We just came through the time when pastors and the other regulars make the usual observations about the “Christmas ‘n’ Easter” crowd. You can usually tell by the gum-chewing and cell phones and unaccustomed “nicer clothes,” along with the impression that they really don’t quite know what to do with the bulletin that was thrust into their hands. The cursory bobbing before sitting down, looking around to see what everyone else is doing, side-ways chatting when others are praying – these are all clues that church might not be the natural habitat for what seems to be a migratory flock that makes its way through twice a year.
I’ve been known to be guilty of threatening to mark them with ashes on their way in, give them a palm branch before they sit down, and wish them a Merry Easter on their way out. It’s easy to fall into that feeling of righteous indignation when strangers are filling up the place, and the regular crowd is reduced to sitting in folding chairs. “Who do they think keeps this place going when they’re not here?” is the thought in many minds. But I’ve finally gotten over that.
You don’t have to read very far in the Gospels before you see that there were crowds hanging around Jesus fairly often. Not all of them were His followers in any sincere or committed sense. In fact, plenty of them were there just because they thought He might do something amazing, or that He might give them some free bread, or that He might knock the Pharisees down a peg or two. They may have been following Him around because it was kind of a “day out,” a little break from otherwise humdrum lives. But whatever the reason, there were thousands of them. And once in a while – maybe not frequently, but once in a while – someone would stick with it. They’d hear something or they’d see something that would change their lives. Let’s face it, to be hearing and seeing the Incarnate Word of God just might have some sort of good effect on at least a few people.
And that’s what I’m thinking about the “Christmas ‘n’ Easter” crowd. There’s some cord, some string however thin, which pulls them. Sure, it may be some nostalgia on their part. Maybe they think it’s “the thing to do,” and they can then put a check-mark next to it on their “to do” list. But maybe – just maybe – their coming is an attempt to fill a void, to satisfy a hunger they can’t define. At least, that’s what I’m thinking. And so it becomes a marvelous opportunity to give them some real spiritual food.
So no more snarky comments like, “Howdy stranger,” or “Gosh, I thought you’d died.” Just the Gospel. Just the rock-solid Catholic faith in an uncompromisingly Catholic setting. That’s what they need. Not watered down, but not hitting them over the head, either. And you know what? Some of them will stick.