From the earliest years of our lives, we long to feel welcome and to belong — in our homes, our communities and in the Church. Our diocese, in continuing its synodal journey, is focusing this year on welcoming and belonging in our parishes and schools. Our sincere efforts and patience on this journey of discovery can serve as an antidote to the polarization and isolation in today’s world.
Christ shows us where to begin: in our encounters with one another. “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). “Shine through us and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with may feel your presence in our soul,” St. Teresa of Kolkata said in a prayer to Jesus. “Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be light to others” (“Words to Love by”).
Moving from word to action requires our full, active and conscious participation in the liturgy, which sends us forth to share what we receive — God’s love and mercy — in our daily interactions with others. It’s easy to love and show mercy to others with whom we agree, to convey a sense of welcoming to them. Setting aside our suspicions of the motives of others with whom we disagree, or may even despise, requires a willingness to be humble, to listen to the hopes and fears of another person without casting judgment.
We focus on what unites us and work through the compromises to resolve the issues that divide us. We need to do our research to “understand and articulate an issue, problem or injustice facing a person, community, or institution.” We need to “investigate and gather all vital information from all sides of the argument or issue” to increase our understanding of a problem, as Martin Luther King Jr., taught (https://tinyurl.com/zdb2yvxu).
The late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave a homily in Nazareth in 2009 in which he suggested that children “need to be raised in a ‘milieu’ where they learn: ‘to love and to cherish others, to be honest and respectful of all [and] to practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness’” (“For Your Marriage,” https://tinyurl.com/3jxcpfhf). All of us need to develop and practice those skills and to remember that during Mass we ask Our Lord to grant us mercy and to forgive us our sins. God is willing to offer mercy more generously than we are. We need to reciprocate.
Deacon Frank Agnoli, diocesan director of Liturgy, sees respect as an essential element of hospitality in the Church. “At its root, to ‘respect’ — re specere — is to look at again. To gaze. Like we gaze at an icon, or at the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance. How do we ‘see’ one another when we gather for liturgy — for how we see will determine how we act. And vice versa. How we act will form us to see in particular ways.”
We need to enlarge the space of our tent (Isaiah 54:2), which “requires everyone already in the tent to move closer together,” as diocesan Evangelization Director Patrick Schmadeke says. We need to tell people who have left the Church, “We would be better with you here.” Then, we invite them to join us. Even if they decline the invitation, we continue to invite them periodically. As Bishop Thomas Zinkula says, “A Church of welcoming and belonging begins with you and me, in our homes and in our relationships, and in our parishes and schools.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor