I was in need … Hospitality in our Parishes

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Start your meeting with the Sign of the Cross and a prayer
Someone read:

A reading from Luke 10: 30-37 
Jesus said, 'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend." Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?' He said, 'The one who showed him mercy.' Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'

Read the Reflection:

(By BMcD) An exhortation (such as Evangelii Gaudium - the Joy of the Gospel)conveys urgent advice, calls for action or urgently gives recommendations. The Gospel of Joy calls us to discover or rediscover the Joy of encountering Jesus in a personal way and then to let that love and relationship generously overflow into practical mission and outreach. When Pope Francis talks about the 'new evangelization' he isn't talking about a church growth programme. He is asking every Baptised person for deep conversion of heart, mind and actions; to allow ourselves to experience the unfathomable love Jesus has for you. He reminds us that God is always the one who initiates the life of Grace. God starts everything, it is God who supports everything and God working through us that reaches out in love and mercy to others. (Para 12) That can give us confidence but it also calls us to open ourselves deeper to God and to get involved.

'Hospitality' is a concept implicit throughout this document. We are being called to make room for others, to welcome and embrace others especially outcasts and not just those who find their way to our doors, schools and parishes, but to actually go out looking for people and to invite them in. This is a huge shift in mind-set for most of us.

It reminds me that my parish reached out and found me in 1984 when I felt like an outcast. I am only in the Catholic Church because they knocked on my door and invited me to a Mission. But even then they only reached out to lapsed or resting Catholics. Vatican II made it clear that the parish exists to evangelise, and that it is not just responsible for the people who sign up and join in, but for every soul within its geographic boundary.

In the exhortation we hear: "The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory. It is:
a An environment for hearing Gods word
b For growth in Christian life
c For dialogue
d For proclamation
e Charitable outreach,
f Worship and celebration
g In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelisers.
h It is a community of communities,
i a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey,
j and a centre of constant missionary outreach."
Para 28

Wow! What an amazing mission statement. It's tempting to immediately start criticising that this message has not been taught. But I want to encourage us to think instead, of catching the vision of the church that is being presented for every baptised Catholic, and especially the vocation and mission of the laity. Laity have been described as the sleeping giant. Imagine if we allowed God to rouse us to recognise who we are and who we are called to be. That is the dream in the heart of God for his church which Pope Francis is exhorting us to respond to. Just imagine for a moment if every parish council and every small community, even every family in the parish began to orient their activities around contributing to that vision of church. St Teresa of Avila says, "Be who you are and you will set the world on fire." Just imagine what it would be like to live and serve in a community like that. The Parish is the church inserted into a specific neighbourhood of the world to be the presence of Christ for every single person in that area without exception. We are meant to search for people and do everything we can to make every activity of the church community oriented toward this mission of reaching out and drawing people into encounter with Christ and his family.

Last weekend I had an object lesson in hospitality. I stayed with a beautiful family and the eldest son gave up his bedroom for me. He moved onto the top bunk in his younger brother's room for a complete stranger and he did it with great generosity. When I thanked him he said it was no problem. "That's where we always put guests and you are very welcome." The room even had flowers and a welcome card and I can only imagine the effort involved in transforming a well lived-in young man's room into a welcome space for me. Hospitality takes effort and orientation of mind and heart to make room for people.
Truth is we all get used to comfortable patterns and I recognise my tendency to resist change and cling to the familiar. Yet Pope Francis is challenging us to set aside comfortable routines and to become a church that is like "a mother with an open heart", and "the house of the Father with doors always wide open." (EG47) He goes on to say we should literally make sure people can come to our churches and find the door open and someone praying. All round the world lay people are responding creatively to that simple idea by setting up adoration rosters with people praying before the Blessed Sacrament if not 24 hours at least through say a 12 hour period.

Evangelisation involves practical steps, ordinary encounters and simple human kindness which God elevates and uses to touch people. Pope Francis says "Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better to simply slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way." (EG 46) In 49 he says "If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and without a goal in life." Then again in P.15 he says, "We cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings; we need to move from a pastoral ministry of mere conservation to a decidedly missionary pastoral ministry." We need to go out and invite people in.

One of my favourite spiritual writers, Henri Nouwen wrote, "Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place… It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment… it is the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit... The paradox of hospitality is that wants to create … a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances, find their way to God."

Pope Francis says, "Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples; "You will be blessed if you do this" (Jn.13:17) An evangelising community gets involved by word and deed in people's daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others." (EG24). How does that resonate with our Lay Marist heritage of being like a bridge to souls; missionaries of prayer and missionaries of action? Pope Francis exhorts us: "Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved."

Share your responses:

When have you received hospitality? What was it like? How did you feel? How much effort was involved for your hosts?

The Gospel passage just read is immediately followed by recounting the visit of Jesus to Martha & Mary. What do these two together tell you about 'hospitality'?

If we really embraced this vision of 'church' as a primary focus in our parish and our group, how might it change our perception?

In what ways can we support and encourage this vision of parish life to reach out, especially to those who feel excluded or somehow on the margins of faith and life?

No. 8 From our Charter – for your reflection this month

A Christian mother reaches out to support and encourage all mothers & is open to receive the same from others.
" I thank my God whenever I think of you … My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more …" Philippians 1:3-11

Prayer Time:
For your own intentions and other needs

Conclude the meeting with the following:

In a world ever shouting at us to Do more! Be more! Get more! ,,,
Where do you want me to serve? How will I know the right place?
The right time? The right gift to share?
Frankly, the thought of adding even one more thing to my life ,,,
well, where on earth will I find the time, the energy, the wisdom to be Kingdom NOW?
At this moment, the best I can do, Lord is this: I am willing.
The rest is up to you. Inspire us. Guide us. Fill us with courage.
Take us to that place where our deep gladness and the world's deep hunger collide.
We ask this in your name, O Lord. Send down the fire!