I think in parishes at Christmas time (and Ash Wednesday, and Palm Sunday, and Easter) there can be some mixed emotions at the crowds that appear. The CAPE Catholics all descend and clog the parking lot and the pews, and while it looks wonderful, feels wonderful, and is just the way we think it ought to be all year long, we can feel frustrated too- why isn't it this way all year long? Are these people here to be posers, fake part-time Catholics, doing it because it's tradition, or are they really here to worship God? Why don't they want to worship God with us all year long?
Last night at our most crowded Mass (at four, which the harumphers will harumph "oh they want to get it over with so they can go on with their Christmas plans!") I stood with my pastor in the balcony overlooking the crowd. He said "just watch, half of these people will leave as soon as Communion is over." And we did watch, and he was right, a lot of people did leave after Communion. I said to him, "but... look at how many stayed!" He rolled his eyes at me a bit, but smiled. I'm always telling the staff to think the best of people, be optimistic. They give me the same reaction, but I think they see some whiff of wisdom in it. Anyway, I told the pastor that it was probably best for people to start leaving early, so as to lessen the clog in the parking lot.
I know there are reasonable reasons to harumph at this sudden Christianity that strikes around these holidays. But I think it's better to be hopeful. If they came, they came because God called them to, whether or not they know that. They didn't have to come. Maybe they think it's tradition, or guilt, that calls them to their knees once (or four times) a year, but I think it's the Holy Spirit. And maybe while they're with us, they'll feel a deeper call. Maybe they'll hear something inspiring in the sermon or the songs, or maybe this year someone will smile at them warmly and they'll realize they miss the community that they could be finding at church.
I couldn't help but have a full heart looking down at the crowds of half-familiar faces and wobbly toddlers and perfumed up old ladies. I was glad to see it looking like it ought to look, and feeling like it ought to feel, and I smiled warmly at everyone I could meet eyes with. I hope they come back.