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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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Matt

    I’ve heard some very sad things in these post, and it hurts to know the church isn’t always as kind as it should be. That being said, the church is charged with salvation of souls, and we don’t want to lead anyone astray. When priests at weddings, funerals, Christmas and Easter info those in attendance that if you’ve missed mass or are living contrary to church teaching, you shouldnt receive. It’s not because they church like being a bully, but receiving Jesus in mortal sin can have huge consequenses. The priest is trying to help.

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Maria E., what a beautiful post! I wholeheartedly agree with what you said about
    “God doesn‚Äôt care if we genuflect on the correct knee. He just cares how we treat each other.” There would be so much more peace in the world if people realized that. When I go to a place that is unwelcoming and tight with silly rules, I don’t go back, either. My cousin’s wedding mass wasn’t bad in general, but had its moments of letter-of-the-law bigotry that really turned me off. Then again, I’ve been to other gatherings that have made me feel so welcome that my heart was really touched. It’s not the name of the place, but the love in it that heals hearts.

  • Fr. John

    As a pastor, I’ve been amazed at how hard-hearted (and hard-headed)so many of the Sunday “regulars” can be when encouraged to be more welcoming and celebrate all who join us. They seem to have a “misery loves company” outlook: a childish sense of “I’m here because the rules say I have to be here, and they should have to play by the same rules.” The righteous older brother was part of the Prodigal Son parable. How sad we as a church still haven’t learned to full meaning of “We had to be glad and rejoice…”

  • Suzanne

    Vanessa, great post, it occurs to me that many other faith communities do a much better job than us Catholics in welcoming others – little things like having greeters in the narthex could make a big difference in creating a welcoming environment.

  • Ann W. Turner

    Oh, my goodness! What awful tales are here! Maria, I am deeply glad you found a place that welcomes you. Vanessa, this is a marvelous and compassionate piece. I cannot believe this man threw his coat at Brandon. What has happened to peoples’ hearts that they think THEY have the rules? Jesus is wincing, indeed. Let’s stand up for the welcoming, compassionate, accepting, and faith-filled Catholics.

  • Maria E

    For most of my life, I was terrified of being judged at church. When critics lashed out at women who didn’t cover their heads, people who didn’t genuflect on both knees, bad Catholics who didn’t go to confession every week, people who sang too loud, people who made the sign of the cross too sloppily, people who didn’t bow in the aisle before communion, etc, etc, I shrivelled up and tried to toe every possible line. But there were so many things I might get wrong that fear was always there. I slunk into the back pew every week and sat still as a mouse and tried to be invisible. For me, the end of all that came one day when I was sobbing in a pew after a series of family crises, begging God for help, when suddenly two parishoners took me by the arms and led me outside, turning me over to police who handcuffed me. They had called the police to report a possibly insane or drunken or dangerous person behaving in a disruptive way in their church. By the time the police decided there was nothing wrong with me and let me go, something had happened. I rejected that God and that kind of church. Where I go now the parishoners are very different. People are warm, informal, relaxed, welcoming. People come in jeans and sandals or in suits and ties. Old women say the rosary sedately and toddlers sometimes run up the aisles with mom chasing them. Everybody sings loud, some off-key, and nobody cares how it sounds as long as it’s lively. During the Our Father, I am part of a whole chain of held hands that links us all through the church and joins us all as family. Now I sit in a front pew, sing out, and BELONG. And I get outraged when ever I hear anybody criticized for being noisy, dressed wrong, or doing things differently. God doesn’t care if we genuflect on the correct knee. He just cares how we treat each other.

  • Brandon

    James — If you run into that ever from a member of the Knights of Columbus, let the pastor know. Anytime they assist at liturgical functions, it’s with the explicit permission of the pastor so if they are abusing their role, he should be informed of it.

    This is regional as well. In the Austin-area, each parish has their own KofC council and other councils don’t assist others for strictly parish events (common exception: Diocesan-wide events with the Bishop, e.g. annual pro-life Mass, larger events at the Cathedral, etc).

    I apologize that you’ve had a negative experience of the Knights at your home parish–this is not the norm nor encouraged.

    I’ll be happy to hear more of your experience off the combox and, if able, see if there is anything I do from my role. My e-mail address is brandon.kraft@kofc.org

    (Disclosure: I am a full-time agent for the Knights of Columbus serving part of Austin, TX and the husband of the post’s author.)

  • William Grogan

    Thank you, Vanessa, for a wise and wonderful post. I’m not even a Chreaster or CEO, (I like that one), anymore. I attended a funeral of the mother of a friend a few years back. This friend was gay. Before Communion, the priest, in my view, showed an incredible lack of judgement and compassion in admonishing that any attendee who was not in compliance with church law regarding lifestyle was not welcome to receive Communion. I could not believe what I was hearing from the pulpit and was shocked and embarrassed for my friend. I was angry. I can’t begin to fathom how he must have felt. He vowed to me later he would never set foot inside a catholic church again. To my knowledge, he never has. I only go for funerals or memorial masses myself. I must admit I find some comfort there but still am not ready to make any further commitment than that. Guess I’m just waiting for a kinder, gentler church.

  • Kim

    My grandparents taught me that people who only attended on these holidays were called CEOs (Christmas/Easter Only). They taught me that while they might not always be seen, like a CEO of a company, they have an important job. The fact that they come back on these holidays and are often accompanied by family members or friends that may or may not be Catholic might lead someone to our faith. Yea, as a kid I was annoyed that I was “dragged” to church every week, but as I grew older, I understood that we each have a different job in the church. I became a CEO after I graduated from college, but soon realized that its not the role I was intended for. We all have our choices to make, we all must find our way in the church. Let’s welcome the CEOs and help them make the “company” a better one. Maybe they will attend the summer picnic this year! ;^)

  • James

    And don’t forget the People of the Church who make it difficult for the People of the Church. If you go to your home parish and encounter a guy in a suit who starts yelling at you about what you can and can’t do (stand where, park where, etc.), that’s one of the Knights of Columbus “helping out” at an event. They’ll come from other parishes to assist their “brother knights” and immediately become the enforcers in parishes they have no familiarity with. So if you’re an insider being treated like an outsider by an outsider, that outsider is probably a Knight.

  • Megan

    I agree with this post so whole-heartedly—thank you!

  • Lisa Missenda

    I can’t help but think what would Jesus do with a crying baby. I see Him taking them in his Arms and taking them somewhere where he could comfort them. He would be as aware of the babies needs as well as those around Him needs. He would find a way to help both aand sacrifice his own wants and desires for those of the baby and those of those around Him.
    Babies crying don’t bother me but those who carry on conversations during mass do. But recently I just feel bad that those who come to church for a social hour don’t grasp the mystery that is unfolding around them. My heart breaks. We as a Church have a lot of gentle teaching to do. Not the rules but the way to teach heart to heart. Liturgy is not about me.

  • Mandy

    I must admit that I have been that Catholic on Easter Sunday fuming about the “Cheasters” filling up the church. But then my husband points out that the important thing is that they are there, at Church if only for that one or two days a year. And you are right, Vanessa, we never know when a change might occur for those folks and we should be welcoming them back like the good Shepard or the father of the Prodigal son. That’s what Jesus would do.
    On a side note, I have three kids that routinely make noise during church and have gotten the impression from some priests that the cry room is the place for them to go. However, I believe that we are all welcome at Christ’s celebration of the mass, even my slightly loud children. I hope that you and Olivia feel that way too. How can any of God’s innocent creatures “ruin” the mass?

  • Allissa

    As a former “Chreaster,” I thank you for this article. I grew up in the church, lost my way a bit during college and the years following. Until recently, I made it to mass occasionally, but always on Christmas and Easter. I’ve now got three children attending our local parish school and want to set a good example for them. But, more than that, something in me has changed.. I want to be a better version of me. I want to be a PART of the church, be Catholic with my actions rather than just call myself such. That all said, I never felt like I didn’t belong at church from anyone other than myself.. I “knew better” but I didn’t really FEEL it then. I do now. Love is patient and kind. God is patient and kind, willing to wait, and accepting of us when we find our way.

  • Paul

    My wise mother-in-law, rest her soul, once said “when you don’t hear babies in the church, the church is dying.” I have to admit that I was less tolerant of babies in church…before my wife and I had our own!

  • red pen mama

    Let’s not forget that often during Lent we hear about The Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep. God and Jesus rejoice that what is lost is found, and those who aren’t welcoming are like the brother in The Prodigal Son. Sometimes we spend so much time thinking “Well, I follow all the rules; I am more special” tha we lose sight of how to truly love.

  • Kristin Rose

    Such a wonderful post, I always look forward to what you have to say. Thank you for sharing your insight with us, I hope they still keep coming even when Easter is over! By the way, Happy (early) Easter to you and your family!

  • Malinda

    I think it’s sad that anyone is turned away from communion. I don’t remember Jesus outlining a criteria of who could and who could not receive communion at the Last Supper. Vanessa, great article. We go to my mom’s at Easter and my husband just said today he doesn’t want to go to Church while we are there. Last year, the priest went on a bit too much about the “CHeasters” and even though we go regularly to Church where we live, it made us uncomfortable and unwelcome. I’m tempted to send the pastor there your article.

  • Amy

    One can be divorced and in good standing with the Church, so to deny these people the Sacraments is wrong. Divorce is a civil, legal situation; being divorced does not determine whether a marriage was a valid, Sacramental union. When one remarries without a Declaration of Nullity or marries someone who remarried without an annulment, that is when they are no longer in good standing.

    I’m not intending to be contrary; it just makes me very sad to know how many people have been hurt by the misconceptions about Church teachings on divorce and marriage.

  • James Leo Oliver

    You can’t point a finger at people pointing a finger. Sadly I have friends who felt the Church (that being us) did or didn’t do what they felt should have been done and they left the Church. They were leaving anyway, because the sin they fell into upon leaving was huge and that was where they were headed knowingly. The day my priest stood at the pulpit and said that those of us married in the Church and now divorced were not allowed to receive the Sacraments until gaining proper annulments was the best day of my sinful life. Now I knew I needed to clean up my mess and get right with God. I agree we need to welcome everyone who comes but nobody comes for a watered down version of the Church.

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