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Father Muench Says...

The challenge to be a welcoming church

Feb. 19, 2014

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Last week, I wrote about our Catholic Church as our home, the home for all Catholics.  Jesus made our Church a home by choosing to come among us on this earth.  He made this world his home.   Jesus continues to remain with us by making the Church his home.

The question we must deal with today, “Do I – do you – find a home as a Catholic within the Catholic Church?”
One way to talk about Church is the Church Building, your Parish Church building.  When you go to that Church, when you go to Mass each week, do you truly feel at home?

One of the first buildings that a community builds in the town’s formation is a Church.  That Church becomes for them a home where life as a Catholic could grow and come alive.  The Church building is a home to this faith community – this parish.

The Church building is the place for our celebrations as a Catholic Community.  This is the place where the parish gathers to celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday. 

This is the place the community celebrates new life in Baptism; where the parish celebrates a new family in marriage.  This is where they celebrate and remember the life of a loved one when they die.

In these ways, this Church building is a home.

The Church building is also a place of refuge, a home where Catholics may come to pray quietly alone.  The Church is a place to come and weep, a place to bring our sadness to the Lord, a place to find the compassion of our God.

So, do you feel at home in your Church?  When you are away from home, do you feel welcome in that Parish Church?  Do visitors feel welcome and at home when they come to your Church?

This is the challenge for us all – pastor and people – to make our Parish Church welcoming to the people of our own Christian community and to visitors whether Catholic or of some other faith.  They all should be comfortably welcome and at home with us.

Church also means people – the people of a parish community, the family of Catholics working together, living in peace, caring for each other, especially the needy, praying together with each other and for each other.

The challenge for this Church, this community, will be the same: to make the community of the parish a home – a welcoming home – truly, a Church.

I believe that our Church family, our parish community, will and must find its model in Jesus. The Gospels constantly show us Jesus as a welcoming person, a welcoming teacher who truly invited all to join him on their journey. 

Our whole Church, Bishop, priests and people must set the tone of openness and welcoming to all.  Jesus made it very clear that everyone he met were welcome; his message was for all.  People came to Jesus with their cares and needs, never afraid to ask, always open to learn and follow. 

This must be the Spirit that people see in our Church – our Catholic Church.  Whether Catholic or other people should find within the Church a welcoming spirit, a readiness to help, a home.

The responsibility for this spirit within the Church belongs to us all – to the Bishop, the priests and to the lay men and women. Most people who approach the Catholic Church approach first through the laity.  Our prayer it that you, the People of God, will set the tone and help others see the Church as a welcoming home.

The Second Vatican Council makes it clear that lay men and women must recognize and share in this call to be Church, to be welcoming as Church.  Let me quote the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.

The Council Fathers wrote this, “Gathered together in the People of God and established in the one Body of Christ under one head, the laity – no matter who they are – have, as living members, the vocation of applying to the building up of the Church and to its continual sanctification all the powers which they have received from the goodness of the Creator and from the grace of the Redeemer.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in calling the next Synod of the Church to focus on the subject of the Family  with the hope that the Bishops, priests and people who are part of the Synod will look at the Catholic Church’s approach to family, that the Church may guide and walk with all families.  Already, there has been a real concern for families with problems, with marriage, with divorce, with those who are divorced and remarried. With the hope that the Church will be there to help and stay welcoming to them all, pray for this upcoming Synod. 

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