Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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April 19th, 2011

All Are Welcome (Especially Chreasters)


chreaster-flashA couple years back, Brandon and I went to a talent show sponsored by a college Catholic student group.  Most people sang, nothing too out of the ordinary, however, one girl did stand-up.  She was getting a good chuckle out of me until she started talking about “Chreasters”.  I had never heard this term before.  Basically it refers to people that go to Mass only on Christmas and Easter.  She went on to talk about how annoyed she became when Chreasters would come around and sit in her pew or take her parking spot.

I’ve written about how important it is to feel welcome at church, and I cannot think of anything that gets under my skin more than when People of the Church make it hard for the People Who Are Trying To Be of the Church.  Not because they are abiding by Canon law or the rules of the Church, but because they have come up with their own personal set of rules by which they can judge a person to be holy or not.

I’ve heard (and experienced) some pretty horrific stories about various Holier-Than-Thous trying to make sure people knew that they weren’t as good as them, thus indicating the Church didn’t want them.  There was a couple who wanted to get their daughter baptized who were turned away by the church secretary because the Church “does not baptize children born out of wedlock” despite the fact since the birth of their child they had gotten a civil marriage (a load of malarkey, by the way).  Or there was the person who decided to convert to Catholicism after much discernment and a lot of really painful conversations with their family who was told that RCIA started two months ago and they were just going to have to wait a whole year for classes to begin before the church wanted anything to do with them.  Or, more personally, there was the time Olivia was throwing a terrible fit in the middle of Mass and, after taking her to the atrium of the Church, Brandon was told by a man that she was ruining Mass and needed to leave.  When Brandon told him it was cold outside and Olivia’s jacket was still inside the church, the man threw his jacket at Brandon and told him to use it.  I could go on.

I imagine when God sees these episodes, God winces as well.  Looking at the readings for Easter, there is not one single mention of Jesus creating obstacles for people wanting to believe in Him.  The Easter Vigil Gospel (Mt 28:1-10) is about the Marys being the first people to see Jesus’ tomb open and the angel of the Lord tells them of Jesus’ Resurrection.  Women, who were marginalized in that day’s society and treated more like property, are given the great honor to be the first to know of Jesus’ Resurrection.  They find out before Jesus’ favorite disciple, John, and even before Peter, the rock of the Church.  God found it fitting to give the Good News first to these women, these “lowly” women.

One of the Easter Sunday Gospels is about two apostles on the road to Emmaus.  They are scared because they just saw the man they believed to be their Lord brutally beaten and die a tortuous death.  Jesus chooses to appear to these disciples and interprets Scripture for them explaining why Jesus had to suffer in this way.  He’s trying to help them understand and comfort them.

In both readings, Jesus is welcoming these people, trying to draw them closer to Him and more deeply into their faith.  Of course he welcomes Peter and John and his Mother, Mary, but on the highest holy days of the Church, the Gospel readings are about Jesus welcoming and honoring the marginalized, the ones in fear, the ones with doubt.  Jesus’ message is never about turning away the sinner or the crying baby.

I think Jesus would especially welcome Chreasters.  He would probably show them even more kindness and love than regular Mass goers.  Yes, all Catholics should go to Mass every Sunday but something makes these people come back for at least this particular Sunday.  Something in them is still calling.  God is tugging at them and they are responding.   For whatever reason, these people don’t feel like they are part of the Church and something about the Church doesn’t compel them to come every week.  Maybe they’ve had a bad experience like I described earlier.  Maybe no one has invited them to be part of the community.  Maybe they don’t see a dynamic and loving community.  We never know what battles people are fighting.  All we can do is meet them where they are at and be as much like Jesus as we possibly can.

As Christians, facing adversity and overcoming obstacles comes with the territory.  If it was easy then we wouldn’t need faith.  But we don’t have to be a stumbling block for others.  The majority of people allow the Holy Spirit to work through them and are very kind to the occasional visitors.  But for the rest, if they can’t muster the effort to do that, then they could at least stay out of the way and allow people to experience the grace the Spirit is sending.

