I look around my temporarily full-to-bursting parish and I see hope. I see people who, despite 364 days of absence, still carve out time — during the busiest season of the year — to come and spend a sweaty, cramped hour thanking God for the gift of the Incarnation. I see people who, despite the non-stop, insane droning of secularism and consumerism, hear God’s voice calling to them, and respond by filling pews and folding chairs, putting themselves in front of the Real Presence, even if for only one Mass a year.
Yes, it would be a wonderful thing indeed if parishes were this full every Sunday. Even better, if they were this full daily. But that’s not where we are here in 21st century America. So while it is so tempting to scowl at the Christmas crowds, and sigh at being relegated to the backidy back of a church you attend faithfully, and speculate about the worthiness of the people receiving Eucharist, it is so much more hopeful to give the Christ Child an offering of love by welcoming the stranger. If it helps, remember Mary and Joseph and the inn. See every person in that hot, crowded parish as a weary traveler, looking for refuge, having followed a star that brought them here, to a God who came to us as a tiny child, and who still comes to us as a humble piece of bread.
Welcome the stranger, and you welcome the Christ Child Himself.
Cari Donaldsonis the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at clan-donaldson.com.