by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
For a significant part of their adult lives, my maternal grandparents were C&E Catholics.
For those not familiar with the term, C&E stands for Christmas and Easter Catholics. These are individuals who only come to Mass on Christmas and Easter.
On the solemnity of Christmas, we will get an idea of the potential of our parishes each Sunday. Many will come to Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day who do not regularly attend Sunday Mass.
Sometimes, those who come to Mass faithfully can resent the Christmas and Easter Catholics for invading the church and taking their preferred parking space or sitting in their favorite pew.
In the book “Rebuilt,” Father Michael White, a Baltimore pastor, urged his regular parishioners to walk to church on Christmas or to park in the furthest spaces from the church entrance.
Father White invited his faithful parishioners to do this small sacrifice in order to help their Christmas “guests” feel welcome and to do everything possible to make Christmas Mass for those who attended infrequently a very positive experience.
With Christmas approaching, I encourage you to pray for family, friends or neighbors who do not participate regularly in Sunday Mass. Consider inviting them to attend Christmas Mass with you.
Think about inviting individuals who are not Catholic and do not belong to any church to join you for Christmas Mass. Also, I suggest you pray about what you can do to make Christmas visitors to your parish feel welcome.
Members of the Legion of Mary visited my grandparents regularly and encouraged them to become more active in the parish.
Eventually, this resulted in my grandparents enrolling my mother and my aunt in the equivalent of the school of religion.
As a result, my mother’s faith blossomed. When my father served in the military during World War II, my grandparents began attending Mass regularly with my mother, praying for my dad’s safe return.
By the time I knew my grandparents, they not only attended Mass every Sunday, but my grandfather faithfully spent the 2 a.m. hour every Saturday in eucharistic adoration.
My grandmother eventually became the parish secretary. If it were not for the members of the Legion of Mary making the effort to visit my grandparents, I doubt that I would be a priest today, much less a bishop.
In addition to doing our part to make visitors feel welcome at Mass, family Christmas gatherings also provide a great opportunity to witness about the importance of our Catholic faith.
If you are hosting a Christmas gathering, make the meal prayer special. It does not have to be lengthy, but it should be prayed devoutly — a moment that focuses everyone’s attention on the religious meaning of Christmas.
In conversation, bring up something that impressed you about the Christmas homily or talk about the meaning of your favorite Christmas carol. Share with others some of the parish initiatives to help people in need during this season or talk about the amazing work of Catholic Charities that is supported, in part, by the Christmas collection.
If you are really brave, consider sharing the peace, joy and strength you received from going to confession during the Advent season.
I am not suggesting you get into theological debates and certainly not religious arguments. I am encouraging you to share from your heart the blessings you experience from your Catholic faith.
No doubt some family or friends may bring up the recent scandals in the church. This also provides an opportunity to witness that your faith is not because of the perfection of church leaders, but because Jesus promised to be with the church despite the weakness and frailty of its leaders and members.
Share with others the peace and strength you derive from receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.
Make sure that the Nativity scene has a place of prominence in your home. Our Christmas decorations should reflect our awareness of the true meaning of Christmas. Know the Christian symbolism that is the origin of most Christmas decorations.
Who knows? The Lord may wish to use you to motivate a C&E Catholic to begin to take their faith more seriously. The Lord may use your invitation to come to Christmas Mass to be the catalyst for an unchurched person to discover the beauty and richness of our Catholic faith.
Whatever good I am accomplishing today through my ministry as a bishop is in part the fruit of those ordinary lay Catholics who more than 80 years ago made the effort to reach out to my grandparents.
Our Lord can use you not only to change a single life, but the entire spiritual direction of a family.
Think about it!