Hospitality at Mass: A Key to Good Stewardship

For many individuals and families alike, summer means travel. And summer travel may mean new visitors to our parish for weekend liturgies. Providing hospitality to strangers is a hallmark of Christian stewardship. In the Gospel of Matthew good stewards were commended for their hospitality: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).

Saint Benedict directed his followers to receive guests and travelers as if they were Christ. Extending hospitality is especially important when it comes to welcoming visitors who may be attending Mass at our parish for the first time. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that the ability of a first-time visitor to have a meaningful experience of Christ in the liturgy is directly impacted by the warmth of the welcome extended by the local worshipping community. When people say hello, the worship experience is enhanced. A warm welcome is part of evangelization, work necessary in a church’s mission to help people discover or renew their faith in Christ.

How do we treat the unknown person who walks by us in church, or who sits next to us at Mass? Do we take the initiative to greet them, smile, extend a warm handshake? Remember, we are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). Our actions and reactions toward visitors at Mass communicate who we are and who we represent. Let us take time to welcome visitors to our parish this summer. Welcoming gestures, however small, will not only have a positive impact on visitors, they will make us more hospitable ambassadors of Christ.

Stewardship Saint for June: María Guadalupe García Zavala

María Guadalupe García Zavala was born in 1878 in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico. As a child she made frequent visits to the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan, located next to her father’s religious goods shop. Her acquaintances said Maria treated everyone with equal respect and kindness.

At age 23, Maria was engaged to be married, but broke it off because of a growing sense that the Lord was calling her to life in religious community and of service to the sick and the poor. When she confided this change of heart to her spiritual director, he revealed his own desire to establish a religious community to work with those who were hospitalized. He invited María to join him.

The new congregation, which officially began in 1901, was known as the “Handmaids of St. Margaret Mary (Alacoque) and the Poor.” María worked as a nurse in the hospital. Compassion and care for the physical and spiritual well-being of the sick were the primary concerns. María worked tirelessly. Sister María was soon named head of the quickly-growing community of sisters. She taught the community, mostly by her example, the importance of living the Gospel’s spirit of poverty. This included living a life of humility and exhibiting joy and a loving demeanor each day to each person they encountered. At times, Mother María and others in the community would take to the streets begging in order to collect money for the hospital. The sisters also worked in parishes to assist the priests and to serve as catechists.

From 1911 until 1936, the Catholic Church in Mexico underwent severe persecution. Mother María put her own life at risk to help the clergy of Guadalajara, and even the archbishop, go into hiding in the community’s hospital. The humble and generous treatment she extended even to their persecutors when they needed food or medical care did not go unnoticed. It was not long before they, too, began defending the hospital run by the sisters.

During her lifetime, 11 foundations were established in Mexico. Today, the religious community has 22 foundations and is active in Mexico, Peru, Iceland, Greece and Italy. Mother María died on June 24, 1963, at the age of 85. Her feast day is June 24.

Ten Commandments for Welcoming Visitors at Mass

Welcoming newcomers to our parish is not just the job of the pastoral staff, ushers, ministers of hospitality or greeters. It is everyone’s responsibility. Here are ten things you can do to provide better hospitality in our parish.

1. Cultivate the virtue of hospitality at Mass. Many parishioners tend to gather into little cliques and ignore those who are not members of their particular clique. They are not really inhospitable, just heedless of the need for hospitality. Make hospitality a new habit when you come to Mass.

2. Come early, leave late. Instead of rushing to Mass to be there on time, and then rushing out at its conclusion, make time to come a little early and linger just a bit later. Make room in your busy life to greet and spend time with others at Mass.

3. Go in peace to greet someone! Seek out someone you’ve not met before. Shake their hand, introduce yourself, and take a few moments to welcome them to our parish home, God’s house.

4. Welcome everyone. Not only do visitors need your warm welcome, regular Mass attendees also need a friendly greeting. Develop a good handshake and be enthusiastic about our parish. You are greeting others in the name of Christ.

5. Help newcomers connect. While you are getting to know visitors, introduce them to other parishioners as the opportunity presents itself. Feel free to invite visitors to sit next to you.

6. Say goodbye with genuine warmth. After Mass, bid farewell to visitors, inviting them to return next week. Introduce them to the celebrant if the opportunity arises.

7. Avoid parish business. Avoid conducting parish business with others immediately before or after Mass. Focus on visitors.

8. Give visitors information about the parish. Ensure that a visitor has a bulletin and other information about the parish before they leave. If there is a social gathering after Mass, such as Coffee & Donuts, invite them.

9. Be part of a greeting ministry team. Parishes are always in need of greeters to serve regularly, and provide ongoing formation to new greeters. Help out, be a greeter. If your parish doesn’t have greeters, now is a good time to start!

10. Greet those who already minister in the area of hospitality. It isn’t necessary to neglect the people who are already ministers of hospitality in order to make visitors feel at home. A simple wave and a smile go a long way.

Stewards of the Church in the 21st Century

By Mary Ann Otto, Pastoral Minister for Missionary Discipleship, St. Mary and St. Joseph Parishes, Appleton, Wisconsin

As we approach Pentecost, we anticipate an event so powerful that even after two thousand years it is hard to fully grasp its impact. The transforming nature of the Holy Spirit raised up a small group of courageous disciples to carry the mission and message of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Proclaiming their encounter with the risen Lord without Church buildings, budgets, a catechism and technology, they were directed to steward the loving, forgiving and hopeful message of Jesus Christ to the world. The life-altering result of their early ministry brought the small early Christian community to a worldwide Church that numbers in the billions.

It is interesting to consider the journey of faith taken by these early disciples in light of the words of the United States bishops in their pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, in describing what Christian stewards do. To say that these disciples received God’s gift of the Good News of Jesus gratefully, nurtured it together with passion and faithfulness responsibly, shared it generously at the risk of losing their lives and returned to God in abundance is truly an understatement.

How did they spread the Gospel in dangerous times with so little at their disposal? Imagining what it might be like to sit with Mary of Magdala, Peter, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila and a few other brave and faithful disciples around a table, I cannot help but believe that they might encourage us to go back to our roots and announce the Good News to our neighbors with courage, passion and trust.

Our Church has been blessed with longevity and a rich deposit of faith. Pope Francis, however, reminds us that our first responsibility is to share the kerygma, that foundational proclamation of our faith, with everyone we encounter. Jesus loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you. This “Good News” should be imbedded deeply in the hearts and expressed passionately on the lips of every Christian steward of the 21st century Church. For many of us, the pontiff’s constant reminder has been an incredible shift in the way we understand what it means to be a disciple. If we reflect, however, on our efforts to speak the Good News aloud, it is always accompanied by the presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit. What might the early disciples say? Perhaps it would be: “Brothers and sisters in Christ, be brave and speak up! It is your turn!”