Opening Our Hearts…And Our Pews

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to “that time of year.” We have four days til Christmas and three til Christmas Eve. And as good Catholics, we know that means going to mass. But here’s the thing, those not so good Catholics, the ones who never make it to Sunday mass, they know it too. And a lot of other Christians from denominations who do not have services, they know it as well.

So, it’s not at all uncommon to look around at mass on Christmas Eve and think, “Who are these people? I’ve never seen any of them before in my life? Well, maybe those people I saw last Christmas or maybe Easter…”

They’re usually referred to as CAPE Catholics or Christians meaning they show up to mass on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter. Sometimes only one of those three. And they fill up the parking lot and take all the seats and are majorly annoying. I know it, I’ve been there.

But something is bringing these people in. Could be guilt. Might be mom’s house rules. Curiosity. It really doesn’t matter. The point in they’re there. So while they are with us, this is our time to shine.

Two years ago on CBS Sunday Morning, contributor Bill Flanagan illustrated just how ugly things can get during this time:

Ladies and Gentlemen, don’t be “that couple” Flanagan describes in this piece.
These people we don’t know, who we’ve never seen before, they are coming. Nothing is going to stop them. And for that, let us be grateful and give praise and thanksgiving to our Savior whose birth we are there to celebrate. Whatever motivated them to show up, it’s our duty to make them feel welcome. Remember Jesus’ description of the Judgment of Nations in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew?
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, –Matthew 25:35
“…a stranger and you welcomed me,” it’s right there in the Gospel. We bring others to Christ through our actions as well as our prayers. This Christmas is a chance for them to see a glimpse into the fullness of Truth regardless of the hows or whys of them being with us. And seeing smiling, welcoming faces and hearing warm Christmas greetings and inviting handshakes at the Sign of Peace, might just encourage them to come back. The Body of Christ is not just for some, it is for all. And we have to do our part.
Our hearts should be open this Christmas season to those who are seeking. We will hear in Luke’s Gospel later in the year about the shepherd who had 99 of his sheep and still sought out that one who was lost. As you pray to open your heart to lost sheep who may show up in your parish, please keep your pews open as well. Jesus preached that parable to sinners and tax collectors Saint Luke tells us. Remember the words of Pope Francis, the Church is a Field Hospital, we have to reach the people where they are at be it in a soup kitchen, prison, or sitting next to us at Christmas. Let’s be truly ready to embrace our Lord by our welcoming embrace to those new, unexpected folks with us at the Supper of the Lamb.