmas. The use of greenery to decorate homes continued to be prohibited as pagan idolatry but, over the centuries, this too became an accepted custom of the festivities.

In Colonial America there were no Christmas celebrations. As recently as 100 years or so ago, such observances were declared illegal in many parts of theUnited States, including most of New England, being defined as pagan and a reproach to the Lord. (Today, it is against the law in some areas to display any Christmas symbols that are not pagan in nature...the erecting of nativity scenes, for example, are banned in some regions of America. Ironically, New England being one such area).

In Puritan Massachusetts, anyone caught observing the holiday was obliged to pay a fine. Connecticut also enacted a law forbidding the celebration of Christmas...and the baking of mincemeat pies. A few of the earliest settlers, however, did celebrate Christmas, but it was far from a common holiday during the Colonial era.

            Prior to the American Civil War, the North and South were divided on the issue of Christmas as much as they were on the question of slavery. Many Northerners considered it sinful to celebrate Christmas since Thanksgiving was a much more appropriate holiday. In the South, however, Christmas played an important role in the social season. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first three American States to declare Christmas a legal holiday were located in the South: Alabama in 1836; and Louisiana and Arkansas, both in 1838.

In the years following the Civil War, Christmas traditions began to filter across the country. Children's books played a vital role in spreading the customs of Christmas celebrations, particularly the tradition of trimmed trees and gifts delivered by Santa Claus. Sunday School Classes encouraged participation in such celebrations. The emergence of women's magazines also played an important part in promoting the festival of Christmas, by suggesting various ways to decorate for the holidays, as well as supplying instructions on how to make such decorations.


2)  Christmas Tree


Green for hope. Evergreen for everlasting life; it is a tree that never dies in the fall or winter.  Needles point upward to heaven. Sign of fertility in the wintertime.


3)  Christmas Colors


The colors most often associated with Christmas decorating are green, red, white, blue, silver and gold. These colors have been used for centuries and, as with most traditions, the reason may be traced to religious beliefs. In this instance, green represents everlasting life and hope, red represents the bloodline of Jesus Christ, blue represents the sky from which the angels appeared, white represents the purity of the Virgin Birth, and silver and gold represent the richness of God's Blessings.


4)  Christmas Lights


Represent that the light of Christ is present in this household.  Also the lights on the tree, meaning everlasting life, is that Christ is the source of this everlasting life.


5)  Christmas Tree Decorations


The first decorations to appear on Christmas trees were edible foods like apples, perhaps stemming from their use in Medieval mystery plays (see above). Over time, the foods became more festive, like candy canes and popcorn strings. Ornaments made of ceramics, glass, metal, and wood became part of the decorating tradition, perhaps because they lasted longer than the edible ones. These ornaments had shapes like stars and hearts. Following the tradition started by Martin Luther, candles were used on Christmas trees. Stringing decor like popcorn (which may have led to stringing lights) and glass balls are both thought to have originated in Germany.


 6)  Candy Cane


Sweet Secrets of the Candy Cane

There are many other legends and beliefs surrounding the humble candy cane. Many of them depict the candy cane as a secret symbol for Christianity used during the times when Christian were living under more oppressive circumstances. It was said that the cane was shaped like a "J" for Jesus. The red-and-white stripes represented Christ's blood and purity. The three red stripes symbolized the Holy Trinity. The hardness of the candy represented the Church's foundation on solid rock and the peppermint flavor represented the use of hyssop, an herb referred to in the Old Testament.  A Catholic priest named Gregory Keller invented a machine to automate candy cane production during the 1950's.


7)  Mistle Toe


            Mistletoe was a popular decoration at Roman winter festivals. The “kissing bush” was first popularized in the late 18th Century and originally contained more than mistletoe. Holly, evergreens, fruit, and mistletoe were often bunched together and then hung over doorways to instigate kissing. No one is exactly sure why mistletoe became a favorite doorway ornament, but by the middle of the 19th Century it was a popular custom. (3) Mistletoe, like holly, stays green and produces berries over the winter, making it a natural for Yuletide decoration. Verdict: A little bit of Christian and Pagan. Pagans certainly decorated with it, as did later Christians, but it was Christians who began the kissing custom.

8)  Advent Wreath


The Advent Wreath is made of evergreens to symbolize the everlasting God and immortality of humankind. Evergreens also represent the victory of life through darkness and challenge. The fact that an evergreen can live through winter signifies the strength of life itself. Green is also the color of the Church, representative of hope and new life. Four candles...three of purple or violet, symbolizing penance, sorrow, longing and expectation, and one candle of rose or pink to represent hope and coming joy...are placed within the wreath as symbols of the four weeks of Advent. These are replaced with white candles for the Christmas Season which ends with Epiphany. Wreaths are an ancient symbol of victory and to Christians, symbolize the fulfillment of time in the coming of Christ and the glory of his birth.


