The attitude of each and every parishioner affects the atmosphere of each individual parish. It is not just the priest who sets the tone. Granted, it takes a concerted effort to reach out to strangers in our midst at Mass. It is so easy to retreat into our own private prayers and ignore outsiders. However, these visitors might make the mistake of viewing our focused inner prayer as if we were giving them the cold shoulder.
Sometimes our unwelcoming attitude to strangers can be rooted in fear rather than a mere distraction. A nurse experienced outright rejection when she missed her regular Mass and drove to a neighbouring church looking rather disheveled.
She had happened upon a car accident on her way to her regular Mass. She stayed till the ambulance came but by then she was covered in blood and grime from kneeling in the street. Rather than miss church completely, she simply put her top on inside out to hide most of the mess and popped into a neighbouring Church with a later Mass.
A Slap In The Face
The reaction of the other parishioners was like a slap in the face. People edged away from her and at the sign of peace ignored her outstretched hand and turned the other way. This nurse, a reader and faithful member of her parish was treated like a pariah because she looked poor and badly groomed.
Pope Francis is challenging this attitude in his weekly Wednesday addresses. In his talk on The Eucharist, the Holy Father asks the faithful directly, “Do you go to Mass thinking that you are better than those who do not attend Church?”
We Are Sinners Who Need Forgiveness
The pope concludes that if you are proud, you might as well stay at home because Church is for those who recognize that they are sinners in need of forgiveness not for the self-righteous. We start the mass by asking for forgiveness,
” I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”
Do Strangers Feel Welcome?
Pope Francis is also concerned with how the poor and marginalized feel when they step over the threshold into the sanctuary. Do they feel welcome at your church?
St. Paul warns us not to give the best seat to the rich but to welcome the poor and the marginalized to Eucharistic celebrations. Our Mass. the sanctuary, why even the stones themselves should radiate the Love of God, shining like a beacon, beckoning the sick at heart, in spirit, and in body to come and share in the Good News of salvation and partake of the Body of Christ. We proclaim the truth at every Mass.
“Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
These words are not only for the churched but even more so for the unchurched.
Let’s do everything we can to make sure the needy actually hear these words at Mass.
Let’s be faithful rather than merely respectable and welcome the marginalized.
Who knows, we might be welcoming angels or even Christ Himself into our midst.