Note: Every now and then I will dust off an old blog, polish it up here and there, and post it once again. It’s not out of laziness or a lack of new topics. There are always plenty of those. It’s a desire to repeat a message that, if you will excuse the immodesty, I believe is worth repeating. It is also with the hope I have picked up a few new readers since the original post appeared. The following is, aside from a few edits, a blog from about four years ago. Hope you like it. I do.
A few years back I spent Christmas at the Delaware shore and attended Mass at a church I had not been to before or since. Save for the familiar carols, the service lacked the Christmas feeling I am used to in the churches of Greater Pittston. Fortunately, the celebrant made up for it.
The priest announced that before he would begin the Mass, everyone had to offer a greeting to the folks seated near them. That was pretty neat. While some of those in attendance were obviously related, because this was a resort town, many of the people were total strangers. Total strangers wishing each other a Merry Christmas.
As things often do, it reminded me of a story.
Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of another priest who came to mind. I encountered him only once and that was several years ago. He was pinch-hitting at the church I was regularly attending then and he told a story about being assigned pastor at a little, country church where Mass attendance was strong but lacked warmth and enthusiasm. He vowed to do something about that.
The solution he came up with was similar to what I experienced that Christmas in Delaware. Only more so.
One Sunday morning, he told the congregation Mass would not begin until everyone there hugged a stranger in attendance. At first, he said, the people just stood still looking dumbfounded. But the priest held his ground and finally, little by little, the folks sheepishly got out of their pews, found a stranger and gave him or her a hug … a brief, awkward hug, but a hug nonetheless.
The next Sunday the hugs were similarly forced but the priest did take notice of a few smiles here and there. By the third Sunday, not only were the people starting to get into the swing of things, but one fellow had a surprise in store for the priest. A giant of a man, he left his seat, walked right up to the altar, wrapped his arms around the priest and lifted him clear off the floor. The congregation roared in delight.
From then on, people came to church ready to hug, and hug with gusto. Eventually, it was hard to find a complete stranger among the group but that didn’t matter. Mass began only after a sea of hugs.
The priest came up with a name for this pre-Mass ritual: Holy Commotion.
The priest from the Delaware Christmas Mass also left an impression with his homily.
He told about a family he knows who keeps their Christmas cards in a basket the year around. Each evening at dinner, they select a card at random, share their thoughts about the person or family who sent the card, and then offer a little prayer for them before saying grace.
I plan to do that next year. At first, I thought, maybe only on Sundays because there’s no way I’ve received 365 cards. But then it occurred to me, what’s wrong with remembering and praying for the same person more than once?
What it comes down to is a little bit of Christmas every single day. Who wouldn’t want that? And who doesn’t need it?