9)  Santa Claus


The Dutch words for Saint Nicholas are Sinter Klaus. Saint Nicholas lived in Myra (known today as Turkey) during the Fourth Century. The only child of a wealthy family, he was orphaned at an early age when both parents succumbed to the plague. Nicholas grew up in a monastery and, at seventeen years of age, became one of the order's youngest priests. There are numerous tales detailing his generosity, given in the form of gifts to those in need...especially children. Legends tell of Nicholas dropping bags of gold down chimneys or throwing purses through windows where they would land in stockings hung to dry by the fireplace.

Though he is one of the most popular saints, there is little historical certainty about the life of Saint Nicholas. He is believed to have been born at Patara, a city of Lycia in Asia Minor around 280 A.D. and, in his youth, made a pilgrimage to Palestine sand Egypt, possibly studying at Alexandria, which was at that time the major center of learning. Shortly after returning to his homeland, he was made Bishop of Myra. Imprisoned during the persecution of Diocletian, Nicholas was released after the accession of Constantine.

Saint Nicholas died of an unidentified sickness on December 6th. Dependent upon varying sources, the year was 330 A.D., or 345 A.D. or possibly 352 A.D. He was interred in the Cathedral at Myra. In 1087 A.D., this city fell to Islamic invaders and Nicholas' body was either rescued or stolen by Italian merchants and transported to Bari in Italy. A pilgrimage church was erected on the site so that Crusaders might pray there en route to or from the Holy Land. Officially recognized as a saint by the Eastern Catholic Church some time in the Eleventh Century, Saint Nicholas is the third most beloved religious figure after Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Otherwise known as the "Wonder-Worker," he is credited with having performed countless miracles, both before and after his death. He is the Patron Saint of Greece and Russia, as well as many individual cities in Europe, such as Naples and Moscow. He is also the Patron Saint of mariners, merchants, bankers, travelers and, of course, children.


10) Christmas Cards


Christmas cards were introduced in England in the 1840s. Their forerunners were the letters known as "Christmas Pieces" written by schoolboys being educated away from home who would send seasonal correspondences to their parents. The letters, written on special paper with elaborate engraved or printed borders and headings, were adorned with scrolls, flourishes, Biblical scenes and flowers. The writing of these letters gave the boys an opportunity to display proof of their penmanship and progress they had made in the art of writing throughout the school year.


By the Twentieth Century, the Christmas card industry had ballooned with estimated annual sales of three-and-a-half billion to four billion cards. Statistics indicate that each American family exchanges an average of 60 cards each holiday season. Thus, in a little over a hundred years, the sending and receiving of Christmas cards had become a firmly-established tradition.



11) Christmas Presents


Because Saturnalia took place at the Solstice, it was also known as the Festival of Lights. Many of the presents were gifts of candles which the people would burn throughout the winter nights to summon the Sun back to life. These Roman traditions of feasting and gift-giving were, according to some sources, later absorbed into the Christian Christmas celebrations by virtue of the Apostles who brought the Gospel to Rome. Through the teaching of the Disciples, people learned of the Three Wise Men who traveled from the Orient bringing gifts to the newborn King. From that time on, the ancient custom became slightly altered. The exchanging of presents remained, but now it was in imitation of the gifts donated by the Magi to the Christ Child.

Later, it became customary to give gloves (or the money to purchase them). This was known as "glove money" and later extended to gifts of metal pins, which were introduced in the Sixteenth Century. Eventually "pin money" came to mean the small amounts of cash that women were allowed to spend in any manner they pleased during the centuries when they lacked economic rights. Sweet things have always been a traditional gift to ensure sweetness in the coming year, as are lamps which symbolize a wish for light and warmth, along with presents of money to represent the wish for increasing wealth. It is believed that the actual wrapping of gifts may have originated in Denmark.


12) Christmas Carols


Christian scriptures detail a world of spirits and nine choirs of Angels who were sent by God into the lives of humankind. Legend tells that in Bethlehem, people heard the Angels sing one time in unison to announce the birth of the Christ Child. The words thought to ring out at that moment were: Gloria in exelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Therefore, this is considered to be the first Christmas carol.

Christmastime music began with the litanies, or musical prayers, of the Christian Church. An early historian wrote that in approximately 100 A.D., the Bishop of Rome urged his people to sing "in celebration of the birthday of our Lord." By 400 A.D., priests would stroll around their parishes on Christmas Eve singing these Latin hymns.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with being the "Father of Caroling." Only church officials had been encouraged to sing carols prior to the time of St. Francis. In 1223, however, the saint placed a crèche, miniature Nativity scene, in a hermitage at Greechio, Italy. After this, many churches began displaying such scenes at Christmas and soon, people began to act out the events of the Holy Night. The actors composed Christmas carols to sing during their Nativity plays and, later, would stroll through the streets still singing. In that manner, did street-caroling come to be.


By the Middle Ages, wandering minstrels were traveling from hamlet to castle performing their carols. Later still, villages had their own bands of "waits." Waits were originally watchmen who patrolled the streets and byways of the old walled cities, keeping guard against fire and singing to while away the night hours. During the holiday season, the waits would include carols in their repertoires. Not everyone was delighted with this display of musical entertainment, however, and many townspeople complained, declaring they would rather get a good night's sleep than have somebody singing under their windows. Eventually the term was used to describe groups of musicians who sang and played at various civic events during the Christmas season.

