From next Sunday you may see some new faces in our congregation as people move around our parishes searching for a convenient place and time to celebrate following the change in Mass times. Of course it is my hope (and I am always hopeful) that our churches will appear to be full of happy smiling faces and that no one will greet these new arrivals with the greeting “you’re sitting in my seat”. While we can discuss the reasons for these new mass times and the frustrations associated with them, we could also try to renew our sense of welcome and hospitality. It could be all too easy to get grumpy and disappointed instead of trying to turn this into a time of possibility. Because we don’t have strangers in our churches, just fellow parishioners we are yet to meet. I am inviting you all to see this time of transition as being a time for learning, observing yourself as well as others and becoming a community noted for its hospitality and welcome.
When you think about it, our word ‘welcome’ is a strange one. The Oxford Dictionary identi es it as being composed of the two roots ‘well’ and ‘come’: so a welcome person is ‘one whose coming is pleasing or desirable. Most modern European languages (bienvenue, benvenida, benvenuto) seem to borrow from the same idea, rather than from a more classical Latin root. It may hark back to an ancient sense that the passing stranger was someone who brings blessing and surprise, and the provider of hospitality was the one who received the greatest favor. The Hebrew greeting to one arriving – baruch habba (blessed is the one who comes) has the same sense.
The late Henri Nouwen, spiritual writer, psychologist and theologian, identi ed growth in an appreciation of the importance of hospitality as one of the key sins of spiritual growth. He spoke of the movement from hostility to hospitality, from treating the unknown and unfamiliar stranger as the ‘Other’, as an enemy, to welcoming that stranger as a friend. He de ned hospitality as ‘a space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy’. Our ‘stranger danger’ culture exempli ed in these days in the rhetoric of fear generated by the major political parties concerning refugees and asylum seekers militates against the gospel value being espoused in today’s readings. However, without a culture of hospitality, no Christian community can hope to survive much less ourish. Hospitality is both a witness to and an illustration of our faith. Are we courageous and open enough to choose the better part?
Our new look newsletter next week is also part of this learning experience as we try each week to include some articles to inform our faith and in turn, form us. Our newly designed website which includes information about our four parish communities will, before long, become the main means of communication for our community. For this reason I hope you will all try to discover how to use this modern and necessary way of connecting. “I’m too old to learn” is no longer an excuse or else you wouldn’t be reading this newsletter. You would know it all already. Fr Peter Dillon