By Sister Lauretta
Bishop Barron relates an interesting experience. As he was traveling through central Georgia he passed a sign on the outside of a church that read: “All Sinners Are Welcome!” The message, he says, grabbed his attention. He marveled at this wonderfully Christian spin on the open attitude of this church in reaching out and offering a place for anyone wishing to be part of this particular community of believers.
That prompts us to consider the idea of welcoming in today’s society. Is it true to say “everyone is welcome” in every situation? Consider some scenarios. Would we claim that everyone is welcome to become a member of the college baseball team? Everyone is welcome to try out but the coach will assess each candidate and will make a judgment on who’s worthy of being on the team and who’s not. Is everyone welcome to play in a symphony orchestra? Again, anyone is invited to give it a try, but the conductor will make the final determination on who should be accepted for the music position. So, what places can and should welcome everyone?
Let’s look at the word “welcome.” What does it mean to welcome someone? There are multiple meanings: offering a casual hello, showing appreciation for someone’s presence, making someone feel accepted, or bringing people in. With these examples in mind, what about membership in the Church? Are all people welcome in the Catholic Church? Yes, of course! With enthusiasm, we echo the invitational words of James Joyce who said, “Here comes everybody!” It’s absolutely true that everyone is welcome. Jesus means to bring all people to union with God. In John’s gospel, Jesus declares, “When the Son of Man is lifted up he will draw all people to himself.” As Christians we believe that we are all welcome to be part of God’s family, enjoy the opportunity to be ambassadors of God’s love and called to receive others with hospitality and genuine concern. Recall the familiar words of Pope Francis. He referred to the church as a field hospital where even the most gravely wounded are invited, not just those doing great. And so, as a Catholic Community, we believe that the Church is a missionary grounds where we all are a part of the “Welcome Committee! “
How do we do that? Let’s take a look at some of the stories of Scripture that teach us about inviting others. Jesus’ parable of the overly-generous vineyard owner is a good example. Note that Jesus says the owner doesn’t specifically ask those standing around waiting for work, “Why aren’t you working?” They aren’t working simply because no one has invited them! In another story of Jesus curing the paralytic, people were blocking the entrance to the house and they were trying to bring in the crippled man to see Jesus. Scripture tells us they decided to make a hole in the roof and lower the man directly into Jesus’ presence. They didn’t give up, but found a way to bring the man to Jesus. As you go through the gospels you will find many instances where invitation was a key element. Ask, invite, welcome! Father Rohlheiser clearly tells us that our task as members of the Welcoming Committee is to “Close the distance and not the gate to entrance!”
With this directive we are pleased to tell you that once again, as we begin another year of RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) we are excited to invite and welcome men and women to join us — those who may be searching or who wish to be part of the Catholic Community. To those who are considering this invitation we say, “It is not man or women who are on the quest for God. It is God who is on the quest for them.” From time to time God walks into our lives with silent steps. Is this the time? Sometimes we mistakenly think it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us.
This might be the time when God may be calling you or anyone you know from a certain way of practicing your faith and into another one called Catholic. “Come” is one of God’s favorite words. Jesus told his disciples to “Come follow me.” He invited little children to “Come to me.” “Come to the banquet table,” he said to the hungry. To Zaccheus he called, “Come down and change your life.” Jesus strengthened Peter with his invitation to “Come” when he was doubtful about walking on the water. And so to all who are searching, Jesus may be calling you to come, as well. Come! Join us in learning more about the Catholic faith. As the little church in Georgia we, too, point you to our sign that says WELCOME!