The word "carol" derives from a Greek dance called a choraulein, which was accompanied by flute music. The dance later spread throughout Europe and became particularly popular by the French, who replaced the flute music with singing. Originally, people performed carols on many occasions during the year. By the 1600s, carols involved singing only and Christmas had become the chief holiday for these songs. Counted among the most favored of non-religious carols are "Jingle Bells" and "White Christmas," both of which first appeared as popular songs in the United States.


13) Holly


Tradition has it that God spoke to Moses in the wilderness from a holly bush. Another legend holds that "because the holly kept secret the whereabouts of our Savior when His enemies were searching for Him, it was rewarded with the privilege of keeping its green leaves all winter". Holly berries symbolize Christ's blood, and the holly's thorn His crown of thorns. Thus holly, a Christmas symbol, also prefigures Christ's Passion. Traditionally, the holly wreath is hung on the Christian family's home as an invitation to the spirit of the Christ child to enter. The candle in the wreath is to show Him the way.



14) Poinsettia


The poinsettia blooms at Christmas in Mexico, where the flower is called the Flower of the Good Night (Christmas Eve.) According to a Mexican legend, the flower acquired this title because of a miracle. A little Mexican boy, eager to visit the Christ Child in the manger in his village Church, was unhappy because he had no gift to offer. Nevertheless, he gathered branches of green leaves from a bush that grew along the dusty road and took them to the Church. The other children made fun of the boy's rude gift, but when he presented the weeds, all were astonished to see a brilliant, red, star-shaped flower blooming on each branch.



15) Christmas Stockings


Stockings: According to legend Saint Nicholas once helped an old widower provide dowries for his three daughters by anonymously tossing three bags of coins into some stockings.  In popular myth, that story of Saint Nicholas is the reason why people hang stockings “by the chimney with care” today, but the inclusion of the stockings are most likely a late addition to the tale. The first (and in some places still the most common) receptacles for toys at Christmas were shoes. In many countries Saint Nicholas still puts presents in hopefully not smelly shoes. Clement Moore wrote about stockings in his poem guaranteeing their prominence in the United States and in some parts of Europe.


Homily for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

posted Nov 12, 2017, 2:21 PM by Mary Tocimak

            To me it is fairly obvious that today's Gospel message is all about us being vigilant and being prepared for the second coming of Christ. We do not know when our time on earth will be completed and we need to always be prepared for that date. In the Gospel those that are prepared are welcome into the banquet and those that are not are left out in the cold of the night. Pretty obvious isn't it?

            However, if we look deeper at this passage, there may be some other lessons that might be helpful to us.  The Bridegroom represents Christ and he is headed off to be united with his new bride.  At the time of Christ, marriages were prearranged so when he leaves, he goes to the house of the bride and finalizes all the arrangements for the marriage with the father of the bride.  This may take some time so that is why the 10 virgins are not sure when he will be returning.  The ten virgins are to light the way to the wedding banquet for the wedding party.  They are the welcoming party to kickoff the seven days of the wedding celebration.  As we hear in the Gospel, each virgin starts off with a lit torch to light the way when the wedding party returns.  However, only 5 bring enough oil to keep their lamps lit.  The other 5 run out of oil and need to leave and purchase more. 

            So what is Jesus trying to tell us in this story, other than the obvious lesson about being prepared?  First, the fire represents our faith.  It is given to us when we are baptized as a gift from God.  The oil represents the grace we receive from God when we are faithful to his will in our own lives; be doing acts of charity, receiving the sacraments, praying, loving God and loving our neighbor, etc. As long as we continue to do the will of God, he will continue to shower us with his grace.  This grace allows us to keep our flame of faith burning for all others to see.  The 5 wise virgins were doing the will of God and therefore, had enough oil to sustain them.  Unfortunately, the 5 foolish virgins had the same faith, however, chose not to do the will of God and used their gifts selfishly.  They stored up earthly treasures and not heavenly treasures.  Therefore, they did not have any grace to sustain their flame of faith.  One question that has always bothered me is why didn’t the wise virgins share their oil.  It appears to me that they were being selfish.  In reality, the arrival of the bridegroom signifies the second coming of Christ on judgment day.  On that day, we will all come before God and we will not have any opportunity to do anything more to gain favor with him, and we will not be able to help anyone else.  Our time on earth will be over and our lives will be judged accordingly.  That is why the 5 wise virgins could not help the 5 foolish virgins. 

            So what is the real moral of the story?  Sure, we must be prepared for the coming of Christ.  But how are we to prepare?  We need to put our faith into action.  We must pray, receive the sacraments, do charitable works and do the will of God in our lives, and not our own will.  In this way, we will store up heavenly treasure and not earthy treasures that will be gone when we die.  As the holidays come upon us, we will have many opportunities to live out our faith by going to confession, giving to the needy, and being the light of Christ for others to see.  In this way, we will never run out of the oil of God’s grace.  In this way, when Christ the bridegroom comes, he will see our flame of faith burning brightly and welcome us into the heavenly banquet.

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