It was a bright summer’s day. A kind neighbor saw me walking to Mass. With a shrug, he said: “I only go to church twice a year,” his eyes bashful, “I’m a Chri-Easter – you know, a Christmas / Easter Christian.”
“Oh Jack,” I replied, searching for the right reply but coming up short: “God knows your heart; He loves you; have a great day …”
That was all I mustered – definitely not the zinger I would have hoped for. But honestly, in hindsight, I still don’t know the perfect reply to this common sentiment. I hear it often. From neighbors like Jack who were raised Catholic, but simply don’t attend Mass anymore, to folks from my evangelical background who’ve adopted the “spiritual/ not religious” way of living, how do I explain my decision not to give up on regular Sunday worship? Jack wasn’t questioning me, but his comment made me question myself.
It’s certainly not the parish community, my mind whirred as my kids followed me, like a line of little ducks, across our busy street, or the homily or the music …
All these items can be great in any parish one day, and then super lame the next for no reason at all.
It’s not the Sunday School or the nursery programs, as my tiny parish has neither …
These were all factors that helped my parents pick a church when I was growing up.
Also, there’s never any place to park; that’s why we walk …
So why keep going to church, Sunday after Sunday, and not just a few times a year? For me, there’s only one answer …
He’s always there waiting. Under the appearance of bread and wine, my Lord is always, always, always at the heart of each Mass. He’s literally the only reason I haul my seven kids out the door to kneel at the altar at least every Sunday. I receive Him, and He gives me the transforming grace to live my life. I’m more patient and loving the more I receive the Eucharist. But all that is hard to say in a quick sidewalk chat.
I was blessed to sit next to Jack that Christmas. He attended alone, as many Chri-Easters do. It’s easy to assume that these “twice-a-year” guests attend simply out of family obligation. And while some do, many – like Jack – visit alone. I couldn’t help but take notice of him while we passed a flame, candle-to-candle, illuminating the otherwise dark church with the warm glow of Christmas Eve. Jack caught my eye often that night. Here’s why:
1. He showed up because Christmas (and Easter) are still – even after more than 2,000 years – really, really, really, really, really important.No matter how secular Jack allowed his life to become the rest of the year. No matter how much he prayed or didn’t pray. No matter how much he let his day-to-day life become simply about work or TV or what’s for supper – rather than the spiritual life – these high holy days still beckon the soul. Jack listened.
2. He dressed up for the occasion and seriously put me to shame. I remember looking over at Jack’s freshly pressed suit and quickly scratching the pasty flour and booger-snot-looking opaque smears from my faithfully ugly Mass skirt. The black one with the stretched-out elastic waistband that I’ve worn through seven pregnancies. I’m sure if someone told me that the president or the pope or even an old friend from high school would be stopping by the church that night, I’d have at least taken two seconds to change into something less horrible after baking cookies all afternoon. But dress nice for Jesus? Yeah, Jack put me to shame.
3. He caught the wonder, while I simply went through the motions (zoning out again and again, thinking about all I had left to do – presents to wrap, cakes to bake – before morning). Jack, on the other hand, simply sat still – very still. He sang softly, his damp eyes catching the reflection from the glowing candles. During Communion, Jack knelt down but didn’t receive. Then at the end, he hugged me: “You have a beautiful family,” he whispered in my ear, “you’re an inspiration.”
I squeezed back, thinking about the many years this faithful neighbor has shoveled my snow and helped carry my groceries, even though arthritis has given him a limp, “No Jack,” I whispered, “You’re the inspiration.”
Maybe I’ll see Jack at Christmas again this year. If I could ask God to give him any gift if would be the understanding that at every single Mass, Jesus is made present in a miraculous, life-changing way. Then I’ll light my candle from his again – as he truly has so much to teach me – and we’ll sing aloud together: “Oh come let us adore Him, Oh come let us adore him, Oh come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”
When the “Christmas and Easter Catholics” are children