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

Second Coming?

Sometimes at the end of a long day, or after hearing a particularly depressing news story, I catch myself shaking my head and wishing Jesus would just come back already. Of course, I recognize that I am not the saint I am called to be—but I continue to turn and turn and turn again back to God, to beg for His pardon and His strength to do better day by day, and I have great hope in His mercy and His desire for me. So in these moments of sorrow over our tilted world and broken hearts, I find myself longing for His return.

Then last night, at a meeting of the Stewardship Council for my home parish in St. Michael, we watched a short video from Bishop Robert Barron on our mission as disciples and evangelists. I encourage you to take a few minutes to open your hearts to what God may want to tell you, then watch it yourselves.

About two-thirds of the way through the video, a strange thought struck me: What if we are the Second Coming? Think about it: As the Church, we are the Body of Christ in the world—the only hands and feet, the only eyes and ears, the only heart He has in this world. What if, while I am watching the world and waiting for Jesus to return, He is watching and waiting for me?

This morning’s gospel reading contained these words of Jesus:

“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.” – Luke 12:42-43

We are called to act on the master’s behalf, to bring Christ—to be Christ—to a waiting world. When I wonder, “What’s keeping Him?”—might He not ask the same of me?

Book Break: How to Be Holy

How-to-Be-HolyA few weeks ago, my spiritual director did something he’ s never done before: He directed me to read a book. This was not a casual suggestion. He said, “I want you to read it cover-to-cover as soon as possible, so if you are reading something else right now, stop.”

The book was Peter Kreeft’s How to Be Holy: First Steps in Becoming a Saint, which is the popular Catholic writer and philosopher’s take on (“festooning of”) a spiritual classic, Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence. I have not read the latter, but have read just enough Kreeft to know to expect a relatively quick read, light in tone, punny in humor, and practical in content. 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

The Phantom Cross

A little more than a week ago, we dropped our second son Gabe off at the NET Center in St. Paul to begin training for nine months of drawing young people to Christ as a NET Ministries missionary. Then yesterday we dropped our eldest, Brendan, off for his third and final year at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.

As we sped east on I-94 last night, Jodi reflected that we hadn’t taken a photo of Bren as we dropped him off this year. The first year we took several. Last year I snapped one of Brendan and his roommate Nick for Jodi, since she couldn’t be there when I dropped him off. This time we were both there, and it was clearer than ever that our adult son has another beautiful life, mostly hidden from us. This was revealed during a brief stop  at his girlfriend Becky’s home in Moorehead for introductions and delicious, homemade double-chocolate-chip-and-almond scones on the way to UMary, by the laughter and embraces upon his arrival on campus, the excitement and shouted greetings from hallways and upstairs windows, the verbal and non-verbal shorthand between our son and his friends. He belongs there as much as in our home, and we were so subconsciously aware of this that dropping him off and driving away seemed almost natural.

It was not precisely so when we dropped off Gabe. I’ve reflected briefly on the difference when we celebrated his grad party earlier this summer: When we took Bren to Bismarck the first time, the sensation was like a long, taut line from me to him—I could not see him, but I could feel him and was acutely aware of his presence six hours to the west. But Gabe was dropped off just down the road in St. Paul, at a place he has been before. Currently he is at a camp somewhere in the woods, praying and team-building and training like countless times previously. From this perspective, this feels like no big deal—Gabe is doing youth ministry as he has for years now.

On the other hand, this time he is not coming home until Christmas and will be gone again until spring. And if he is chosen for a traveling team, as he hopes, he won’t be in any one place, but will live out of a suitcase, a van and a trailer, staying in strange homes in strange cities. Continue reading