In the Road to Renewal in the Diocese through the program of ALPHA, as well as among our staff and as a parish council, we have been talking a lot lately about the work of pre-evangelization. The idea here is that every human heart is made for the Lord, but there are a number of obstacles that get in the way. The work of pre-evangelization is to make way for receptivity to the Gospel message, to till the soil so that the seeds of faith fall on good soil. For example, it might be hard to talk to young people about the Truth when they hold that truth is relative. Trying to propose pre-packaged ideas as such in this secular culture will often be counterproductive. It is interesting to note that while Jesus was asked 183 questions, he only answered 3 directly, and ended up asking 307 questions of his own. If we do pre-evangelization well, people will feel comfortable coming to the Church to explore for themselves, “What’s the best way to live and what will bring about happiness?” or “Why is there something rather than nothing at all?” They will be able to engage their hearts and minds and grapple with their doubts. They will be able to attend to their wounds and reflect meaningfully upon suffering they are facing in this world, like “why do bad things happen to good people?” If we do pre-evangelization well, they will develop relationships and friendships with people here who are willing to accept them, accompany them, and care for them in their needs. All of us need to start somewhere, and these are our new starting points in this day and age. Consider how hard it is to find a safe space to truly connect with others and explore these things without ever being heard or feeling accepted. May others know that they can find belonging within the Church here at St. Mary’s.
To that end, we are examining our efforts at hospitality and are strategizing some ways to address these often-unexpressed needs, e.g. through updates to our parish narthex, by looking at signs and wayfinding for our confusing campus layout, through the creation of a hospitality ministry, and more all with the hope that others feel welcomed and comfortable here so as to be open enough to explore how faith might have the answers they are looking for. But I want to stress this much – hospitality starts with you, the very individual and each individual reading this bulletin message right now! I believe that we are naturally good at being hospitable to the people we know, to our own, but what about being hospitable to those we don’t know? This culture of welcoming and hospitality is achieved, can only be achieved, by every one of us doing our part as members of the Body of Christ… So, consider reaching out of your own accord to someone who sits near you in church, introduce yourself, your name, what you do, how long you’ve been here… be understanding towards families with young children, offer encouragement and support… Although we are creatures of habit, don’t allow possessiveness to take over when someone else sits in your usual pew. Be an attentive listener, both to what is expressed and those things that remain unsaid. Ultimately, put yourself in their shoes and treat others the way you would like to be treated. Thankfully, many proudly hold St. Mary’s to be their spiritual home, so be good hosts!
This situation of today is not much different than the situation of the early Church in our 1st reading of this weekend concerning the Gentiles: how do we – Jewish Christians – welcome those who are different from us, the Gentiles? The Gentile question was decided at the Council of Jerusalem by the apostles through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who opened up new possibilities for acceptance and the spreading of the Gospel across boundaries. But most importantly in this I think is the fact that Judas and Silas were sent personally to welcome and be with the people it affected. Even today as a Church, we are being prepared for Pentecost when Christ’s message is sent out to all the earth. Let’s resolve to follow in the footsteps of the apostles and become ministers of hospitality and help till the soil for the seeds of faith.