Leslie O'Connor Witness Talk

Leslie O’Connor Witness Talk on Grateful Giving

November 2017   Mary Immaculate Parish, Bellport, NY

In order to share my experience with grateful giving, I need to share a little of my life history with you today.

When I was a young girl, I received mixed messages about Church and God.  I went to Catholic School for 8 years and attended Mass every week. But when I was very young, it was my grandparents who brought me.  I was always excited to put my coins into the collection basket along with everyone else in Church.  I felt like a contributing member of my parish and enjoyed the warm feeling of belonging and being in God’s presence.

After my grandfather passed, my Dad and occasionally my Mom would take my sister and me to Church. But in my pre-teen years, it became clear to me that my mother looked down on all religion and believed it was a waste of time.

Just after I turned 13, my father fell off a roof at the construction site where he was working.  We were told that should he survive, he would be a quadriplegic -- paralyzed from the shoulders down for the rest of his life.  The world as I knew it was forever changed.  My Dad did survive after a year-long stay in the hospital, and was indeed paralyzed for his remaining years.

This happened just after Christmas when I was in my first year of public high school, away from the same 35 kids I had spent every school day with for the last 8 years…  Without my Dad at home and in a strange new school, I felt abandoned. And even though I still went to Mass every week, I no longer felt part of something greater. I began to doubt whether anyone was listening to my prayers. 

Slowly but surely I, like my mother, felt the Church no longer served a purpose in my life, and I abandoned my parish.  It wasn’t until my husband and I had our children that my faith was reawakened. 

I vividly recall sitting in the Little Church with a few other families as Deacon Dooling performed the Rite of Baptism.  Sitting in that pew, I suddenly realized that these people – and actually the entire body of the Catholic Church -  were praying for my children; praying that no evil come to them, and asking God to love and bless them.  To my surprise, I was moved to tears.  And I once again came to Church each week to attend Mass.  And we dutifully put our envelope in the collection basket, doing our part to give to the needs of Mary Immaculate.

As the years went by, my children became altar servers, I began singing with the choir and my husband became a lector.  And I started realizing how often God had protected me since that terrible day when my Dad was injured.

I recalled that every few weeks a co-worker of my father’s would stop by the house to give us money he had collected for us on the job site.   This was money we desperately needed to help pay expenses until workman’s comp and social security benefits kicked in.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I see now that God blessed my family through those hard-working men who gave from their heart and, I am sure from their need, to help my mother put food on the table.

Looking back over the years I can now see evidence of God’s work through the people who appeared in my life just when things were going very badly…  and helped me to survive.

My father lived many years confined to a wheelchair or his bed, unable to move hardly at all.  His life was not easy, and he endured many hardships.  Yet he too rediscovered his faith in God and was grateful that he lived to see his children grow up and to look upon the face of his first grandchild before he passed.  

By his example, I learned how to be grateful to get up each morning, to be able to put one foot in front of another, and to enjoy the many blessings God gives each day.

And I am so grateful to be a part of this amazing parish.  I’m inspired by so many of you here.  I see men and women giving so generously of their time to serve this Church and to help others when they need it.  How could I not “need to give” to this parish family?  Through this Church I was given the opportunity to be a part of the Women’s Prayer Group whose deep concern and prayers comforted me during my only sister’s devastating cancer diagnosis just over a year ago.  They and many of you here have prayed for her.  This community of faith celebrated with me when God blessed us with a miracle, and my sister has enjoyed an amazing 8 months cancer free.  I am so grateful to all of you here.  And I know that you - my parish family - will join with me in prayer as my sister is once again facing a major health crisis. 

We people of faith come here to this altar to gain strength through the tough times, to celebrate life’s great moments, and to say our final goodbyes to our loved ones.  And I don’t take any of this for granted.

So, I am grateful for those who volunteer to teach the faith to our young ones, so that we might have a new generation to continue after we are gone.  And I recall how my family was once desperately in need, and I am grateful to you here, who through your generosity are helping those who are struggling today.  I am grateful to those who proclaim the word of God here each week, those who sing his praises, those who are called to religious life to lead us in our worship, and I am grateful to all of you for being here each week to pray together for each other and for our world.

And so I now give – not dutifully to the needs of the Church, but gratefully giving so all of this can continue.  Truly I need to give in thanksgiving for all the blessings of each and every day and each and every one of you.