Each Christmas, our churches are thronged with people who come to pray before the Manger, join in the singing of carols, and feel the warmth of the Saviour’s love.
Some of these men and women are not Catholic; others do not practice the Faith regularly. Some are estranged from the Church, angry at her teachings, hurt by her representatives; a larger number simply live their lives as if the Church had no place in their world, no bearing on their lifestyles, careers, and choices. . . except at Christmas.
Many are our loved ones, members of our families, young and old. Parents and grandparents often have a lump in their throats as they sing the Christmas carols, happy to have their adult children and grandchildren with them for Christmas Mass ï¿½ but knowing that it is probably the only Mass they will attend during the year. There are probably more prayers offered for the success of the sermon than at any other time during the year; as people pray that Father will say exactly the right things to get loved ones back to church and not say anything that will push people’s buttons.
Some years ago, it was estimated that there were between 16 and 20 million Catholics in the US who had ceased practicing the Faith. It is a staggering figure; Canada is probably no different in terms of percentages. But though we are shocked by the numbers, what really weighs on our hearts is the one (or three, or five, or seven) in our own family who has fallen away, joined another religion, or simply won’t hear anything about God or the Church. They are a constant object of our prayers, our worries, and our tears. Some left because they were bored, others were rebelling against their families and all they represented, including the Faith; some have made lifestyle choices about marriage and sexuality opposed to the Church’s teachings; others claimed they were not being spiritually fed and so began to look elsewhere. There are those who have fallen away because the Church changed so much; others have gone because she hasn’t changed enough.
Knowing why someone has left the Church does not always solve the problem, however. New insights and explanations may only bring up more painful questions and concerns. Those who have fallen away from the Church are hurting; but so are the parents and loved ones left behind. How can we find strength and patience to continue to keep lines of communication open, even while we stand up for what we know is true? How can we overcome feelings of doubt, confusion, even guilt as we ask, “Could I have done anything to stop this? Is anyone responsible?”
These questions cannot be answered simply or briefly. But we can be sure that God wants us to know that He loves our loved ones even more than we do. His Son was born for this; His Son has died for this. Jesus, born of Mary, will bring us comfort, understanding, and the strength to go on. He will help us let go of pain, suffering, and heartache; and teach us how to continue our relationships with our loved ones in patient trust and self-giving love.Christ the Saviour wants to bring them home, home to His Heart, His Church, His Kingdom. To do this, He seeks our willingness, our prayer, our conversion of heart. It is time now, in this Third Week of Advent to begin to pray in a special way for all those “strangers” who will come to our churches for Christmas Mass, for those who have fallen away but still hear the Voice of the Divine Shepherd calling them through the words of carols and the sound of church bells.
We should pray not only for “our own,” but for all. We should pray not just for “them” but for each other, that we be ready for Christmas. We must ask for so much grace that we are radiant with it; that our words be filled with truth and kindness, our hearts with love and divine life. We must pray that everyone who comes into our church may see Jesus reflected in every face, every gesture, every one that they see. Then they will know that He is alive and true and loving. . . and that there is no one who can compare with Him. And so the journey home will begin. . .