There’s a Place for Us
Nostalgia is a much-underrated force for good in our lives. At this time of the year, the playing of Christmas music and carols can transport us back to our childhood, or to a time and place when we were with our families and friends. This can evoke sadness or melancholy often associated with reminiscence, or risk the criticism that we often have an idealised image of the past through such sentiments.
For many, religion falls into this category. A hangover from childhood for which we have long outgrown the need, it belongs to the realm of the fairy tale: a dark one at that, if you happen to be of the Philip Pullman persuasion. Since leaving religion behind, however, many have also left a sense of home, and experience restlessness. We can fill this void with all sorts of activity and practices, but our place in the world seems somehow less stable and sure.
Why go to Church?
We can live such fractured lives these days. We often feel the full force of the wind of others’ discontent, personal problems, and the bubbling up of our own angst. It helps sometimes to go back to a place and a time when we felt safe and loved. If we are fortunate to have had a loving home, many of us fall back on the start given to us by parents and carers. ‘Going home’ can heal our hearts and give us fresh hope for the future. For others, of course, their experience of home was quite different. But returning to the place where we were raised, and the people who should have loved us but for some reason didn’t, can at least be the beginnings of healing and understanding.
In his excellent book, “Why Go to Church?”, Timothy Radcliffe begins by talking abut the idea of homecoming at mass. The Eucharist begins by coming home to ourselves and God by recognising our need of peace and forgiveness. It is not mere sentiment, but a real longing for healing and a rediscovery of who we are.
A Place, a Time
God’s providence brought Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the Magi to the right place at the right time. Without the ‘benefits’ of modern communication, those who were called to witness the birth of the Saviour were challenged to leave their homes and come to that manger 2,000 years ago, in a small town called Bethlehem, rich in meaning and history. Astonished and renewed, they returned to their lives and were never the same again. They had found their true home, what they had always longed for, and they and every other disciple would seek to recreate in their lives a place for God and for their fellow human beings; a home.
Would you Recommend a Visit to a Church?
It might be the last thing that teachers want to suggest to their classes as they break up for the Christmas holidays: ‘Why not go to mass this Christmas?’ They might be wary of the answers they would get. But, in very recent surveys carried out in this country (near the bottom of the world-league for church attendance), some 60-70% said that they would seriously consider going to a church service this Christmas, if someone suggested it to them and offered to accompany them.
Why not suggest that we all put the mass back into Christmas?