Photograph Courtesy of Nathan WaywardShinobi
When a dear friend comes to your home, what do you do? You give them something nice to eat, something pleasant to drink, you fix them up with any clothing they forgot to bring (cardigan, swimming costume, dressing gown etc) and you happily put them up for the night if they need it.
That’s a warm welcome.
They are also the first 4 corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless.
Developing our ability to welcome then, is a prerequisite for becoming merciful like the Father (Luke 6:36).
In truth, each and every person we meet is someone God wants us to spend a happy eternity with. Each one has an invitation from God to be a prince or princess in heaven, and we may as well start treating them like that now.
That’s reason enough for some, but others like a bit more encouragement. So here are 7 biblical reasons to work on your welcome.
Hebrews 13:1-2 Continue to love each other like brothers, and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Photograph Courtesy Sj Carey
Which would make most people remember Abraham’s story from Genesis 18, where he was minding his own business at the hottest part of the day when only fools or those on urgent matters of great significance travel. He ran to meet the three men, and bowed to the ground before them, before offering them food, drink and a place to rest and refresh themselves because ‘that is why you have come in your servant’ direction’. Abraham also accompanied them in order to show them the way to the city of Sodom.
An application: There is always a reason why someone you don’t know darkens the door of your parish church, and it is usually a big one. A family member is dying / has just died ; someone close to them is having surgery : they are praying for a job for themselves or others ; a child is going through big exams; or they are in some kind of need (and that includes the occasional one who is looking for money or looks mentally ill). If they leave without connecting with someone and without at least sharing the burdens on their hearts, then we have failed them and God. It is relatively easy to say, ‘Did you know we have a prayer intentions book over here? Every weekend Mass those intentions are prayed for, and you can write them anyways you want, in shorthand, code, in any language.’ That tends to have a 95% success rate in getting a prayer intention written.
Matthew 25:35 I was a stranger and you made Me welcome.
If our ability to welcome is good we will be happy in the kingdom of God forever with Jesus. If we don’t have the first clue about how to welcome the stranger, then we could find ourselves deprived of everything that is good for all eternity.
An application: Many of the strangers entering your parish church will have traveled there for a funeral, a baptism, a confirmation etc. Anyone who has traveled distance knows that the first burning question is ‘Where’s the loo?’ How easy is it for a stranger to find the answer to that burning question? If we were really serious about welcome we would have teams of people on hand for occasions like these to do like Abraham did, and show them personally to where the toilets are and have a chat on the way. In hot weather cups of cold water should be provided free, and as something we always do as a parish, if we are really serious about the welcome we give to those who travel for special occasions. Perhaps if we start getting that right, we might begin doing that no matter what the weather.
Mark 9:37 Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in My Name, welcomes Me; and anyone who welcomes Me welcomes not Me but the one who sent Me.
Little children make noise, they fidget, they are rarely able to sit still. They like kicking their heels on the wood paneling, getting a change of scene by dragging an adult off to visit the toilets, and testing the acoustic qualities of a building with their vocal chords. We are called to see them as a special gift, and not as a hindrance. How well do we welcome children? I suspect they get far less welcome from us than their accompanying adults do, and yet Jesus says they are His representatives. I am reminded of traveling a long distance overseas to listen to someone considered holy, we traveled with two youngsters 2 years 6 months and almost 3 years old. They were very good, and making minimum ‘I’m happily occupied’ noises. I was asked to take them outside. I stood my ground, but it came at the cost of not being able to truly listen to anything that was said because my emotions were too jumbled.
An application: Welcome is far more than pointing out – graciously or ungraciously – where the nearest cry room is. When was the last time an audit was done of the cry room? Is the sound from the microphones outside getting inside the cry room? Is it clean? Is it comfortable? Do the toilets have a baby change table? Are there toys and books in good condition with a faith component to them? Is there a place where an autistic youngster overwhelmed with all the sights and sounds of regular worship can safely go to calm down? Maybe we need to think about specialist greeters for children, who are good at establishing rapport and good at helping the children use their natural joy and sense of fun to enrich the whole community. Our children are God’s treasures and our treasures, and we have just got to start treating them like precious treasures and stop treating them as unwanted nuisances. We are called, too, to bridge the generation gap and to make efforts to talk to and include our pre-teens, teens and young adults in conversation and community activities and service opportunities. If we want to welcome Jesus in them, then we have to make special effort.
Hebrews 11:31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute welcomed the spies and so was not killed with the unbelievers.
Rahab’s story is found mostly in Joshua Chapter 2, and a little in Chapter 6. She is mentioned too in the genealogy of Jesus. I wonder how many people the Israelite spies sought lodging with before Rahab opened her home to them because she had heard of all the wonders the Lord God had done for the Israelites. She had wisdom, and she had guts to hide these men from their pursuers and to insist upon getting her extended family under God’s protection. Welcoming God’s people in these foreign strangers saved her life.
