by Father Mark Goldasich
Quite a few years ago, my mom and her only sister Louise were taking a train to St. Louis for a weekend visit.
For some reason, both seemed incredibly nervous. When we got to Union Station, I asked what they were worried about.
“Well,” said my mom, “we’ve never gone by ourselves to St. Louis. How will we know when to get off the train?”
“What language do you speak?” I asked.
“English,” said Mom, with a confused look.
“OK,” I said. “Odds are that almost everybody on the train will speak English, too. So, what you want to do is say to someone — and I enunciated this very slowly — ‘Excuse me, could you let us know when we get to St. Louis?’
“I’m sure you’ll be fine!” I concluded.
“Well,” said my mom a bit snippily, “I guess that will work!”
In case you’re wondering, the intrepid travelers made it to St. Louis — and back to KC — without incident.
Sometimes, we make something much more difficult than it needs to be.
That’s true even with regard to our faith. Here’s one of my all-time favorite stories to illustrate this point:
A man attending a crowded Mass refused to take off his hat when asked to do so by the ushers. Other parishioners also asked him to remove his hat, but he remained obstinate.
The priest was perturbed, too, and waited for the man after Mass. He told the man that the church was happy to have him as a guest and invited him to join the parish. Then, he explained the traditional practice regarding men’s hats and said, “I hope you will conform to that custom in the future.”
“Thank you, Father,” said the man. “It’s nice of you to invite me to join the parish. In fact, I joined three years ago and have been coming regularly ever since. But today is the first time that anyone paid attention to me.
“After being an unknown for three years, today, by simply keeping on my hat, I have had the pleasure of talking with the ushers and some parishioners. And now, I’ve had a conversation with you, who have always appeared too busy to talk to me before.” (Found in Father Brian Cavanaugh’s “The Sower’s Seeds.”)
If you’d like your parish to grow and the faith to spread, don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. Be hospitable, first and foremost, and the rest will take care of itself. Never underestimate the power of a welcoming smile that warms the heart — not only of visitors, but of the “regulars” as well.
Secondly, get to know others by name. Many people are creatures of habit when it comes to church. They’ll attend the same Mass each weekend and sit in the same spot. Do you know the names of the people who share your pew, as well as those in front and behind you?
Can you name the musicians and cantors at your Mass? Do you ever head up afterwards to thank or compliment them?
Some other ways to be more hospitable include:
• When you pick out a pew, scoot over a few spots from the end as an invitation for others to join you. Don’t plop yourself right at the end as a blockade, sending a message that this is my turf and you’d better not cross it.
• Join a parish group, like the Knights or Altar Society, to expand your circle of acquaintances and offer some valuable volunteer time to a good cause.
• Stay for coffee and donuts after Mass or attend an upcoming parish fish fry and sit with folks you don’t know.
• If you’re new to a parish, don’t be shy about introducing yourself to the pastor and to other parishioners.
This coming weekend, look around for one “man wearing a hat” in your parish.
And then, if you gather up your courage and actually chat with that person, hats off to you!