Last week, I wrote about how, as Church and evangelization, it is all about Sunday Mass. Sunday Mass brings in the most people at any discrete time which leverages the potency and ability to evangelize, not just ourselves, but those who are new, visiting, or passing through. No ministry of our parish does this, nor can it. The Liturgy, the Mass, is the “Source and Summit” of our faith according to the Second Vatican Council. So if it is true that it is all about Sunday, what does this mean about Christmas? Well, let me ask a few simple questions. Isn’t Christmas the single most attended set of Masses in the year? Doesn’t it bring in more people than any other time, many of whom we don’t know? Doesn’t Christmas also bring people to us from other Christian traditions, others who are not Christian, others who are seekers, others who are broken-hearted, others who are mourning, others who are in need? Doesn’t this time draw our family members to Mass with us, and even some when they would not otherwise attend Mass? The answer to these questions is, “YES!” And because this is so true, all the more we should be mindful of our calling, as Church, when they come on Christmas, to put forward our best efforts to be hospitable, kind, generous, open, and loving. Of course, we should be this way all the time, but at Christmas, this is the most potent time to share the Gospel. Remember, we are called to be an alter cristus, “another christ” to our neighbors.
So, if it is all about Sunday, then in terms of evangelization, it is all about Christmas! Christmastime needs to be our focus and we should be thinking, “All Hands Aboard!” This is why we have so many Masses. Sure, we could cut down on a Mass or two and everyone might still fit. It would be very efficient, reduce our workload, and get us home faster. But, this is what is called, “church-think.” We employees or leaders of ministries are most prone to this way of thinking. Church-think puts the focus on ourselves, the minister, volunteer, or dedicated parishioner in the pews, and not on others who are new or in need. It pays no attention to what is best for others nor considered the situations in which they live. It is essentially selfish and antagonistic to what it is to be Church, that is evangelizers who desire to share and spread the Good News. We could have one single Christmas Eve or Day Mass by renting the largest space possible which would hold all who will come to that Mass, but that would be evangelical suicide. By having only one time, one door, so-to-speak, for people to come to our Christmas Eve Mass, we are very likely going to lose many people who couldn’t make that one small window of time. In our mission of St. Patrick of the Forest, the same applies. We could have one Mass and the community could likely all fit, but then they would miss out on this potent chance to share the Good News with those who couldn’t make that singular time. In fact, by having two Masses, they double the chances to proclaim the Good News to the newcomer. Another way of looking at this can be seen in the words St. John Paul II spoke when, at his first Mass as pope in 1978, he challenged the Church to, “open wide the doors to Christ.” He challenged us all to get out of our shells, our narcissism, our fears, our tribalisms, and any other things which keep us, and the Faith, to ourselves. He challenged us not to fear. He asked us to help him to serve so as to help humanity know what its true calling is. And what is it? What is all our calling? To be saints! We are being called to put our Lord first and proclaim the Gospel.
So what are some ways we can put this into practice? Here are some thoughts and recommendations. Consider parking further away than normal so that newcomers will be able to park closer. Sit in the center of a row instead of at the edges so that new people will more easily find a place at Mass. Thank someone for letting you sit next to them. Be willing to move aside to help someone else sit down. Give up your seat if you see others standing, especially those with physical issues and sacrifice yourself by standing at Mass. If you are a liturgical minister, make sure you sign up for a slot, show up early, and even consider helping out at an additional Mass since we will all be stretched thin in this regard. Do not complain or gossip about others. Guests hear this and make judgements very quickly as to what kind of community we are or are not. Smile even if it kills you. Be the first to apologize if there is a misunderstanding. Introduce yourself by name to anyone you don’t know sitting near you. Be gracious while in the parking lot or walking to and from your car. Wish others a blessed Christmas. Bring some, pre-signed, Christmas cards with you and give them to others, especially those whom you don’t know. Thank others for their presence at Mass, especially if don’t know them. Compliment someone for their good singing. Pray for the person who appears distressed, or otherwise struggling. Be nice to the priests, for they have fourteen Masses to cover from that Saturday night to Christmas Day. Share how happy you are to be part of this faith community. Don’t share your personal pet peeves… honestly, nobody wants to hear them. Wish those around you a blessed Christmas. And I’m sure there are many more ideas each one of us could come up with, right? Please let me know if you have some creative ideas in this regard.
So, remember, in terms of parish evangelization, it is all about Christmas. Do not give into thinking about yourself, rather be other-centered. Love, laugh, smile, and encourage. Nobody can challenge honest joy. And may this Christmas be one that gives God the glory for his faithful will have lived out out their calling. I look very much forward to celebrating this time with you all!
Fr. William Holtzinger