It happens every year: Christmas comes and you find yourself in church. Being Catholic, it all comes back to you, although you found some verbal surprises this year. However, the songs are the same and the church is packed and the feeling is actually pretty good, once you give yourself over to it.

It seems nice, but not something that you'd actually want to do every week. The reasons vary from person to person and range from the mundane - you "just don't have time" - to the more high-minded, finding "the whole thing filled with hypocrisy." (Of course, no other part of your life feels like that, right?)

If you are as old as me, you were taught that missing Mass was a mortal sin. I lived in fear of this as a kid - but then again, we never missed Mass, so it was not a problem. It's hard to understand eternal damnation for missing Mass against the backdrop of things like the sexual abuse scandal and various Church positions on topics important to you.

I would say that if one attends Mass simply out of fear of hell, that is a pity. I would hope that people would actually want to be there - but, hey, that's just me.

Anyway, you were at Mass and it was time for communion. You hesitated, but everyone else seemed to be in line. Perhaps you felt nervous or strangely hopeful, like something good was about to happen. Did your mind rush back to when you made your First Communion as you extended your hands?

What did it feel like when you placed the Body of Christ in your mouth? Did you just make sure, like in so many other intimate moments, that you did not let yourself think or feel anything?

No matter what, you received a gift. Christ the Lord, whose birth we were celebrating, came to be in that ordinary manger found in your heart. You may not have been expecting Him; that's OK. He just wanted to let you know He is here for you.

This is a gift. You can't return it.

I was away, too - for 20 years. When I came back, I did not want to. It was completely unintentional on my part and I was extremely conflicted about the whole thing.

The first time I went back to communion, I was overwhelmed. I knew Jesus; I even loved Jesus; but I was noncommittal.

Jesus knew better. With a nervous stomach and a guilty conscience, I stayed - and soon found out that I had so little to worry about.

No one yelled at me. I was not scolded. All of my concerns were met with compassion and understanding.

I did not accept everything at first; it took a long time. But I kept coming back. I still struggle with some things and likely always will.

I hope that you had a nice Christmas this year and that of all the gifts you got, you realize that this one cries out to be re-gifted. That's what I'm doing and it is my hope and desire that you come back and one day re-gift this to others.

If you felt anything when you were in church this Christmas, I hope you will see that as a gift and consider coming back. The gifts here are always in stock - and the only return we look forward to is you.

(Mrs. Rossi Szpylczyn is a parishioner of St. Edward's Church in Clifton Park and works at Immaculate Conception in Glenville.)