But at St. Patrick's Church in Gymbie, Australia, one pastor decided to use the heightened mass attendance level to blast same-sex marriage. Forget the whole peace on Earth and mercy mild sentiment. At Fr. Pat Cassidy's parish, it's the most wonderful time of the year to condemn gays and lesbians.
The Christmas services went a little something like this: folks walked in, put their fingers in the holy water bowl, and promptly got handed a petition urging them to contact their legislators to oppose same-sex marriage. Mass started, and the priest mentioned the importance of Catholics to stand united against same-sex marriage. Then, during the homily, the priest talked about how Christmas is a time to celebrate family, and same-sex couples are not compatible with the Church's definition of family. Then Mass ended, with one final plea to stop the evil scourge of same-sex marriage from washing up on Australia's shores.
Quite the homophobic show that parish leaders thought would have maximum impact. There's just one problem with that: the people in the pews, who came to the service to celebrate one of the most joyous times of year? They were livid that the Church would use Christmas as a vehicle for bashing gays.
"I was disgusted that such discriminatory and hateful comments were expressed at a children’s mass,” said Brisbane resident Leah Scullen. She had been considering converting to Catholicism, but was so turned off by the Church's decision to use the Christmas holiday to focus on same-sex marriage, she's now looking elsewhere for a faith outlet.
Another resident, who chose to remain anonymous because she attended mass with her gay brother and his partner, said that this was a tactless decision by the Church that won't win it any fans.
"I respect what the Catholic Church is saying but at Christmas time you don’t expect to get that shoved in your face,” she said. Her gay brother was even less sparing.
"In his homily, the priest talked about loving your family and forgiveness ... what Jesus was all about, but in the next breath he talked about how gay marriage is wrong. For me, it wasn’t about understanding the teachings of the Catholic Church. Of course it’s not going to be pro gay marriages but surely there are better topics to raise at Christmas," he said.
Seriously. Like the major wars being fought all over the world. Or the global economic crisis. Or worldwide poverty, climate change, the suffering of those living in the wake of natural disasters ... and the list goes on and on.
What's the takeaway here? Well, first is that some church leaders know no depths to their homophobia, which is why Fr. Patrick Cassidy, who justified the decision to use Christmas Mass as a venue for denouncing gay marriage, should hear from folks. But secondly? The fact that so many people were not only turned off by the Church's decision to parlay Christmas mass into homophobia, but felt compelled to speak out about it, shows that equality is winning out here. And it confirms what we've long known: that folks in the pews are miles away from the institutional church on the issue of gay rights. As more and more Catholics welcome and embrace LGBT people and same-sex couples into their families, that's only a trend that will continue.