Welcome the Christmas visitors

massAll of us “practicing” Catholics witness the appearance of visitors at Christmas Mass.

Some are visiting family and friends.  Some are semi-practicing Catholics who get into the Christmas spirit and decide to see what is happening.  Perhaps some are people who just came in to escape snow and ice.

We regulars have varied reactions to these strangers.

At one extreme, what a joyful thing that they at least ventured into the church and we might have the opportunity to make a positive impression so they come back.

At the other extreme, many (perhaps most) don’t understand that they are in God’s house.  They may be noisy, disrespectful and resist efforts by us regulars to persuade them to be quiet in the sanctuary.  And while we want to make them welcome, we also want to experience the spiritual significance of Christmas without long-lost cousins loudly holding a reunion in the pew behind us.

There is a solution that may sound a bit radical, but it is in an approach that has been tried in other forums with grand results.

For many years, I took a commuter train back and forth from my suburban home to the city. Some riders chatted on the trip.  Others, read, worked on their laptops, talked on the phone, worked puzzles or slept.  The ride could get a bit noisy, which annoyed the readers, workers and sleepers.

The railroad implemented a solution:  quiet cars.  Each train now has at least one quiet car where you don’t talk, use the phone or sing along with your headphones.  This satisfies the needs of noisy and quiet riders alike.

Catholic parishes could do something similar, especially at Christmas when there are many Masses, something offered simultaneously (one in Church, one in the school gym).  There would be two options for people coming to Mass:

Option A:  Mass in the school gym.  Music by the contemporary choir.  Welcoming introduction by a young woman wearing tights and a low-cut blouse.  Priest processes in and asks everyone to turn to the person on either side, introduce themselves and shake hands.  Homily ignores the readings and focuses on the forgiveness and inclusion.  Everyone holds hands during the singing of the Lord’s Prayer.  Everyone hugs a stranger during the sign of peace.  Communion offered to anyone who feels the forgiveness of God in their heart.  And before the final blessing, a reminder that there will be a wine and cheese reception following Mass, with cartoons for the kids.

Option B:  Mass in the Church.  People who have been to Mass in the past week and confession in the past month enter in silence as the traditional choir sings classical Christmas works.  The choir accompanies the service with Mass parts sung in Latin and carols from the ancient dusty hymnals saved from the bonfire from the Legion of Mary.  Everyone kneels and prays before the start of the service, which is conducted with great reverence and joy.  The homily is about the birth of Christ and its significance to our world.  People join the priest in the Lord’s Prayer and give a warm handshake and/or nod to others during the sign of peace.  The congregation stays for all five verses of the recessional hymn, then kneels for prayers and leaves in quiet joy to meet and greet outside the sanctuary.

Of course, I have little expectation anyone will actually take my up on this brilliant proposal.  Thus, Christmas Masses will continue to try to accommodate people who don’t have a clue about how to behave in church – and faithful folk trying to tolerate their profane conduct.

There was a time (many years ago) when I would have opted for Option A above.  Today, I’m pure Option B.  I pray for a world where the two options meet in respectful harmony.

Thank you, fathers

LandscapeTwo of the men who had the most influence on my life were part of what many call “The Greatest Generation.”

The attack on Pearl Harbor changed their live in ways most people today can barely imagine.  Shortly after the events of 75 years ago, Chet Fair enlisted in the Navy.  John Esposito enlisted in the Marines.

Chet put a promising career on hold, not knowing when (or if) he would return.  In John’s case, well, I have a feeling he might have stretched his age a little to join the mission.

Both men spent the next several years of their young lives in the war in the Pacific.  Both returned, for which my wife (John’s daughter) and I (Chet’s son) are deeply grateful.

Neither man talked much about their war experiences.  I can’t really relate to what they faced.  Sure, there have been wars since then, heroes have fought – and often died – for their country.

But World War II combined the ability to create mass death and destruction with the inability to communicate quickly or effectively.  No cell phones.  No satellite links.  No internet.

Just handwritten letters sent to an unknown location, perhaps sent to someone already dead.

What times of fear, unknown – and hope.  Without hope, no one would have survived the long war, the not knowing the fate of loved ones.

I think of Chet and John a lot at this time of year.  What a poignant Christmas it must have been 75 years ago.

And I’m thinking about them often this year as I read news reports of people in a state of self-imposed despair because of the outcome of the recent elections.

The comments by a feminist writer struck me; she broke up with her boyfriend because she said there was no hope left, no reason to marry, no reason to have children.

No hope? How ridiculous, how lacking in faith.

I can’t imagine what Chet and John would think.  They didn’t know, 75 years ago, that they were part of “The Greatest Generation.”  But they might think that they left our nation in the care of the worst generation.

I have too much hope to believe that. My hope is that today’s Americans will regain hope and find its way to greatness.

Welcome to real life

student_in_class_3618969705Hampshire College is probably a lovely little place for the intellectual manipulation of young minds.  They have a fancy website and their location in Amherst, Ma looks quite attractive.

However, these days they don’t have an American flag – or at least they aren’t running the one they have up the flagpole.  It is a long and rather convoluted tale that recounts why this is so.

In a nutshell, about a year ago the college starting flying the flag at half-staff to mourn deaths, oppression, discrimination and (I suspect) a Nutella shortage in the cafeteria.

It may not surprise you to learn that following the presidential election there was much flying of the flag halfway up the pole, as students and faculty dealt with the grief that a politically incorrect billionaire won.

Oh, the agony of defeat.  And in such agony, it would be just too upsetting to fly the American flag.  After all, if the person I want isn’t elected, can the nation still be valid?  How can I accept such a terrible injustice?

Interesting questions – and questions that likely entered the minds of some voters four years ago and eight years ago.  But most people understand that when you lose an election, well, you lose.  And if you want to win the next cycle, you work hard, donate to your candidate and try to convince others of your point of view.

Unfortunately, I expect most of the students at Hampshire College and other similar places are part of the “participation” generation.  This is the generation where kids played on sports teams where they don’t keep score and everyone gets a trophy just for showing up.  The kid who runs the 100-year-dash in 10 seconds isn’t any better than the kid who took half a minute.  They both ran and we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by pointing out that one kid was a stallion and the other a sloth.

Instead of trying to persuade the participation generation they have unpopular views and need to stop whining, why not just give them ribbons for election participation.  They don’t even have to vote, but simply report to the dean’s office, say they really care deeply about global warming and world peace, and they will be given a participation ribbon.

It didn’t matter who won the 100-year-dash – why should it matter who wins an election?