One of the advantages of the Catholic Church is that you can count on the same mass wherever you are. Everything is familiar and you know what to do, so you always feel at home.
For a long time my husband and I took our Christmas vacation. We chose a place we had never visited before and planned a sightseeing trip. We almost always went somewhere south to avoid winter conditions. I love the snow, but my husband got his fill during his military service in northern Germany.
These trips are still some of our fondest memories. We had some magical and humorous moments. Hope you don’t mind if I share.
On the road in South Carolina and Texas
On our way to Charleston, South Carolina one Christmas day, we saw our pastor on the plane. He wasn’t in office clothes, so I didn’t want to give it away, but couldn’t help but ask, “Is anyone in your profession usually not busy during the day?” of Christmas ? “
He replied that after a thousand activities in December, he had celebrated midnight mass and that he had COMPLETED. Although he was your classic Irish priest raised in Boston, he had parents in Charleston and was heading for some “away” time.
We once spent the three days before Christmas doing jeep tours in the Big Bend area of Texas. Our last tour was a long time so we couldn’t reach our Alpine destination by supper time. Alpine sits nearly 4,500 feet in the Davis Mountains (hence the name) near Marfa, that place with the mysterious lights in the night sky.
We reached Presidio, a border town on the Rio Grande, at nightfall on Christmas Eve. The only restaurant we could find open was a small run down Mexican establishment, and we were the only customers.
They served us, but then watched us throughout our meal like they wanted the Gringos to leave so they could go home. What a way to spend Christmas Eve!
The next day at Alpine, we went to mass. I asked the priest if he had any plans for dinner. Sometimes when a single priest serves mission churches that are distant from each other, he misses meals by rushing to the nearby church, even on a public holiday.
My parents taught me to always be concerned about the welfare of priests. Unfortunately, they are often mistaken for grants and meant to be there for others, but forgotten when they themselves need companionship.
Fortunately, the Alpine priest was a local boy and had a family he could join. We then returned to the historic hotel for their special Christmas dinner. We ate surrounded by beautiful decorations in an elaborate dining room straight out of Victorian Texas.
Christmas memories in Natchez and Nashville
One year in Natchez, Mississippi, we went to mass in the historic Gothic Revival style church that is now St. Mary’s Basilica. Such a beautiful setting! Then we went to the famous Carriage House Restaurant (located in a real shed at one of the majestic Natchez mansions) for their Christmas brunch.
We noticed a number of familiar faces from the Mass. It seemed that almost everyone at the church had come to the Carriage House as well. People greeted us as if we were regular parishioners! Classic southern hospitality.
Another year, we were in Nashville, Tennessee, and attended a Christmas Eve mass so that the next morning we could walk down the Natchez Trace.
The first stop on the trip was straight from a Christmas card. We walked through the mountain forest, lightly dusted with snow, as large flakes gently fell. It was as if Santa Claus and his sleigh were flying any minute. So perfect!
Mass is at home wherever you are
Our only Christmas abroad was in Montevideo, Uruguay. Mass was held at the cathedral in the city’s central square. It was a large church, but in dire need of renovation and surprisingly uncrowded.
Either way, mass was mass. In a different language, in an unusual setting, but basically the same. We saw the dedication, we took communion, we were able to pray in front of the tabernacle.
Notice the link in these stories? We went here, we went to mass; we went there, we went to mass. Our lives are always linked by our faith. Our journeys are more meaningful if we stop to come into contact with God.
So, as a Catholic, you are never alone. There is usually a church and other Catholics nearby. You fit in well because you are one of them. You feel comfortable because the liturgy is so familiar even though the building is not.
For Catholics, if you want to feel at home, just go to mass.