This morning I engaged in a gentle exchange in the “comments” section of a popular Catholic Instagram account called @LitCatholicMemes (which I typically enjoy, by the way). I rarely ever comment on stuff, but this time I felt like I had to speak up, because this topic has been weighing on my mind for some time now.
They posted a meme that made a gentle jab at people who attended mass only on Christmas and Easter, whom they called “Chreasters”, Catholics who were so-called “lukewarm”. Although it was a good-hearted attempt to spread humour, I found it problematic — not due to my own oversensitivity, but due to the heavier implications it suggested lying just beneath the surface.
Even more concerning to me were the comments that showed up on the thread, creating more distance between those who regularly attended mass and those who didn’t. Those who disagreed with the post as too “judgmental” were enthusiastically told off by other commenters (perhaps because the word “judgmental” triggers many Catholics, who hear accusations of it all the time in today’s polarized society — but I digress).
When I suggested that it might be more helpful to welcome these people rather than to poke fun at their lack of regular church attendance, someone asked me, “But if they came last Christmas … what makes it harder for them to come more than once?”
“Everyone has a unique journey, so there can be many reasons why it might be hard to for someone to come more than once. Perhaps it is due to a lack of understanding of the beauty and depth of mass, or of the faith, in general. Perhaps it is the temptation to believe that one isn’t ‘pure enough’ to belong in a holy place, not fully understanding or trusting in the vastness of God’s mercy and love. Perhaps it is the disillusionment caused by people within the Church (as might be the case for victims of the scandals, for example), mistaking the imperfections of human beings as a reflection of God, himself. Whatever the case, our spiritual lives are in a constant tug-of-war and we really need to help each other. I think it’s important to never close the door on someone or regard them as a “lost cause,” just because they came to mass only once last year, and then only once, the year before that. Perhaps it is more helpful to develop welcoming relationships.”
When I crafted this response to their question, it suddenly occurred to me how strongly I felt about this.
As someone who has many friends who have told me how difficult it is show up to church because they don’t feel good enough, or feel like they don’t belong, or are afraid of being judged … and as someone who has personally felt, at times, “allergic” to the Church and disillusioned by scandal … I can understand why attending church regularly can take a tremendous amount of courage, strength, and persistence. I feel the tug-of-war in my heart all the time. I get up, dress up, and show up every weekend, yes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when it isn’t hard.
This is why I have a slight issue with the term “lukewarm Catholics”. I don’t like using that term, because it is as if we are putting these people in a separate category that doesn’t apply to ourselves. Isn’t it true that we are all “lukewarm” from time-to-time? Doesn’t temperature fluctuate on the regular? Who am I to pretend that I, myself, have never teetered between one state or another?
I understand that it’s important to call a spade a spade and to exercise ‘tough love’ once in a while, but there is so much power and necessity in exercising compassion and understanding towards people who have fallen away from the Church, because heck, even I have at times, and I suspect that most of us will. Sitting in a pew doesn’t necessarily mean our hearts aren’t a million miles away.
I fear it is precisely this attitude of self-righteousness, this emphasis on the gap between “frequent” and “infrequent” church-goers, that turns people farther away from the Church.
I fear that in all these little quarrels, we lose sight of the big picture, which is Love — and God is Love. Fear can only motivate someone so much (i.e. “Go to church, or you’re going to hell.”). There is a reason Jesus emphasized love, above all. Guilt-tripping people into going to church will never work half as well as loving people will. Love is a much stronger motivator than fear ever will be.
Let’s not forget that Jesus dined with the “sinners”, the outcasts, the tax collectors and the prostitutes, unafraid to be caught with those deemed “hopeless” in society, unafraid of the consequences that might have on his own reputation. Let’s not be the “scribes and the Pharisees” who Jesus called out as “hypocritical.”
If it is true that Jesus is in every person we encounter, whether that person recognizes it or not, then let’s not be like the inn keeper at the nativity scene who said there was “no room at the inn” for Jesus.
This Christmas, let’s extend an inviting hand to those we haven’t seen in a while at church, to give them a great big welcome as they “come home for Christmas”.
And if you are one of those people who is hesitant to step foot in church, I hope you find the courage to do so, because, regardless of what you may have experienced, you are welcome. Merry Christmas.
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