BY JOE BLAND, SPECIAL TO THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
I had a young woman who was a member of our parish tell me right after she and her husband married that in the two years that they came to our parish, my wife and I were the only people ever to greet them. For full disclosure I knew this couple before they married and moved to our parish.
I am as guilty as anyone else in not greeting newcomers to our parish. But I bring up this story because this couple just wanted someone to recognize them and say hello, welcome to our parish, my name is…
It reminds me of the theme song for the old 1980’s sitcom “Cheers.” In the song it says, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.” Shouldn’t that be our parishes? Shouldn’t the parish be the place where everyone or at least someone knows your name and is glad to see you each week and knows when you aren’t there?
Interestingly enough, the great St. Benedict wrote in his rule for monks, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35). Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.” Imagine if all of our parishes took this philosophy of hospitality, this philosophy of “communion” or community?
When you think about the word communion, what comes to mind? The Eucharist? Holy Communion?
At its root, communion or “communio” (Latin) is where we also get the word for community. It is believed that the word is derived from com = with or together + unus = oneness or union. So, when we come together around the Eucharistic Table we are in a “common union” or communion with one another. We share the Eucharist which we call Communion.
That communion is to not only bring Christ to us, body, blood, soul and divinity, but also it is there to bring us closer together as the Body of Christ.
But, as we know, some have left our table to go elsewhere.
In studies that I have read regarding people leaving the Catholic Church, there is a saying that keeps coming up: I was not being fed at the Catholic Church. When I first encountered this statement my reaction was, “What do you mean you weren’t being fed? You were receiving the Eucharist; shouldn’t that be enough?”
Then it came to me in prayer that they were “leaving Communion to go find communion.” They were leaving the Church to go find community. They wanted to go where somebody knew their name, and was glad they came. Remember, we are a family not an organization.
Pope Francis tells us, “The Church is a family of families” (Amoris laetitia 87). When we lose sight of this we become a “social club,” or a great charity organization, and that’s not what the Church does. She evangelizes – that is what she is called to do. And part of evangelization is to walk with our fellow family members.
In his new Apostolic Exhortation, Pope Francis tells us, “A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father’s plan” (Gaudete et exsultate 145).
In this Year of Encounter may we seek out the stranger in our midst because it may be the Lord calling us to encounter Him.