Many parishes work on how they can become more welcoming to visitors, new parishioners and even to current parishioners. Many of these welcoming efforts take place at church or on parish property.
But, as we know, our Church, is more than physical buildings. Our Church is really us — the people. Maybe the “welcoming” issue we have isn’t about our parish activities or location, but rather our individual interior disposition. We have to transform or change our hearts before we can help others change their hearts.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And the second is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Maybe our welcoming efforts should focus first on welcoming the Holy Trinity into our own hearts, minds and bodies on a daily basis.
It’s been said that you can’t give what you don’t have. If we don’t take time to welcome Jesus into our lives each day, how do we expect to welcome others into our parish community? As Catholics, we believe that we are not designed to be apart from God. We are dependent on God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Our love is rooted in God. Without it, human love on its own will wither and die.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we learn that “you (we) are fellow members of the saints and members of the household of God. You (we) form a building that rises on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus as the capstone. Through Him the whole structure is fitted together and takes shape as a holy temple in the Lord; in Him you are being built into this temple, to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.” St. Paul gives us the blueprint for welcoming, each of us individually must become a home for the Holy Spirit to allow God room to work through us for the sake of others.
How can we welcome God into our lives?
Individually, take time throughout the day to talk and listen to God. Hold an ongoing conversation with Him, just like you would with family or friends. God responds to us in many ways, but usually not directly to us. He may speak to us through Scripture, other people or the beauty and goodness of creation. God is talking to each of us. Are you paying attention?
Let’s then carry our transformed heart into our community prayer life. How do you prepare for Holy Mass (or do you)? Remember, we are about to go before the Creator of the Universe. Maybe we should take some time to think about that and show some gratitude. Do you read the Scripture readings prior to Mass then meditate over them? Do you go to church early or stay after Mass to spend some quiet time in God’s presence? Most of us spend our prayer time asking God for things. How about spending some time with God and ask Him what He wants from us. Do you enter church with a pious and reverent attitude? Or, do you use the time before Mass to catch up with your friends. Here’s a couple of tips — first, before Mass, it’s certainly OK to talk with fellow parishioners, however, do it out in the vestibule with a quiet voice. Your fellow parishioners will appreciate it as they are trying to spend some quiet time with God. Second, after Mass, introduce yourself to someone you don’t know or to someone you have been going to Mass with but have never taken the time to get to know.
When we welcome God into our hearts and become a “dwelling place for God,” He fills us with supernatural peace and joy that is noticed by others and attracts others. Do you want to become a more welcoming parish? Start by letting God into your heart, soul and mind and He will take it from there.
Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County.