The faith of the people is still there to see
We have survived another Christmas and New Year festivities. How many more ahead? No one knows the answer to that question.
In my first years teaching I would ask the new children in first year what was the only thing we knew with certainty would happen all of us. There would always be silence. Then I would tell them that we would all die. You certainly could not say that in a classroom today. Looking back on it, it may well not have been the wisest question to ask 13-year-olds.
I think many would say Christmas and the New Year season can be high in emotion. And of course that means the good and the bad.
This Christmas I celebrated three Masses. There were over 800 people at the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve. The following day I celebrated Mass in hospital, where the chapel was filled to capacity, and then later at midday I was back in the parish church for another Mass. And this time there were over 500 people in the church. I don't think I have ever seen a church so full for Mass as I did this Christmas.
At all three Masses there was a genuine sense of people in communion, praying together, expressing their belief in Jesus Christ. People were there because they wanted to be present. I doubt if anyone was forced or frog-marched to the church or chapel. And I for my part tried to celebrate all three Masses in a prayerful and meaningful manner. We had music and community participation. After the Gospel I attempted to throw light on the Scriptures. I spoke for no more than six minutes.
I said it at the Masses and say it here again, it was a privilege to be a celebrant at Christmas Mass. People are interested in hearing about the Word of God. Our Christian communities want to be challenged by the wonder, the mystery, the goodness of God. But they certainly don't want to be shouted at, nor do thy want to be spoken down to or patronised.
Some months ago a wise lawyer said to me that there are fanatics across all groups in society and unfortunately they can sound plausible, but fortunately most times they run out of steam. Right now I have the impression the church is in a perfect place for fanatics to hold sway, for us to allow their ranting and roaring to be heard.
The faith of the people that I experienced this Christmas gives me hope that all forms of fanaticism will not win the upper hand.Of course the church is in crisis but preaching 35-minute sermons at Mass, telling people that Jesus had no brothers and sisters is not going to help the church in its crisis.
I mention those two instances because people came to me and told me about them. And in both cases the people, good, Christian people, were upset and annoyed with their experiences. Nor do I understand why priests celebrate Mass in Latin.
We seem far too often to miss the point that the church is the people of God. The church is the last place in this wide-world of ours where there can or should be a place for elites. The church is a church of sinners, even for fanatics, provided no one takes them too seriously. Maybe a good new year's resolution would be for us not to take ourselves too seriously.