Why be Hospitable?

"The biggest disease is not leprosy or tuberculosis, But rather the feeling of being unwanted."
- Blessed Mother Theresa



Why be Hospitable?
The Process in Brief

New Evangelization


Dr. McCorry's Background


Embracing Change



            A popular notion today is that the Chinese symbol for crisis represents both danger and opportunity.  Some might argue that the closing or merging of parishes represents a crisis in the Roman Catholic Church today, given the estimate that over a third of parishioners in a closed parish leave the church entirely.  So, where is the opportunity in the closing or merging of parishes?  Perhaps the opportunity rests in the necessity of creating more welcoming communities.  Initially, parishes are going to need to be welcoming to those displaced by the closing of these churches.  Welcoming parish communities could then become the fertile ground for converting the unchurched and for welcoming back Catholics who have left the church or who only occasionally attend the weekly celebration of the Mass.

As Catholics, we have been challenged by the Lord to love our enemies (Mt 5:44).  So, if we are called to love our enemies, certainly we are expected to love those who sit next to us in church.  Right?  And yet, how many times have newcomers to a church been greeted with a dirty look because they were sitting in someone else’s seat?!  At the other end of the spectrum, how many times have newcomers been greeted warmly and made to feel welcomed?  Sadly, there are many more experiences of the former than of the later.

Rarely have people experienced Catholic churches as places where newcomers are welcomed.  Perhaps one of the reasons why we have not been more welcoming is because we have never had to worry about numbers of parishioners as necessary for our survival.  It has been claimed that if former Catholics were a denomination unto themselves, that they would comprise the second largest denomination in the US (after current Catholics).  Some leave the church and do not go to any church.  But many are welcomed into upstart Christian communities, and are greeted so warmly, that they never look back.[1] 

If you asked committed members of a parish, they would undoubtedly say, “We want to be a welcoming place.”  But, most parishes have never thought about, talked about or planned how this will happen.  Generally speaking, once people get to know a newcomer in the Catholic Church, they do warm up and become welcoming.  But as Christ said, "if you only love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them,” (Lk 6:32).

Hospitality is manifested in an open and welcoming spirit; a willingness to drop what we are doing and receive the other person when they need us.  We are reminded of Abraham’s hospitality to the three strangers (Gen 18:1-10).  In welcoming the strangers, he was welcoming God.  And he received a reward from God for this hospitality.  But we should not be motivated because of some reward, other than the good feeling that comes from making another feel welcomed.  So if we wish to grow in hospitality, we would do well to emulate the example of Abraham.                                                         

We recall Jesus’ words: “what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me” (Mt 25:40).  And then Christ gave us the exquisite example of hospitality at the last supper when he got down and washed the disciples’ feet (Jn 13:3-17).  And he commanded us, who would claim to be his followers, to do likewise. If we really took this command seriously, we should be tripping over each other as we approached the strangers in our churches to make them feel welcomed.

St. Benedict wrote rules for living a Catholic life.  These rules are still practiced by most monastic communities today.  Rule #53 states, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (Mt 25:35).

When new people come into a church, most decide in the first five minutes if they will ever come back.  For this reason alone, it is always important to be a welcoming parish.  And this is especially true during this time in the church, as parishes are merging and consolidating.  To have one’s church closed is traumatic enough without having that trauma compounded by being made to feel invisible or outright unwelcome in the new parish.  A multitude of good works done by church leadership to heal the pain of a church closure can be undone quickly with one dirty look, for whatever reason, in the new parish.  


[1] Peter Feuerherd, ”Where are Those Missing Catholics?”  Church, Spring, 2007, pp. 5-9.


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Last modified: 03/25/14