Friday, December 23, 2016

Every Catholic Pastor's Christmas Dilemma

Every year at Christmas Masses Catholic priests look out into the congregation and see lots of people who they do not recognize.  As a pastor, you know some of them are friends and family from out of town, and some of them are people who are checking out Catholicism, maybe for the first time, but there are also faces you recognize but haven't seen for months (maybe even since last Christmas), the faces of those who have fallen away from the Church and are no longer practicing their Faith.

There are two thoughts that run through your head as a pastor in the midst of the Masses:

1) You are happy that people are there hearing the Word of God and you tell yourself "A person can't be at Mass and NOT encounter God, whether it is the beauty of the music, being in the presence of the Eucharist, hearing the Word of God proclaimed, etc."

2) On the other hand, you as the priest are asked to reach out and help bring EVERY PERSON in your parish boundaries to Christ.  And so a part of you knows that one Mass a year is not sufficient to sustain those that know better.  So, out of love, you want to challenge people to do something closer to the minimal hurdles the Church puts forward for people to clear in order to be practicing their Faith.

And, let's be honest, there is, among those who know they ought to be coming weekly, a hypocritical thing going on when one attends a Christmas Mass; a pretending that things are in right order that are really not.

Our society recognizes that it is weird to come to a party or a wedding reception if you don't actually know the people for whom the party is being celebrated.  But aren't people doing that when they come to Christmas Mass and that's their "Catholicism" for the year?

And we hear a Gospel about this.  Everyone is invited to a wedding reception.  But when Christ comes to the person and it is clear that they are in attendance but not prepared to authentically celebrate, they are thrown out.  Similarly in Luke's Gospel we hear:

"You will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’  Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!
Yes, we're glad for every soul that is at Mass, but if you genuinely love someone do you let them persist in a deception, even if they are deceiving themselves?  NO!

If someone was raised in the Faith, was brought up in the Faith, and should know better, is it "pastoral" to pretend that there's nothing wrong with a person ignoring the call to practice their Catholic Faith 364 days a year?

So, in the midst of one of the most beautiful times of year when people not asked to help save people in a particular geographic region simply want to sit in the peace and joy of the season, pastors wrestle with the question "How do I celebrate this feast and yet try to throw a life preserver to the people who I may not see again for another year?"

If somebody writes a blog post or an article about how it is really simple for priests to just think about the positives of increased Christmas Mass attendance without thinking about what it means in a negative sense, they are not a person who has been asked to try to work for the salvation of every soul within a particular parish boundary.

You can't have what Canon Law calls "care of souls" and NOT wrestle with this question

And this question is really a microcosm of being a pastor in general - "How do you invite people to a life that is completely full of joy and peace and yet warn people of the perils of not heeding the call"?

If you figure it out, let me know.

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