“Putting our best foot forward”
Christmas day is less than two weeks away, the day when suddenly our churches will be filled to the rafters with many that we only see once a year. We’ll have to get to Mass early in the hope that we can find a parking space and be able to sit in our regular seat (or even get a seat). We may, honestly, feel a bit inconvenienced or even put out by all of this. Yet, this an opportunity for us to “put our best foot forward” and make an effort to welcome those whom we do not normally see in the hope that they will become a regular part of our Sunday worship.
I often wonder who these “guests” in our midst may be. I know that some are relatives and friends that are visiting families for the holidays. There certainly are a lot of young people, some of whom are home from college, some not. But most seem to be people and families that are part of the local community. I wish that we could see them all every weekend. I wish every church had to add Masses to the weekend schedule in order to fit them all. Yet they are not here for reasons that may fall into following categories :
– Atheists or agnostics, non-Christians, former Catholics, and Christians who do not share our Catholic faith who are attending Christmas Mass with family or friends;
– Catholics who have stopped attending Mass because of a particular incident involving some representative of the Church (normally a priest) who did something to outrage the person or their family, often connected with a baptism, funeral or wedding;
– Catholics who have stopped attending Mass because of outrage over the abuse crisis or the closing of a parish;
– Catholics who have issues with Church doctrine and teaching;
– Catholics who have been to too many bad liturgies with awful preaching, terrible music, indifferent or even sloppy celebration by the priest and other ministers;
– Catholics who have felt less than welcome by others in the church or even been discouraged from attending Mass regularly;
– Teenagers and young adults who just see no relationship between the Mass and the issues that they are facing in life or the manner in which they have chosen to live their lives;
– Catholics who simply fell out of the habit of going to Mass. They miss Mass one week and then come back for a few weeks and then they miss Mass some more and as time goes by, they just stop going. They have other things to do that demand their or their family’s time instead of Mass and, besides, they can “pray to God on their own, they don’t need to attend Mass to do so.” Yet, Jews and Christians gather on the Sabbath to worship – not to pray. “To pray” can be done anywhere, anytime and hopefully those who claim to pray anywhere, anytime are in fact doing it. Worship on the other hand, while incorporating dimensions of prayer, is fundamentally an act in which we are called together to offer fitting service to God.
I’m sure there are other categories that I have missed but I think you get the picture. In light of all of the various categories and all of the reasons why people do not come to Mass, any effort to try and invite and encourage people to “come to the table” can seem a bit daunting. Yet, if I may use another cliché, I think the best way to do this is “one step at a time.” And the first step is to provide a welcoming community filled with people who by our actions and words say, “We are so glad you are here.” So, this Christmas, let a smile, a handshake, and a word of greeting be our Christmas invitation to come join us again.