As we come into Holy Week, our parishes get ready for extra services, special traditions, and an influx of displaced Catholics who show up about annually. They’re a group that have been dubbed by a few names but commonly they’re known as CAPE Catholics as they tend to only come to church for Christmas, Ashes, Palms, and Easter.
Now, before you get to thinking I’m being all judgy, hear me out. I’m neither chiding CAPE Catholics, nor am I venting along with the regulars. I’m here to remind the regulars to make room. Yup, that’s right, there’s a stranger in your regular pew and you need to find another seat. Or maybe they came late (perhaps more likely) and you need to move over. Please, do so with a smile. Be welcoming. Prove there’s something (Someone really) joyful in the Church. Help to make them want to come back.
Many CAPE Catholics also fall into another category which often leads to their, er, CAPE-ness. Many are Cafeteria Catholics; they pick and choose what they prefer to believe according to convenience or perhaps some secular ruling. Divorce not okay? That’s uncomfortable. Contraceptives against the Church? That’s inconvenient. Abortion? Gay rights? Women priests? Many feel that not being able to understand or explain Church stances makes it hard to agree with Church doctrine and therefore attend regular Mass. Ironically, regular Mass should be helping to catechize all Catholics.
So how do we get Catholics back to Christ and back to the Church? Catholics are the first and truest Christians (when the faith is lived out properly.) So let’s review what’s most Christlike in this situation. The same Christ who dined with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:11), spoke to marginalized women (John 4:4-30), and touched lepers (Luke 17:11-19), would most certainly move over and be welcoming. He has asked us to love others as He loved us (John 13:34).
Jesus didn’t spend time telling people how to live by the law. There were priests and temple authorities chiding them on that a plenty. He taught how to love. When we love deeply, as Christ loves us, we are merciful and forgiving. Don’t worry if those annual attenders don’t respond correctly, or sit, stand, or kneel at the right times, or try to duck out before the final blessing. Maybe Jesus is teaching us something in those moments. Maybe we should pray for them. Maybe the faults we see in them aren’t nearly as numerous as the faults the Lord could see in us.
Coming to Mass is an obligation and a necessity, but loving and accepting Christ is vital. We do the former to help us do the latter, but if we do the latter primarily, the former is a side effect which we cannot help but do. They’re both essential. If we can’t get some Catholics to come regularly, perhaps the answer is to ‘show them the Father’ by showing them Christ in us (John 14:7-10). Show them through action and kindness and they will feel more welcome and be more likely to return.
So move over, Christians! Smile and be welcoming. Catechize when possible but do so with love (and during Mass perhaps just with action.) Take the pew that’s available and squeeze in. It’s your annual chance to make the Church as welcoming as possible. Let’s bring our brothers and sisters home.