Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas by the Numbers

St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, Beverly

In the next few days, the calls will begin.  "What time are your Masses on Christmas Eve?"  And then there is the inevitable follow-up question that--even though we've heard it a million times--keeps the rectory staff entertained: "And what time is your Midnight Mass?"  I know that many parishes move their Midnight Mass to earlier in the evening and I have no great objection to that.  For now, while I am still relatively young and have the assistance of other priests, I will try to keep the Midnight Mass at . . . Midnight.  (By the way, this year, in addition to the full choir and organ, the Midnight Mass will have a brass quartet as well!)

When I was first ordained, somebody told me that the trick for keeping on your game for the Midnight Mass was to take a nap beween the Christmas Eve Mass and the Midnight Mass.  I tried that.  It made me more tired.  For two hours, I'd lay in bed worrying that I might oversleep for the Mass and then the Midnight Mass would be the 12:30 Mass.  So, no napping. 

Then, an invitation came.  A family in the parish asked if the priest with whom I lived and I would like to come for Christmas Eve dinner at their home.  And with that invitation, a tradition was born. This year, not only will it be two priests.  It will be three priests . . . and two seminarians.  No partridge in a pear tree, however.  And, they always have a few other families join them too.

This tradition has become for me a very beautiful part of Christmas.  Their generous hospitality towards us is a real Christmas gift.  We always leave their home feeling as though we've participated in something truly beautiful.

I've been particularly blessed during the past several years to have good priest friends and seminarians meet and befriend my parishioners.  I am struck by how the parishioners welcome these men, support them, encourage them, and love them.  So often when I receive a dinner invitation now, people will say, "And bring whoever else is staying at the rectory with you." 

I am also struck by how the parishioners are encouraged and find joy in witnessing the communion that exists among these priests and seminarians.  At a moment in time when the numbers of priests are decreasing, I think it is particularly edifying for people to see 3, 4, 5, 6 seminarians and priests (the oldest--being 40) all under the same roof.  And, I think that the friendship that we share together, the common mission, the seriousness of purpose, the joy and banter, and the love for the priesthood and the Church is something that communicates a newness to others.  I think the seminarians especially benefit from these encounters with parish families and I think the families are enriched by the presence of these men.

These days, I hear a lot about numbers.  Fewer Catholics go to Mass.  Fewer priests and seminarians.  I know that these numbers are real and need to be taken seriously.  I don't know what things will be like in five or ten years.  All I know is that this year, these are the numbers: Dozens of great families who welcome priests and seminarians into their homes.  Christmas Eve dinner, three priests and two seminarians.  And the Midnight Mass will take place at 12 Midnight.  All of these numbers add up to one thing--Jesus promises his disciples a hundredfold and Jesus is keeping his promises.

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