Do you have family members who are away from the Church and are not sure what to say to them when they are home for Christmas?
I've been there. I was an atheist for over ten years. But every year, I went to Christmas Mass with my family. I am not sure why. Sometimes I felt annoyed during the homilies or unmoved by the liturgy, but there were other times when I felt something stir within me.
Granted, I never felt motivated enough to return to the Church after attending a Christmas Mass, but these little movements in my heart paved the way for my eventual conversion and return to the Church.
You never know what might be happening in the heart of family members sitting beside you at Mass. They may be moved by something the pastor says. The reverent way someone receives the Eucharist may touch their hearts. Or maybe it will just be the beautiful decorations or the joyful, festive atmosphere that will fill them with joy.
If you have family members who are away from the Church, here are five Christmas tips inspired by the ideas in my book, The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church:
1. Be Peaceful as We Await the Prince of Peace:
It is easy for everyone to get stressed out during Christmas. My family usually has at least one blowup before family visits are over. But, you can be a sign of contradiction in the midst of stress. Focus on Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and find your serenity in him.
When we change our behavior because Jesus has changed us, it makes others want what we have.
You may ask, “What does that have to do with my loved ones?” Your example will not go unnoticed, especially if you tend to be anxious or were the primary instigator of arguments in the past, (I’m not speaking from experience or anything).
2. Stay Focused on Jesus:
There are a lot of distractions during the Christmas season. Buying gifts, writing cards, and going to parties can become the focus of all our energy. All of these things are good but we can lose sight of the spiritual aspect of Christmas.
When I went home for Christmas as an atheist I always knew that my parents would continue with the traditions of my childhood. We would carry Jesus to the manger on Christmas day, light Advent candles, and say prayers before opening gifts. It was sometimes annoying to me, but other times I just figured it didn’t really matter much.
What I didn’t realize was that all of these things built a foundation in me, a gut instinct that recognized that a Christmas without the spiritual is empty of transcendent meaning.
3. Look for Opportunities to Share Your Faith:
Heaven kisses earth on Christmas. Families get together. Rivalries pause. Stores close. Wars cease (at least temporarily). It is as if time has stopped.
Look for opportunities to be with your loved one who have left the practice of the faith. During this year’s peaceful Christmas intermission, just share the wonder of knowing a God who loves you and has been there for you this year. Help them notice out how he has worked in your life and don’t be afraid to point out how you think he may have worked in the lives of your loved ones.
4. Be Normal, Loving and Down-to-Earth:
This mode of evangelization is effective because this is how Jesus interacted with the people he met. The people standing in front of Jesus were always the most important thing to him. Everyone knew this, and it was this kind of love that changed them.
I noticed the power of this kind of attention in my own family at Christmas time. I was most moved by Christians who interacted with me first on a human level. I was impressed by Christian friends and relatives who loved me for who I was and appreciated my gifts, my thoughts, and my time.
When I felt like people were interacting with me as a means to an end, (i.e. just to convert me), I was turned off. People are not here for us to try out “strategies” on or to be forced to think as we do. They are here for us to love.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out:
There is a spirit during Christmas that fills people with openness toward one another.
This is the perfect time to reach out to invite, to ask simple questions.
“Why did you stop going to Church?”
“Would you be open to coming with me sometime to X (Mass, adoration, or any other Catholic event)?
“How do you feel about God these days?”
Questions, rather than statements begin conversations. And Christmas is a time of grace that may just allow conversations to turn into baby steps back to the Church.
So, fear not.
God is with you.
In our interactions with others, he is there, guiding us and opening the hearts of those we love.
Emmanuel: God is with us.
Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church.