Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
Merry Christmas! What an amazing cycle of celebrations we had this year at Saint Mary! Every Mass was year-full or very full, everyone seemed at peace. The music was truly beautiful and led all of us more deeply into the beauty that lies at the center of the fact of the Incarnation: the love of God. Love was the spirit everywhere, Masses both here at church and at Holy Cross Academy, everywhere, wishes of happiness and blessings.
It is the usual follow-up to be so very thankful to all who have contributed to making these liturgies happen—especially this year, it seemed like we all worked together so well, we were ready. To all our decorators and ministers of liturgy—to all our choirs, musicians, cantors—to everyone who helped decorate and put it all together here in the office, thanks. It really is the best work in the world to do. Thank you.
Something happens to you after you have been a priest for a while about these privileged seasons, something that I’ve only become aware of recently. This thanksgiving I feel has gradually extended in the form of sincere welcome to all who join us for Christmas. I think this needs to
be said. Too long we have stood in judgment of those who might attend at Christmas and Easter. And I want to be clear that what I’m about to say is not that it doesn’t matter if you miss Mass on Sunday and Holy Days—I am just so glad that so many attend Mass to celebrate the moments of Jesus’ Birth, his Passion, his Death and Resurrection.They are personal moments whose meaning we may not be able to express, exactly, but they move us at the center of our being. They are sources of contentment in lives that otherwise lack something. They bring peace in the middle of any level of battle that you may be waging in your hearts or families. They remind us of God’s love which we cannot deny, no matter how hard the world may try to convince us otherwise. God’s love becomes visible. You can hold it.
Anyway, I’m just glad that people come. And filled with gratitude, where I used to think it was more of a bother to accommodate so many… I’m sorry for these attitudes in the past, I truly believe that they are in the past now.
The Church has always taught that to be minimally Catholic you must attend Mass and receive Holy Communion (if you can) at least once a year between Ash Wednesday and Pentecost Sunday. Of course, if this is the only time you might attend Mass, then it also must necessarily involve sacramental confession. This is what has been called (sadly) the “Easter Duty.”
It is a great temptation for those who attend every week to be judgmental of those who do not. Yet, who knows what somebody might be going through in their life? Some people really are busy (though some really aren’t) and have to put food on the table for their families, which means that work schedules and family obligations keep them from joining us many Sundays. For many, especially those who are sick, or have been abused (20% of people alive today?) or abandoned, disillusioned about family, community, feel deep pain that is so hard to reconcile, are uncertain of their worthiness to be a part: it takes all they have inside of them to show up and be seen in the context of the family of God.
Are we not all sinners?
Imagine what damage we might do at that moment if we were to choose to judge them rather than be here to welcome them home. It might be a long, long time before they get the strength together to do it again.
Schedules are busy. That is why we have Masses at every waking hour during the weekend. If your weekend is so busy that you can’t make it to any of our Masses, then maybe your weekend is too busy. I ask you to do what you can to work that out.
This weekend we reflect on God’s epiphany: how he is made manifest in the Christ child to the wise men from the East—to all those at the time who were not of the house of Israel, the chosen people—to us. God wanted to tell us that he is here for all people—even the fortune tellers and pagans. He calls everyone. So then, why shouldn’t we?
We are now in the process of bringing one another to the manger. The angels who bring the shepherds, the star that brings the wise men. We, who bring each other to come and see the Mystery that is before us today.
God bless you.