by Isabella R. Moyer
Welcome, one and all, to the Christmas table of the Lord
Christmas is coming, and so are those “Christmas and Easter Catholics.” It’s not fair to those of us who come to church faithfully, Sunday after Sunday. We’re the frequent flyers, and deserve early boarding rights and priority seating on our high holy days. How dare these “C and E” Catholics bump us down to economy class? We shouldn’t be sitting on folding chairs in the back of the church or, worse, cramped into the basement hall listening to the liturgy over poor-sounding speakers. This is just wrong!
But, our church was never meant to be an exclusive club, only for gold-card carrying members. The call for an intentional and effective new evangelization reminds us of the reason for our existence. We gather, as a parish, to celebrate the liturgies and sacraments of the church. We are also called to be in mission. We gather in order to be sent, to go out into the world and preach the good news of Jesus with our very lives. What can we do to answer this call to be a missionary, evangelizing church? It can be as simple as opening wide our doors and offering a warm welcome to all who wish to enter.
Christmas, Easter, baptisms, first communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals are graced moments for evangelization. These are our feast days and celebrations of life’s significant passages; natural moments for family and friends to be together. These are not the time for judging, questioning motives or guilt-laden homilies. They are an opportunity to be thankful, as a community, for the presence of each and every person. It is a time for, “We’re happy to see you.” Not, “It’s been too long since we’ve seen you. Where have you been?” Simple, gracious hospitality will move hearts. Belittling or judgmental comments will turn hearts away.
What if we were really and truly successful in the new evangelization? How would the results be reflected at the parish level? It would look like Christmas or Easter every Sunday, a glorious overflowing of families and friends who don’t have to be cajoled to be there. Gathering as a community of faith will entice them and nourish them. There will be no talk of obligations and mortal sins. They will come because it seems right and good, just like heading into the cold, dark winter’s night to attend a Christmas Midnight Mass.
Yes, Christmas and Easter are a foretaste of a successful new evangelization. Think of it as a dress rehearsal and be prepared to welcome the strangers in your midst as family and friends.
Don’t fret if someone sits in “your” pew. Raise a prayer of thanks that they have come to worship with you.
Welcome! (Photo by Art Babych)
Are those young people sitting in front of you clueless to the proper liturgical actions and responses? Remember that the regular Sunday crowd is still struggling with the latest liturgical directives and missal changes. Pass forward the laminated cheat sheet, and help them with the music books.
Don’t judge who is in the communion line. Leave the judging to God. Jesus was known for dining with sinners and saints. Aren’t we all a well-mixed composite of both? Take a long, prayerful look at the line of communicants, and give praise to God for taking our motley humanity, blessing it and breaking it into a wholeness and holiness that we can never truly deserve.
Christmas and Easter celebrations hold a powerful draw for many Catholics. Some come for nostalgia. Some come for a simple appreciation of the liturgical beauty at this time of year. For others, it is a chance to reunite with family and friends. Sometimes it just feels good. Whatever the reason, a wee spark has drawn our sisters and brothers through the doors of our church. What can we do to ignite that spark into a desire to venture through those doors again?
If you are one of the many liturgical and pastoral angels who work so hard to bring beauty and music into our Christmas mass, God bless you! Be optimistic and inclusive in your planning. Be prepared for James Joyce’s version of the Catholic Church: here comes everybody!
If you are a faithful parish member, turn to visitors and welcome them
warmly. Your heartfelt hospitality can give them a reason to return.
If weeks, months, or even years have passed since you entered a church, please do attend a good Christmas liturgy this season. Drink in the wonderful Scripture readings and join in the glorious singing. Enjoy the beauty of the surroundings and the warmth of community, knowing that you are always welcomed.
Together, let us open our minds and hearts to the true magic of Christmas, the awesome mystery that is the Incarnation. God became one of us as a wee babe, born among the most ordinary of persons in the most humble of surroundings. Rejoice!
Moyer is a Catholic blogger (http://catholicdialogue.com) who lives with her husband David in Neepawa, MB. She is president of the International Organization of Marianist Lay Communities, a canonically recognized, private association of the faithful whose charism promotes a Marian model of church that is inclusive, egalitarian, participatory and concerned with social justice.