We’ve all heard the story of the Prodigal Son, right? The father rejoices when he sees his son, who left to strike out on his own, returning home to him. We are reminded through this parable that God, like the father, is always so happy when one of His children returns home to Him. In fact, much like the father in the parable, He is so happy all of heaven rejoices with Him! Most of us can relate to this story at one time or another in our lives. There may have been a time in our life that we wandered from our faith, seeking truth in other religions or maybe just out in the “world” and slowly realized where real truth could be found and then made our way home. Perhaps we never left our faith but we didn’t practice it with true devotion and desire- we only went through the motions. We were in the pew but our minds were miles away. Or maybe we are newer Catholics, coming from different faiths (or no faith at all!) and we only recently found the truth that our Catholic faith teaches. Regardless of the circumstances the majority of us at some time have experienced a return to our faith. It is a wonderful feeling!
Tomorrow, as we attend Christmas Eve Mass and then again on Christmas day we are bound to see some of God’s prodigal children returning home. Regular Mass attenders often call these people C & E Catholics, Christmas and Easter Catholic, because so often we only see some of these people at Christmas and Easter. Perhaps you might be one to even grumble about there being so.many.people.at. Mass. that you can’t even find a pew to sit in! Maybe you ask yourself why they only come at Christmas and Easter. Why can’t they come on a regular Sunday instead? Why do you, who comes to Mass each Sunday, have to be squished in a pew because they feel like it’s their “duty” or “what they always do” to come to Mass on Christmas? When you find yourself feeling displaced and “put out” I want you to think of the Prodigal Son.
As Christians we must remember that every single one of us is important in God’s eyes. We are not more important to Him because we attend Mass each Sunday, go to Confession regularly, or know our priest by his first name. No, we are special because we are God’s children. Those C & E Catholics you see during Christmas services are no less important. Christ also tells us another parable where the shepherd leaves his 99 sheep to go and find one missing sheep. He reminds us that God also searches out His lost sheep. He rejoices when He finds them! Maybe, just maybe, on Christmas He will find one of His lost sheep (and maybe that sheep took YOUR pew)!
So what can we do to help? It might be easy to be upset that someone else is sitting in “our pew” or that the church is so packed we have to sit tightly like sardines in a can. But a better reaction would be joy; joy that so many people have decided to come home, if even just for the day, to worship our Lord and to be there with our community of believers. We don’t know why our brothers and sisters have stay away for so long, or even how long they will stay, but we should rejoice in the fact that they are there now.
It’s easy to judge a person for not being a regular church goer. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we know what has kept our brothers and sisters away for so long. But we don’t know what circumstances have surrounded those who stay away. We don’t know what hurts, what doubts, what struggles they have gone through. We have no idea the strength it may have taken for them to walk through the doors of the church. What we do know is they are here with us now at this very moment, standing beside us as we profess our faith in an Almighty God, in our Savior, His Son, and in His mighty and Holy Spirit. They have felt called, regardless of why, to be with us as we rejoice over our Lord’s birth. Shouldn’t we rejoice with God that His prodigal children have come home?
As you prepare to go to Christmas Mass I ask you, no I beg you, to reach out to those who are returning to their faith. They may have only been away since Easter or they may have been away for years and years, it doesn’t matter. Reach out to them and let them know that you are happy they are here. Smile genuinely at them. Wish them a Merry Christmas. Invite them to Mass again next Sunday. Pray for them. Let God’s love and happiness over their return shine through all you say and do. If they see that they are welcome, perhaps next Sunday, they will be back in the pew again.
We should rejoice when anyone wants to come back home. We should not act like the brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son stewing over the fact that we have been faithful this entire time. No, we should be like the father, like our Father, rejoicing and celebrating that our brother has returned! There is no better time to come home than when our church is packed with fellow believers who have such hope and so much love. We can help provide a beautiful Christmas homecoming for those who are hoping to return to their faith. The question remains… will we?
If you are a Catholic interested in returning to your faith I encourage you to stop by Catholics Come Home. They have a tremendous amount of resources to aid you in your faith journey. Welcome home! We have missed you!