A main focus of the Advent season is “preparing the way” and welcoming Christ in His coming, being more open to Christ’s presence in our lives, and preparing ourselves to welcome Him even more. A few weeks back, the parish staff was discussing hospitality here at the church. As I’ve mentioned before—and as you know—we do have a welcoming community here at St. Peter. In our discussion about how we keep that moving forward, we thought that this season of Advent (a season of greater preparation to welcome Christ) would be a good time for greater preparation to welcome Christ in others.
In our 2nd Reading, St. Paul encourages the Romans, “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Of course we’re united in the Eucharist, even if we slip in and out of Mass. But as the Body of Christ, we shouldn’t forget the need to be mindful of one another. We could even say that to love is to be mindful of one another. And this mindfulness shouldn’t just be extended to those we already know, those who are already in our circle of friends and acquaintances. We’re also called to be mindful of the stranger—perhaps even more so. This could be the “stranger” we’ve sat around week after week for years yet still don’t know; or the unfamiliar face, which I’m happy to say always seems to be present at our liturgies. I believe this is a way of being missionary disciples and growing as disciples together.
People do mention to me sometimes that that at other parishes they’ve been to, visitors and others get recognized before Mass starts. I'm not looking to judge what other places do, but to be honest with you, I just don’t know that I’m interested in making too big of a production out of it. Not only are some people uncomfortable with that (which isn’t too hospitable), I think there are a lot of more subtle—yet significant—ways that we can continue to develop a culture of hospitality here at St. Peter. Even in small ways, we can “prepare the way” for others to encounter Christ through us, and us through them. So what might this look like?
Perhaps it can start with getting here early enough to even be aware of who’s sitting around us. Maybe it’s asking to sit with someone who is sitting alone, though of course without pushing ourselves on them. Maybe we have the chance to greet someone before Mass, especially someone new. While still wanting/needing to maintain a prayerful atmosphere, perhaps we can even just give a friendly nod and smile to them, a warm acknowledgment of their presence. But maybe we do have the chance to quietly go over and introduce ourselves and welcome others. I try to do this when it’s obvious, say, that there’s a family or someone that’s visiting…though I’m also a little embarrassed at this point that I certainly don’t know more of the regular parishioners than I should after 3 and a half years. Even with all the doors we have, I have been known to kind of hunt people down after Mass to find out who they are, and I know some of you do the same—which I love. (Actually, people have gotten connected with one another here because of things like that.) Maybe you’re willing to step into the ministry of greeting people at the door before and after Mass—we could always use more people to help with that—or to join the new parish welcoming team. Perhaps you’re in a position to invite someone to come to Mass with you who finds it hard to come alone. And, I do think a part of welcoming is our actively participating in the Mass—not only is it for our own good, but it helps others feel comfortable doing that as well; it is part of our hospitality to one another. Also, I think it’s a good thing to intentionally sit by someone we don’t know at things like Donut Sunday, the monthly parish breakfast, or any other parish event. That might be a stretch for us, but stretching helps us grow.
One of the main “characters” of the Advent season is John the Baptist. As we see in the Gospel, he seemed like kind of a wild man: out in the wilderness, wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. He probably didn’t care too much about any of that, though, because he was focused on mission. While we can’t get locusts at Cornell’s, we too are called to be focused on mission, including the mission of hospitality. It is part of our thanks and praise to God for having welcomed us into a share in His Kingdom.
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