This blog post originally appeared in our bulletin column on Christmas Day.
Merry Christmas St. Rose and St. Catherine’s!
Thank you for coming to celebrate the Christmas season with us. I especially want to thank those of you who have been away from the Church for a while as well as those of you who are visiting from out of town. As a priest, I get to share the Gospel with many people but I also need other people to share the Gospel with me from time to time. Your presence here, even if you don’t know it, is a witness to the grace of God and I’m grateful for your presence during the Holidays.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. As you know, the economic situation in Longview is less than ideal for many people and many of our own parishioners are struggling financially. The stress of finances can cause strife within families and personal feelings of inadequacy and even despair. I wish it wasn’t the case, but that is the reality of many people in Longview right now. These people turn to Jesus for peace in these times, and your presence here strengthens their faith that Jesus can bring peace. Even if you don’t feel as though you had anything personal to gain from being here, other people certainly gained from it. On behalf of our parishioners who are suffering in various ways, thanks for spending Christmas with us.
With that in mind, if your Church attendance has been less than ideal (you don’t need me to tell you what the ideal amount is) it isn’t too late to get back into a habit. It can be tough to reintegrate into the life of the parish after being away. It takes time to form good habits, and forming good habits in our spiritual life can be just as challenging as changing our eating or exercise habits. My only advice is to keep trying. Life is hard. God knows that. Some people nowadays work harder on the weekends than they do during the week! Thus, I’m not surprised when people cut Mass out of their weekend schedule. I don’t blame everyone for skipping Mass because I know that at the root of many people’s decisions is a desire to do what’s best for them and their families.
But even though I understand the struggle and the pressure to eliminate Mass attendance from your weekly schedule, it’s not something that I’m able to condone. Instead, I want to offer to help you. I want to help you first and foremost by making sure Mass is a good experience. This means I work hard on my homilies and ensure that there is a certain level of depth in them, but it also means that I try to help our other ministers (lectors, musicians, etc.) prepare well for Mass. But I’m also willing to sit down with you and listen your own worries and fears and stresses of life that get in the way of your relationship with God help you form better habits of prayer. If you think this will help you practice the faith regularly again send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve been thinking about returning to regular Church attendance, I hope you’ll take me up on this invitation. In the meantime, may God bless you and your family this Christmas season. I pray that he will increase your gratitude for all he has given you and increase your compassion for those in our community who have received less.
Fr. Bryan Ochs