This weekend churches will undoubtedly be teeming with people eager to celebrate Christmas. For every Christmas, parish churches are crowded with people who come to pray before the Christ Child in the Crib, join in the joyful singing of ancient carols, and sense the warmth of the Savior’s love.
Some will be visitors who are not Catholic while still others will be those who are baptized Catholics but who come to church once a year. Together they join with the faithful parishioners in celebrating the birth of the Savior.
Why is it that some of our Catholic brothers and sisters come only but once a year or simply not at all? For some it is because they are angry with Church teachings, hurt by her representatives or estranged from the Church. Yet for a larger number of Catholics their absence or occasional practice of the faith is not the result of any hurt or disappointment but simply because they live their lives as if the Church had no place in their world, no bearing on their lifestyles, and choices except, of course on Christmas Day.
They are the members of strong Catholic families, they are young and old and they are rich and poor. No matter their circumstances, they share a common apathy and antipathy toward the Church. While they are the cause of sadness, parents and grandparents and even parish priests delight at their presence at Christmas Mass. A delight that occurs despite knowing that it is probably the only Mass they may attend during the year. More than at any other time during the year countless prayers are offered for a homily that both provides meaning and offers a welcome. Anxious parents and grandparents pray that their parish priest might offer words that inspire their non-practicing children and grandchildren to return more frequently to Church. They hope that Christmas Mass might be an opportunity to be an invitation to return home rather than a rebuke for absences.
It has been suggested that there were between 16 and 20 million Catholics in the US who have ceased practicing the Faith. Some even suggest that there are more non-practicing Catholics than active Catholics in our nation. We should be shocked by the large numbers but also remain aware of the sadness and pain felt by many parents and grandparents feel because a child or a grandchild has strayed away from their Mother the Church.
These wandering children are a constant object of prayers, worries, and even tears. Whether these children of the Church left out of boredom or rebellion, they must remain a source of evangelization and prayer. They are the recipients of a warm invitation to return.
Christ our Savior born on Christmas Day desires to bring them home, home to His Heart, His Church, and His Kingdom. We must pray for all those "strangers" who come to our churches this Christmas. We must make room in the pew for them. We must welcome them and invite them to return the following Sunday and every Sunday afterwards.
For as a Church we are called to pray not only for "our own," but for all of God’s children. This Christmas as the throngs fill our churches and our pews may they see Jesus in every face they spy, every gesture offered, and in everyone gathered to worship and pray at Christmas Mass. The great spiritual mystic Meister Eckhart once said: “What good is it that Christ was born 2,000 years ago if He is not born in our hearts now?” This Christmas may the Christ Child whose birth we celebrate be born again for all who come to adore Him who is Christ the Lord.