Home for Christmas

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published on Catholic Stand, December 2, 2014. We are republishing here for your holiday enjoyment.]

So much popular Christmas music deals with going home. I can remember passing around the tissues as the song “I’ll be Home for Christmas” turned a bunch of military wives into a weepy mess. Our hearts longed for home but we were so far away it was impossible to be with our extended families at Christmas.

Similarly, Trans-Siberian Orchestra offers a tender ballad, “Old City Bar”, that chronicles how a crusty old bartender is moved to empty his cash drawer to help a young girl fly home on Christmas Eve. Which of us would not want to do the same if given the opportunity?

But do we feel the same when Holy Mother Church’s children return home for Christmas? Every year the pews are packed with prodigal sons and daughters who may not have seen the inside of a church since last Easter or even last Christmas.

It is easy to spot them. They look a little uneasy. They keep saying “And also with you” instead of “And with your spirit”. They and their children are confused about the postures and gestures of Mass.

Those of us who have made it to Mass every Sunday may be tempted to sneer and derisively label them “C and E Catholics”. After all, we are the ones teaching CCD, organizing the youth group, volunteering for the choir and putting our envelope in the basket every week. And now these slackers show up on one of the holiest days of the year, create chaos in the parking lot, squeeze into our pew and expect to enjoy the glory and majesty of Christmas Mass as if they belonged.

Actually, they do belong every bit as much as we do. Before we get too wrapped up in our indignation and start channeling the Prodigal Son’s older brother wailing, “That’s not fair!”, we need to take a step back.

The truth is that we do not know what crosses are brothers and sisters are carrying. We do not know their sorrows and their challenges. We do not know what stumbling blocks, hurts, or simple misunderstandings have kept them from coming to Mass.

What we do know are the truths of our own lives. Has our pride and self-righteousness taken the charity out of our religious zeal? Have we forgotten that acts of piety are a means to strengthening our relationship with God and not an end in and of themselves? Are we so confident in our own merits that we forget the source of all goodness, including our own?

As St. Paul tells us:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

 Advent is a good time to rekindle our charity and refocus our piety. Begin with an examination of conscience and a good confession, laying bare the sins that build resentment and deny mercy. In doing so I think most of us will find we have far more in common with the Prodigal Son than with the Older Brother.

I believe this is what Pope Francis is calling us to do when he urges us to reach out to the marginalized. We must welcome them back into the fold with a loving embrace instead of barring the door with condemnation. If the Church is a field hospital, as Pope Francis says, then we are all patients. Our illnesses vary, but we share the need for healing.

I challenge each of us to use this Advent to prepare ourselves to welcome all with humility and love, instead of with pride and condescension. Have patience in the overflowing parking lot and rejoice that pews are crowded instead of empty.

Offer up these little sacrifices for the conversion of hearts and the return of lapsed Catholics. Let us celebrate that there is still a spark within them that calls them home. A warm smile and greeting from us may be all that it takes to kindle that spark into a flame that brings them home before next Christmas.

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2 thoughts on “Home for Christmas”

  1. Pingback: Why Pope Francis Is Demonize Practicing Catholics -Big Pulpit

  2. I would like to expand this great challenge to make sure it reaches out with the truth in all humility, the truth about the Faith–that our Church requires the struggle for virtue and most emphatically requires that one be in the state of grace to receive communion.

    People who approach the Faith do not really need more of the same ‘good speak’ they get in the street and the store. They need the standard raised by the Church. It is a tough standard.

    If people are in tough financial circumstances, just as an example, they need more than ever at that point to hear they must not steal, not acceptance of their theft. That’s what they need to make the most of this life and not throw away their chance for heaven in the next–and that’s what they want. If they are living in irregular circumstances, they need to hear how to get out of them, not how to ignore them. If they are addicted to anything, they need to hear they must make the effort to get out of it. We must not ‘accept’ their addictions.

    I speak as a poor child who was saved in just that way by the Church. I speak also as a life-long successful teacher, with successful defined as one whose students completed their class with a measurable growth in skills commensurate with their age level and ready to move on to higher work, and also as one whose students were employable.There are very many teachers who ‘teach’ by flattery. They ignore error and praise only the good in kids’ work. They smile a lot, are very ‘welcoming,’ very ‘supportive.’ Their kids love them, score them highly in the yearly teacher ratings, and parents love them, too, because every kid gets an A, it makes for a happier dinner table.

    But those teachers are not successful, since their students go out in the real world with poor skills, and they do not advance, and they earn minimum wage for the rest of their lives. They cannot afford to marry. They cannot afford to buy a home. See them all around us? They cannot write, barely read. That’s how they got that way, by a culture of flattery. It is not loving at all.

    I hope the pastors at our churches will do at Christmas (and Easter and weddings and funerals) as my pastor does. He will announce that communion is for those persons who have been to confession. He will say that confession is available after mass, and that his phone number is in the bulletin for additional help and counseling if they want to call. He won’t say about the many activities available to their children, but it is in the same bulletin. He will not lower the standard. The rest of this will smile at those new families, and pick up a dropped toy, and offer coffee after mass, but we will not, pray God we do not, offer ‘free’ any service that before Vatican II required living by the standards raised by the traditional Church. We would not be loving to do so, even though that is a rough stance. It is just as rough for any child to acquire standard English, or algebra. We must not follow the ‘self esteem’ slide into nothingness. In this case, we must know for sure that at their death, God will not be able to ignore the reality of their souls, because His own Son died in agony on the cross for their sins. And I think he will not ignore our complicity, if we go that way.

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