In a new book entitled Divine Renovation, Father James Mallon, Pastor of Saint Benedict Parish in Halifax, Nova Scotia, talks about parish life and its need to be renewed and restored. Fr. Mallon draws on the experience of the early Church, in which all, all, all baptized believers were formed into missionary disciples. All of them were called to build up God’s Kingdom. Today, he continues, all of us are called to build up God’s kingdom.
Somehow, and regrettably, for many centuries, the work of building up the Church was thought to belong in the hands of religious orders or the ordained ministry. Father Mallon says No. Early on and now, you and I are all called to be missionary disciples. No one is excluded. All of us exercise missionary discipleship the way the Holy Spirit inspires. At the very least, this means that each of us is called to create a welcoming parish home for people. If some people are to return and others come new, our invitation, the way we model and live parish life will be essential. Not just nice. Not just helpful. Essential.
“You ask too much!“ you might retort. “I don’t know how. I have enough to do. What if I do it wrong?” These first responses all arise out of fear: fear of rejection, fear of creating discomfort in a relationship, fear that we may be labeled as “over the top.” Yet how many times does the voice of God, Jesus, God’s messengers say to people who are called: “Do not be afraid.”
What am I really asking? That, this summer, you be open to praying over the people in your life and then inviting them to Eucharist with you.
Praying over people who are already part of your daily life is important. God will point the way. Pray for them both before and after inviting them to join you some Sunday, whether they say yes or no. If yes, go with them. If no, pay attention to the tone of the no. It may mean “Not this time.” Or it may mean “Don’t ask again.” But be ready. Inviting someone implies we want to be hospitable to them, that we are ready to help them through the parts of the liturgy and the changes in posture. It means we are also ready to answer questions or find the answers for later. Over time, those who are welcomed will experience a sense of belonging. Only when they have an adequate comfort level can they be open to believe.
The work of inviting people to come and see belongs to all of us. Without us, it won’t happen unless the love of God burn in us in such a way so that we can see the potential fire in the other. As the anonymous poet from the near East says:
If you do not burn,
If I do not burn,
How will the darkness become light?
~ Sister Joan Sobala