Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Season of Special Visitors

Christmas is just days away, so it’s time to prepare for those “visitors from the east.” No, I don’t mean the Magi, the mysterious visitors who “traversed afar” over “field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star” to pay homage to the child Jesus. (How often do you get to use the words traversed, moor, and yonder in the same sentence? Thank God for ancient carols and hymns, without which our modern day vocabulary would be reduced by now to nothing but grunts and screeches.)
The visitors who will be coming soon are the folks who attend Mass only on Christmas and Easter. Maybe they should be called “Chreasters”? (Pronounced “kree-sters,” rhymes with keisters.)

I conducted a scientific survey recently (which consisted of talking to a few people after church the other day, one of whom was myself), and I discovered that those of us who attend Mass on a regular basis often can be a bit resentful toward the twice-a-year Chreasters.

“Holy mackerel,” we grumble as we drive into the church parking lot. “There’re no more parking spaces! I’ll have to park on the street!”

Then, once we get inside the church, we mumble to ourselves, “Hey, who are those guys sitting there? That’s MY regular pew.”
For the rest of Mass, crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with total strangers in an unfamiliar pew, we barely pay attention to the joyful liturgy. Instead of having our souls and spirits in tune with the Lord as we celebrate one of the two most momentous events in world history, the Incarnation or the Resurrection, we instead sit there with clenched teeth and bad attitudes.

Sometimes a similar attitude is present even in the sanctuary. Over the years I’ve heard priests and deacons remark, in far too sarcastic a tone of voice, “Well, I haven’t seen some of you since last [fill in the blank: Easter or Christmas]. You know, we do this every week!”
Hmm, I wonder if the subtle annoyance expressed by we regular church-goers might be part of the reason the Chreasters only go to Mass twice a year?

We know one thing for sure about the Chreasters: they haven’t given up completely on the idea that Jesus is important. Oh sure, maybe they’re at church on these special holidays because they were practically dragged there by their spouses or children. But plenty of people nowadays NEVER go to church—no matter how much their loved ones beg—because they have completely lost their faith.

The Chreasters still have a spark of faith smoldering somewhere deep inside. That’s a good thing! Jesus Himself said faith the size of a muster seed can move mountains.
Is it possible that the smoldering spark of faith inside some Chreasters gets extinguished when they get the cold-shoulder treatment at Christmas or Easter Mass? Are some of these twice-a-year Mass attendees about to become never-again Mass attendees because the devoted followers of Jesus seem to be just as indifferent and unfriendly as people out in the cold, cruel secular world?

Let’s try something different at Christmas Mass this year. When we see folks we’ve never seen before, instead of ignoring them or giving them an icy smile that clearly sends the message, “And just who are you?” let’s offer a big, welcoming smile and sincerely say, “I am so glad to see you here!”

They may be so startled by our hospitality, they’ll have to check twice to see if they accidentally drove to the wrong church. No matter how afar they traversed, we need to make them feel at home. Who knows? They might surprise us by coming back next week.

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