Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Earlier this month, Time magazine selected our Holy Father, Pope Francis, “the People’s Pope”, as the Person of the Year for 2013. In responding to the question “Why Pope Francis?”, managing editor Nancy Gibbs responded that “in less than a year, he has done something remarkable: he has not changed the words, but he’s changed the music. Tone and temperament matter in a church built on the substance of symbols – bread and wine, body and blood – so it is a mistake to dismiss any Pope’s symbolic choices as gestures empty of the force of law.  He is doing more than modeling mercy and transparency.  He is embracing complexity and acknowledging the risk that a Church obsessed with its own rights and righteousness could inflict more wounds than it heals. Asked why he seems uninterested in waging a culture war, he refers to the battlefield. “The Church is a field hospital,” he says, “Our first duty is to tend to the wounded. You don’t ask a bleeding man about his cholesterol level.”

Gibbs explains that “at a time when the limits of leadership are being tested in so many places, along comes a man with no army or weapons, no kingdom beyond a tight fist of land in the middle of Rome but with the immense wealth and weight of history behind him, to throw down a challenge. The world is getting smaller; individual voices are getting louder; technology is turning virtue viral, so his pulpit is visible to the ends of the earth. When he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes the feet of a Muslim woman, the image resonates far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.”  Pope Francis is inviting people to reconsider Church, our Catholic Church, especially those who have fallen away or perhaps been lapsed from the Church.  Some have talked about the “Francis Effect” in which people are giving “Church” a try again.

This week as we celebrate Christmas, we might encounter some folks who are coming to St. Francis of Assisi as a way of “testing the waters” – to see if this local Catholic Community of which Pope Francis is our world leader might actually be truly welcoming.  In the words of Pope Francis, “our first duty is to tend to the wounded…”  Let us all see ourselves as evangelizers this week as we welcome many guests, visiting family, and neighbors to our church.  Let us make them feel so welcome that they want to return over and over again to grow in and share their faith. How might we do that?

I imagine there are many creative ways we could be welcoming. If you’re able to walk easily, park at a distance to allow closer spaces for the elderly and visitors. Help to build community by introducing yourself to those walking into church and those sitting nearby. Help newcomers find the church or the Assisi Community Center. Perhaps you could plan to attend Mass in the Community Center, leaving the church pews for those who are not accustomed to sitting in them. If you see someone looking for a place to sit, make room for them – or consider giving them your seat. If someone doesn’t have a worship aid, share yours. Help to keep the bathrooms tidy, just as you would for a guest in your own home.

Christmas is a great time to hand out compliments to strangers. Notice the new Christmas dress or tie. Compliment the well-behaved children. Any kind word to our welcomed-back guests will go a long way – and what a wonderful way for you to celebrate the season. Remember we all have gifts to share. Our guests have something to share and you have something to share with them.

Whereas we usually have 4 or 5 thousand attending Mass on a regular Sunday, on Christmas we have 8 or 10 thousand, so I expect there will be plenty of opportunities for us to welcome fellow pilgrims along the way and invite them to join us again the following Sunday and into the new year.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Mark