Just once a year

When I was in Clonliffe College, studying for the priesthood, my dad asked me to call into a fishmongers, in Chatham Street, and bring home a side of smoked salmon for Christmas. I did that year after year and always enjoyed the craic with the men in the busy shop. One summers day I was passing the shop and to my dismay there was a ‘Closing down’ notice in the window. I popped my head in and said light-heartedly “You can’t close down, I come here for smoked salmon every Christmas!” To which the man in the white coat replied, “that’s why we are closing down, we can’t run our business on people who come just once a year.” I’ve never forgotten that comment, the fishmonger or the shop. For some reason, I’ve a sort of nostalgic feeling for those Christmases past. My dad is long gone, smoked salmon is available in every super market and there are few enough fishmongers to be found, but the memory remains.
I never thought that in the church we would come to the point where so many people would come to Mass just once a year. It’s fantastic that the crib in Bethlehem, the birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, would still cause so many of the baptised to gather in, to come to Mass. For this one night in the year so many come to sing the familiar Christmas carols, pack the pews and remind us all of past times when most people were regular church goers. We all want to make the stranger welcome, to ensure that there is a good and positive atmosphere, that visitors, adult children and stragglers are all appreciated and moved by this most special moment. But gently, somehow, we also need them to know that we can’t run the church, the parish, the community of faith without them. If most come but once a year, then soon enough they’ll find that we’ve ‘closed down’ too.