Those of us who consider ourselves practicing Catholics know how to pick out those who aren’t. You may only see their faces when carpooling for your kids’ youth group or other parish activities, but you have never seen them at Mass. Or you do see them at Mass sometimes… that is, at Christmas and Easter when they steal your family’s weekly pew.
The typical response is a glare in the offender’s direction while you guide your family toward another pew, assuring yourself that at least they won’t be there next week.
But as Teresa Tomeo explained at the 2013 Defending the Faith Conference, “Giving up your seat, being there for someone who doesn’t go to Mass frequently, is very, very important.”
Tomeo, today a radio host at Ave Maria Radio, is revert to Catholicism after not practicing the faith for a period of time. She has written several books aimed at Catholics wishing to draw closer to God while living ordinary lives, including Noise: How Our Media-Saturated Culture Destroys Lives and Dismantles Families, which helps to wade through the good and bad aspects of today’s media usage.
Tomeo said her pastor gives the best advice when it comes to the Christmas and Easter Catholics:
“The week before, around Palm Sunday or the last week of Advent, he says, ‘They’re coming! The ‘Chri-easters’ are coming. They’re going to take your seats. They’re going to take your parking spot. You know what? Let them. Let them take the front seat. Let them take your parking space. Open the door for them if you don’t recognize someone as a member of your parish. Always welcome them with love and open arms.'”
And yes, Tomeo confirmed, it’s also important to be nice and let them take that last donut after Mass.
She reflected on how beautiful it is that, “Jesus always gives us free will and there’s that mercy. That someone just may hear something at that homily, that may just touch their heart, that may address a crisis in their life, that may address their current situation. So even if you know someone who is a Christmas and Easter Catholic, never, ever, ever, ever give up on them. And keep that door open.”
Her talk didn’t just focus on this area of Catholic troubles. Tomeo also addressed other “common Catholic ailments” preventing us from becoming true “24/7 Catholics,” including the myth of “holy osmosis”– that sending your children to Catholic school guarantees that they will remain Catholic without any assistance from you — and “chronic Catholic curmudgeonitis,” which only sees the negatives, and never the positives, in the Church — seeing the splinter in your brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in your own.
“This is not to say that we ignore scandals in the Church, that we ignore poor catechesis, that we ignore if someone’s getting up and teaching something that’s heretical– that’s not what I’m saying,” Tomeo emphasized. “But, you can’t let yourself get stuck in the negative because you can only control so much. The primary thing you can control is your reaction, and how you’re handling that situation.”
But more important than anything, she said, is to encourage fellow Catholics on their paths toward God, since the world wants to tell Catholics that they are alone in their beliefs.
“I want to encourage you, to encourage others, to keep that commitment to Christ front and center,” she said. “Renew our commitment daily; build relationships.”