Instead of giving the stink eye to these new people on Easter, I could smile and say hi.  Welcome.  If my pew or my parking spot gets a person closer to God’s Truth and Love, please, take it.  Take my bulletin and hymnal, too, while you’re at it.

The Author : Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft
Vanessa, a Notre Dame grad, loves the Catholic Worker Movement, Catholic education, and overbearing Mexican mothers, which she may or may not be. She lives in Austin with her husband and five daughters and is a freelance writer. You can find Vanessa at v.kraft.im or follow Vanessa on Twitter @laluped.
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  • Mary G.

    Though I may be a little off-topic, this article has reminded me about how many times I’ve heard about misconceptions about Church regulations being spread by priests, religious, and devout laypeople. It is difficult enough to lead a faithful life without being burdened with “rules” that are either long out-of-date or never existed. I wonder how many people leave the Church (or are Chreasters)because of incorrect teachings in one parish.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    The whole idea of people putting so much attention on what others’ spiritual/religious practices are reminds me of a story. A woman was on her way to the market, really deeply in thought about what she needed to buy to prepare a meal for her family. She was so deep in thought that she didn’t notice that the hem of her coat brushed against a monk meditating. He shouted at her in anger that she had disturbed his meditations. Her response was that if he had been as deeply enmeshed in his meditations as she had been in her contemplation of meal preparation, he wouldn’t have even noticed her.

  • Kat

    Great article! Thanks.

    When my agnostic husband and I were still dating, I’d take him with me for communion. Who else needed it more than those who don’t know Christ, I reasoned. A year later, he had me listen to a funny song (by his judgment) that he used to listen to as a child in his atheist home—jokes about transubstantiation, the Virgin Mary, etc. I couldn’t understand how he thought I, a practicing Catholic, would be similarly amused by this. I barred him from receiving communion again, because it was clear that he didn’t grasp its full importance. People, this is truly The Body of Christ.

    He still tagged along with me to mass and various Theology on Tap-type activities/talks, even a prayer group. But he always went up in the communion line with his arms across his chest, signaling that he wasn’t Catholic and only wanted a blessing.

    Last year, unbidden by me and completely on his own since I didn’t want to pressure him, he joined the RCIA and he officially became Catholic at the Easter Vigil mass. None of his family of origin, who were all in town, decided to come. The RCIA is a wonderfully fulfilling path, and he truly out-Catholics me on some days. He is now receiving communion with cognizant of its full meaning, and its full grace. I see how in this instance our church elders are right and I was wrong. Had he been able to take communion without really believing, he might never have been motivated to find out why we believe what we believe.

    I, too, am very nervous when I bring the kids to church (I have a two and five year old, reasonably well behaved on most days but still). I try to keep them from being disruptive, but it’s very stressful. I told a priest once that I was thinking it might be better if I left them at home, and he encouraged me to always bring them. It’s good for them, he said. And he was right. Jesus himself said, Suffer the children to me. I love the point of Paul’s MIL who said that when you don’t hear babies, the church is dying. I try my best to keep them quiet, but even when they’re unruly thankfully most people are not mean at all. The girls even sing along some of the responses now.

    Re:CEO’s/Chreasters: How sad to receive the gifts of the sacraments and the liturgy only twice a year. I like Allison’s story as well—from CEO to regular attendee. How delightful if more would turn out to be like her!! Holy Spirit, do your thing ;-)

  • Matt (another one)

    The humble and charitable assumption about a person you see in your parish on Christmas and Easter and never otherwise is that they’re visiting family, and don’t actually live there.

    I’m grateful that I don’t have to choose between duty to God and obligations to family, seeing as how Mass is celebrated even where they live, not just where I live. Perhaps many of the strangers you see at your parish twice a year are indeed people who only go to Mass twice a year. Perhaps even most of them. I don’t know, and neither do you. But even if you could be absolutely certain that all but one of them were “Chreasters”…you’d never know which one wasn’t.

    Best, then, to extend them the friendly hospitality due to a traveller, grant the benefit of the doubt on why you don’t already know them, and let their confessors handle the issue of how reliably they attend weekly Mass.

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