By Tom Skubic
On January 30-31, 2016, ICC will be hosting what may be our first-ever Welcome Weekend, a time to reach out to people we know: maybe a family member, a neighbor, a friend or a co-worker, who previously went to church but doesn’t now, or who has never gone to any church.
It’s an opportunity to invite someone we may have overlooked, or second-guessed, thinking they don’t need a community, or they could find one on their own if they wanted to. It’s a chance to explore what church really is, maybe what it has become, and what it should be. For many, church has become the Saturday evening or Sunday Mass, and not so much about the people at the Mass.
I ran into Sherri Sklute, a friend of mine from ICC, at the orthodontist office over a year ago while our respective sons had their teeth worked on. She and I were talking about Confirmation as she had been teaching the preparation program to our ICC teens. A woman sitting in the waiting room jumped into the conversation and asked if we were Catholic and what church we went to. After some back-and-forth, she mentioned that she and her husband, both Catholic, were asked to attend a friend’s Christian church in Williamsburg, which they did. She told us that she had never felt so welcomed during that one visit than she had at any other time in any of the Catholic churches she has attended over the course of her life.
Wow. Made me think. And after much hand-wringing, the couple and their family decided to leave the Catholic Church and join this other Christian church. Could friendliness and a welcoming attitude have such an impact?
If the Catholic Church in general has become like what this woman experienced – overall, kind of cold - I don’t believe that it’s anyone’s fault, and it wouldn’t be useful to go in that direction anyways. The Church is growing and evolving, guided by God’s Spirit, and has been doing so for two thousand years. We make some movement forward, some movement backward. But always increasing I feel – because of people eventually responding to God beside them. When Jesus said in his Gospel that “where 2 or 3 gather in my name, I am there with them”, he was telling us something really profound. I think he was saying that there is something truly beautiful and whole about being together, with him, and not apart. Like that’s how the Father created us to be.
In communion not only with Christ, but with another.
And it’s in communion that a community begins to take shape, by 2 or 3 humans sharing in the day-to-day: the problems, the joy, the sadness, the work, the play, the mundane.
In each other.
This verse from scripture makes me consider the opposite. Imagine if Jesus didn’t want to be with us. Like what if a wife didn’t want to be with her husband, or a dad who didn’t want to be with his son or daughter, or a best friend who no longer is a best friend? Unfortunately, that sounds like real life, doesn’t it? Life is messy.
But enter Jesus. He chooses to be with us – regardless of the mess we find ourselves in over and over again. Our God, the Creator of 100 billion galaxies in the universe and of 7 billion people on this earth, loves you and me so much that he refuses to let us stay this way. Absolutely refuses.
With the New Evangelization, our Church is on a course for change. Going to Mass only to fulfill a rule because that’s what we’ve always done just doesn’t feel right, does it? Is church a building, a time and a place each week? Pope Francis’ vision of church as being about the people in relationship seems like what church should be to me.
So whether you invite someone to church or you introduce yourself to someone at Mass who you’ve sat next to for a long time but have never met, you’ll be doing what Jesus asked you to do. You’ll be doing God’s will.
Let this weekend and the weekends that follow it be your opportunity. Be bold. Come together. Don’t let it be that hard. And be confident that Christ is beside you as you do. That’s got to feel good, right?
Welcome Weekend - let it start here. You might discover that your idea of church changes. It now becomes the place where you’ll find your friend at the 11 o’clock Mass, rather than just the place where you’ll find the 11 o’clock Mass.
And maybe it all begins with saying,
“Hi, my name is …”.