An application: Most of us haven’t yet been called to shelter strangers who put our own lives at risk for the sake of the kingdom of God. But we need to ponder Rahab’s example and how highly she is praised not only in the book of Hebrews, but in the letter of James, and being included by name in the genealogy of Jesus. In our own times Pope Francis has been leading by example and welcoming refugees into Vatican city to live. How much do we go out of our way to welcome someone who looks like us and talks like us, and how much do we go out of our way for those whose skin colour is different and whose command of English is poor? Take the time to get to know people in your parish who were born in a different country, so that when someone from Korea or the Sudan comes to your parish you can introduce them to parishioners who are a bicultural match. Anyone who has taken that great leap of faith to leave their own country and come to build a life in another country has courage and great gifts and stories to share. Get to know them, and just like Rahab, you will never regret the effort to do so.
3 John 1:5-8 My friend, you have done faithful work in looking after these brothers, even though they were complete strangers to you. They are a proof to the whole Church of your charity and it would be a very good thing if you could help them on their journey in a way that God would approve. It was entirely for the sake of the name that they set out, without depending on the pagans for anything; it is our duty to welcome men of this sort and contribute our share to their work for the truth.
So it is our duty to welcome and help support the missionaries that God has sent to us. We might groan at their less than perfect grasp of our language, but we have to get beyond that and treat them as if it were St Paul himself who has landed in our parish for a while. I doubt St Paul’s Latin, Greek and Macedonian were as good as his Aramaic, Syriac and Hebrew. But if the communities to which he was sent didn’t make an effort to welcome and accept him, what an unimaginable huge loss that would have been for them.
An application: If you have a priest whose mother tongue is not the same as your own, then it is time to quit complaining and time to start appreciating the sacrifices he has made and the special cultural gifts he brings. It does take a lot more effort to converse with someone whose English isn’t fluent, and to keep trying, but that is part of the welcome we are called to extend to them. We ourselves would be the losers.
Acts 21:17 On our arrival in Jerusalem the brothers gave us a very warm welcome.
A bit of context will help. St Paul was called by Tertullus ‘a perfect pest; he stirs up trouble among Jews the world over’ Acts 24:5 And now St Paul is returning from a long missionary journey, having been warned by the Holy Spirit that trouble awaits him in Jerusalem. Remember too that he used to be a persecutor of Christians, and had a stand-up argument with St Peter, and we begin to get a clue how extraordinary this warm welcome was. The community in Jerusalem welcomed him as a brother and apostle of Jesus, no matter the cost nor the possible repercussions to themselves later on.
Photograph Courtesy Moyan Brenn
An application: How well do we support our own troublemakers? Those who have been in the media (or in public life) defending the Gospel and the teachings of the Church, do we welcome and support them, or do we keep our distance? The warmth of our encouragement will help them keep up the good fight, but indifference and avoidance will crush them and the calling God has on their lives. It has to be practical too, not just warm hugs and conversation but donations of money, clothes, equipment and elbow grease. Do you even know who the social media apostles are in your parish? If they are writing good stuff capable of bringing souls back to God, are you liking and sharing it with your own networks? Never underestimate the encouragement that a ‘like’ or a positive comment can provide to those in this often lonely and besieged apostolate.
Mark 4:20 And there are those who have received the seed in rich soil: they hear the word and accept it and yield a harvest, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.
It takes time for a seed to produce grain. There is no ‘quick fix’ for that process, and you don’t know whether the payout will be thirty, sixty or a hundredfold. Depending upon your bible translation ‘welcomed’ and ‘received’ are interchangeable. It is when we open up our hearts to each other and welcome them in, that our hearts welcome God in too at the same time.
An application: Remember Abraham, he was sitting by the entrance to his tent when the three men came. That’s where we need to be too, on the outside of our church buildings on the lookout for the prodigals. In fact we need our parish welcomers on the outside, and on the inside of the church doors. But don’t look for quick rewards. It may take many months of smiling and ‘Happy Easter!’ and ‘It’s going to be a long one tonight, we’ve got the choir’ before someone might feel comfortable enough to ask a question or respond with more than a one word answer to ‘How’s your week been?’ Persevere, pray, and the good fruit will come.
Photograph Courtesy Konstantin Lazorkin
May St Martha, St Mary Magdalene and St Lazarus, who were so good at welcoming Jesus into their hearts, home and family, intercede for us that we may grow in our welcome of Jesus and of all those He sends to us; the needy, the travellers, the children, the strangers, the missionaries, the troublemakers and the prodigals.