Mass Hospitality: Welcoming Strangers to Worship

Not long ago, our pastor implemented the practice of having parishioners stand and greet those around them just before Mass begins. Predictably, the reaction was split: Some people like it as a small gesture of warmth, welcome and connection, while others think it’s unnecessary, corny or even disruptive to their preparations to worship God in the Divine Liturgy.

What struck me most among the reactions, however, was something I saw on social media: That standing and saying good morning to each other before Mass is fake in some sense and doesn’t make us more welcoming. This observation bothered me enough that I set out to determine why. Here’s what I discovered in my own heart.

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For several years now, Fr. Richards has challenged us to intentionally seek out and introduce ourselves to people we don’t know in the parish, especially people who appear to be new to the community or otherwise disconnected. I have never taken this challenge seriously. Instead, I have a list of rationalizations, excuses and cop-outs that will show up rather poorly when I have to explain them to Jesus. These are just a few: Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Parents Are the Key

You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him/her in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him/her up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you [parents] clearly understand what you are undertaking? – Catholic Rite of Baptism

Although we held our first classes and Confirmation retreat two Wednesdays ago, our Opening Mass and Kickoff event for the Faith Formation year was just last week. It was a beautiful Mass, with a solid turnout of families, teachers and volunteers, and even a few Confirmation sponsors, all praying together, worshiping God, and preparing to receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. For the most part, it was a beautiful family event.

I say for the most part, because the next day I heard multiple reports of a small group of middle-school girls who appeared to have been dropped off at the Mass and who sat in the back of the church on their smart phones, talking, laughing and swearing while the family in front of them tried to pray. In the Gathering Area, meanwhile, two upper-elementary or middle-school boys who were “going to the bathroom” made no pretext of even entering the bathroom, but talked and goofed around noisily in the corridor outside Meetings Rooms 1 and 2, where a weekly Bible study was going on.

The point in bringing this up is actually not the disciplinary issue, though we should be able to get through a 30-minute weekday Mass without patrolling the back pews and hallways for misbehaving teens and tweens. The point is that the Church, the Mass, and our Faith Formation programs exist for one reason—the salvation of souls—and we cannot achieve our mission without active and engaged parents. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Following Jesus as a Family

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

The 2018-2019 Faith Formation program launches tonight with the 11th-Grade Confirmation Retreat and the first classes for grades 1-8. It’s going to be a busy, fun- and faith-filled evenings—but we want it to also be fruitful. What does fruitful formation look like?

The Church and the sacraments exist for one reason: the salvation of souls. We are all created out of love, in the image of God, for holiness and heaven—but we must choose to follow Him. From the scripture verse above, we know that discipleship, or following Jesus, involves work and sacrifice. Beyond that, it will look different for each person and each family. We all have different gifts, different responsibilities, different callings—but we are all called to love God above all, and our neighbor as ourselves.

So now is the time to ask: How are we responding to this call? And how can we respond better? Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Confirmation Pep Talk

Note: Last Saturday evening we had an informational meeting for Confirmation students and parents. Not everyone was able to attend, so I am attempting to recreate the brief Confirmation pep talk I gave, in writing, for those who missed out.

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I want to start with a question: Why are we here? Does anyone know? Is it just because I called a meeting?

I’m wearing one of my favorite shirts today: It has a drawing on it of two hands knitting what looks like a DNA strand, and if you look closely at the helix, you’ll see the word HANDMADE. At the bottom is a reference to Psalm 139:

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. – Psalm 139:13-16

What does this tell us about why we are here? It tells us that God created each of us individually, with a specific purpose in mind, that He knows us intimately and loves us completely. Genesis tells us we are made in God’s image, and the Gospel of John tells us God is Love. We are made by Love, from love, to give and receive love. This is our whole purpose: to learn to love as God loves and ultimately find our way back to Him. The meaning of life is no more complicated than that. Continue reading

Wednesday Witness: Scarcity or Abundance?

Originally published on The Net blog on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church and School website, September 5, 2018.

One of the other recurring themes during prayer at my silent retreat in Demontreville last month was scarcity versus abundance. This time of year—with summer winding down, school and activities ramping up, days getting noticeably shorter and cooler, and trees suddenly changing color—it’s easy to slip into a mentality of scarcity.

Not enough time.

Not enough money.

Not enough help.

Not enough of me to go around.

Of course, when we are feeling stressed in this way, it is appropriate to turn to God in prayer for help—but when we start with a mentality of scarcity, it is easy to slip into a spirituality of scarcity, in which our prayer is focused on what we lack and forgetful of all that we have. We become anxious about the present, worried about the future, and instead of asking for the peace, patience, wisdom and perseverance to get through the present moment, we beg for relief or escape. Continue reading