St. Michael’s Cathedral sits as a beacon in the heart of the city, a place of welcome and spiritual welcome. Photo by Michael Swan

Christmas a time to welcome those seeking spiritual refuge

By 
  • December 18, 2016

Every year St. Michael’s Cathedral fields an RCIA class of 20 to 30 for adult baptisms and confirmations. A lot of that success starts on Christmas Day, according to cathedral rector Fr. Michael Busch.

“Christmas, Easter, funerals, baptisms, weddings — those times when the great unwashed come together, those who maybe have not been to Church for a long time. But they come. If those aren’t good moments of welcome and hospitality those people will say, ‘Yeah, the Church is the same. Now I know why I’m not going,’ ” said Busch.

As he watches the crowds file in at Midnight Mass or on Christmas morning, Busch can spot the once-a-year Catholics. The first mistake they make is showing up on time. They are shocked to find the church already crammed. But there’s also that nervous look, random thumbing through the Catholic Book of Worship, awkward attempts at deep reverence or empty shows of irreverence.

“You have to make these very special moments of engagement for these people,” Busch said. “You don’t yell at them. You don’t say, ‘Where were you the rest of the year?’ ”

It’s not some act Busch puts on as a professional pastor. He really is happy to see those once-a-year Catholics on Christmas morning. The welcome he tries to extend is heartfelt and genuine because he really believes St. Michael’s Cathedral was built to be a beacon, a place of welcome, a spiritual refuge and a means to a greater end.

“The Church is here to point our way to eternity,” Busch said.

On a busy day like Christmas when the crowds are big and at the end of each Mass people need to get back to their family celebrations, Busch doesn’t get much chance to actually talk to the strangers at St. Michael’s Cathedral. But he tries to enlist the help of his parishioners, who might at first feel all these new faces are taking their seats, talking too loudly and making their Christmas more stressful.

“I always remind them, this is part of the whole thing. You welcome them,” said Busch. “By how you treat them, they think, ‘Hey, I should be coming more often.’ ”

On Christmas morning Busch will preach on the opening verses of the Gospel According to John — “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” But tucked in the back of his mind will be the great commission most emphatically articulated just a few inches up the page near the end of the Gospel According to Luke: “... that the repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in His name to all nations.”

The Church is not an end but a machine built for a purpose. It is the means by which Christ draws everybody closer to the Kingdom of God.

People wander into a Christmas Mass for all kinds of reasons — memories, curiosity, the music, etc.

“Whatever it is that draws them in, they end up staying,” said Busch. “Because they felt welcome. They prayed here. They just dropped in during the day, lit a candle. Something spoke to them here. It works.”

And for some, “they become some of our biggest volunteers,” he said.

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