christmas 2010

Merry Christmas to all! The actual day has passed, but the season continues. Our house is still overflowing with the glorious (?) clutter of presents, foods, dogs, and bulging laundry baskets. (The dirty clothes came home to celebrate the holidays with us!)

After my previous grumbles about the ghosts of Christmas masses past, this year`s liturgical celebration was anticlimactic – but in a good way. The Christmas Eve mass was moved up to a very early 7:00 pm, and one of our daughters wasn`t going to be home in time. A quick decision was made to attend the Christmas morning mass together.

Our whole clan entered the church on Christmas morning, and immediately felt conspicuous. The sparse pews looked like a weekday mass. Eek! Where to sit…..hmm, at least we could all sit together. We slid into place, filling a pew and a bit. If we weren`t such a tight clan, we could have had a pew each.  In the absence of the choir, the music was graciously provided by a married couple. They played a guitar and what I think was an electronic autoharp. Their gentle voices melded into glorious old time harmonies, reminiscent of small town dance halls. Ah….not bad….

Then a request was put out for children to come to the front and play percussion instruments for the recessional song, `Go Tell It on the Mountain`. But, there was only one child present. So, the request was put out to our `children`, who are only 19 to 27 years old. Our 22 year old, bearded son grumbled audibly….absolutely not!  Since they didn`t come forward, the instruments were brought to them. Amid many giggles, elbowing, and guffawing, they proceeded to lay on the percussive sounds. And they laid them on thick! Put some rhythm sticks in the hands of a 22 year old drummer, and you`re guaranteed a good time.  What I thought would be an embarrassing, horrific moment, ended up being a blast. We left mass grinning, with a great story to add to the family collection.

Tomorrow I`ll update you on the spirit of our liturgical celebrations. Spoiler alert….there were no `c and e` homilies. Merry Christmas!!!!

my top ten christmas mass resolutions

Woman Writing at Desk- Henry Clive

1.       I WILL NOT criticize any aspect of the Christmas liturgy.

2.       I WILL show my gratitude and appreciation to those who decorated the church, patiently worked with our young children, and practiced long hours to bring music to our celebration

3.       I WILL NOT complain if the pews are packed, or if I can`t find a seat for the whole clan.

4.       I WILL be thankful that so many good folks are joining us for this special night.

5.       I WILL NOT review task lists in my mind, and mentally prepare the Christmas meals during the homily.

6.       I WILL be intentionally present to the moment, letting mind and heart actively participate in all that is unfolding before us.

7.       I WILL NOT giggle at `Jingle Jesus` – sleigh bells wrapped around the processional cross and energetically bounced up and down by a very solemn sacristan.

8.       I WILL be thankful for the diverse personalities, characters, eccentricities and quirkiness that keep parish life interesting.

9.       I WILL NOT allow the comfort of the familiar to keep me locked in a moment of time.

10.   I WILL seek the always new and the always timely message of the Incarnation – God became one of us, and IS with us in the here and now. Let us rejoice!

“c and e” catholics

Christmas is coming, and so are those `Christmas and Easter Catholics`. How dare they show up only on the high holy days? How dare they take up our precious seats? After all, it`s our behinds that warmed up these pews each Sunday. What if I`m forced to move to the back?  Or, horror of horrors, have to stand while these imposters sit comfortably, dressed in their holiday best?

Christmas, Easter, baptisms, weddings and funerals are graced moments that need to be embraced by our pastors and parish communities. These are our Feast Days, and celebrations of life’s significant passages.  It is not a time for judging or questioning the motives of non-regular church goers. It is a time to rejoice in their presence. It is a time to warmly welcome, without any undue drama. It is a time for “I’m 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 comments and judgmental references won’t. In fact they will turn hearts away even more.

Our adult children are, for the most part, “C and E” Catholics. The fact that they don’t attend Mass regularly has been a source of sadness and guilt for my husband and me. But, it doesn’t surprise us when we ponder the damage that was caused by our own struggles and anger at the Church. Their eyes were opened to the reality of dysfunctional Church leadership at an early age. We had to show them how to separate the wheat of the gospel message from the chaff of hurtful power struggles in the Church.

It was not an easy task. Yet, today we rejoice in the women and men our children have become. They believe in God, and in the power of prayer. They are kind to those who need their kindness, and respectful to those who deserve their respect. They are easily angered by unfairness and aren’t afraid to stand up and fight against injustice. They know how to love, and be loved in return. They are fiercely loyal to family ties, yet are eager to prove their independence. And, they still want to attend our parish Christmas and Easter liturgies as a family. Is it just for emotional reasons, a desire to relive the good old days of their youth? Or maybe it`s just the sense of tradition? Christmas and Easter wouldn’t be the same without going to Church. I don`t spend much time thinking of the reasons. Their presence makes me happy. And, it makes me happy to see their friends return home and join their families in the liturgical celebrations. It is good to look down the pews and see them filled with these young adults. It feels like a family reunion.

One Christmas, in particular, drained all the joy from our celebration of Christ’s Incarnation. We listened to a lengthy homily declaring that the most important place to be in the world is “within the four walls of this church”. Literally! Our pastor at the time, who has a great Eucharistic devotion, was trying to emphasize the Real Presence in the Eucharist but the point was missed completely. All that we heard was another guilt trip for those who did not attend Sunday Mass. It was a classic “C and E” homily. Being inside the Church is good. Being out in the world is bad.

I wondered what my children were thinking. One son was a fire-fighter / paramedic, one daughter a psychiatric emergency nurse, and another daughter a physical therapist in an acquired brain injury unit of a mental health hospital. Each of their jobs required courage and compassion. Is Jesus not as really and truly present when they put their lives at risk to help others? Is Jesus not really and truly present when they work with the poorest of the poor and those with such incredible needs and challenges? The words of the pastor were interpreted – rightly or wrongly – as a personal judgment. These weren’t words to welcome them back. They were words that slammed shut the cautiously opened doors and would continue to keep them away. We hope and pray that their Catholic roots will continue to be nurtured by their good hearts and generous works. And maybe, one day, they will find a welcoming faith community where they can find a spiritual home.

If you are a `C and E` Catholic, please do attend a good Christmas liturgy this season, and leave any guilt feelings behind. Enjoy the beauty of the surroundings, the wonderful scripture readings and the glorious music. Be open to the awesome mystery that is the Incarnation, God becoming one of us. If you are a faithful parish member, God bless you! Turn to the visitor and welcome them warmly. And, if you are a pastor, embrace the graced moment that is given to you at Christmas time. Radiate the joy and hope of the Christmas message in your words and actions, for joy and hope is much needed in our world today.