Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Two interactions with people in the church last Sunday have been a source of reflection for me this week. The first has become somewhat common: a parishioner came to Mass in person for the first time in over a year, and it was a joy to welcome her home to St. Pius! When public Masses resumed a year ago, the excitement of welcoming people back to in-person Mass was wonderful. That excitement, though, was held in check by ongoing concerns for health and safety. As we became more comfortable with in-person gatherings and the fact that attending Mass was extremely safe, more people began dipping their toes back in the waters of the Church’s public worship. Since the restrictions were lifted a month ago, I have been moved by the return of many people who previously were unable to come. It is always a good reminder to me: the depth of faith held in the hearts of the faithful cries out for expression, and participation in Mass provides that outlet. For those, especially with concerns for their health, being away from the Church has been a source of pain, and their return to Mass is profoundly healing. Almost every week I have seen faces that I had not seen in a year or more. And to a person, they are thrilled to be home. If you know someone who has not had the chance to return to Mass, please encourage them. If you see a face you haven’t seen in a while, please tell them you’re glad to see them back again. If you meet someone in the pew who is new to the parish, please thank them for joining us and introduce yourself. After a year of so much isolation and division, we need to recover that beautiful sense of St. Pius as our spiritual home.
The second interaction came at the end of the day, after the Church had emptied following the baptism of three children (we have welcomed so many babies into the sacramental life of the Church in the last few months!). I had just finished putting things away and was walking to the front door, which had been left open. Two people out for a walk across the street, seeing the open door, had decided to come in, and so we met in the vestibule. At first they were apologetic (I hope I don’t have one of those priest faces that instantly inspires feelings of guilt). I invited them in, thanked them for visiting, and told them they were very welcome. They knelt down in a pew and prayed together, before one rose and lit a votive candle in the St. Pius shrine. Sunday afternoon visitors to the Church have become more frequent, I’ve noticed. Like my first interaction, this one was a bit of a repeat of something happening often, and I love it. That our church has become a place people want to stop and pray is indeed a good thing!
You’ll grow tired of me expressing my dissatisfaction with the misnomer “Ordinary Time.” But putting aside my (correct) argument that it makes more sense for us to number our weeks according to the great solemnity of Pentecost, I will concede one point to the name “ordinary.” Insofar as it indicates our normal routine and life, the season of Ordinary Time, particularly that long stretch that follows Pentecost, reminds us of what the Church’s normal life ought to consist. Namely, the Church since Pentecost is on mission to proclaim the Gospel and foster Christian community. The Gospel must be proclaimed both to those who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ and to those who have already come to faith. The proclamation of the Gospel ad extra, to those who do not share our faith, is a lofty task and a necessary one. That is why the Church so frequently reminds us to serve the poor and to give witness of our faith in word and action. The proclamation of the Gospel ad intra, to those who already believe, builds up the community of believers in faith and virtue. A community strong in faith and virtue becomes a living sign to the world, an open invitation to encounter the Lord who is the reason for this faith and virtuous way of life. This ought to be our normal! This is what ordinary looks like!
Welcoming parishioners home after time away is a joy that I want to see multiply in the coming months. I feel the same for welcoming strangers who may or may not believe but who want to see the church and wonder what our community is about. This can be our ordinary time! We are living in a time when the world demands labels for every person, such that we are always hyphenated: a *insert label* – American/woman/man/runner/wristwatch owner. What comes before the hyphen seems most important to many in our society today. For the Catholic Church, though, a label does not fit well into our mission, nor does it jive with the command or example of Jesus. Our Lord encounters people in their particular circumstances, but without regard for the label that so often accompanies them. Instead, He sees in them the image and likeness of the God who created them, He sees them as children of God. Just so, we Catholics ought not see the world’s label first, but rather a person created in the image and likeness of God. In affirming the truth of that fundamental identity, we can love people no matter what else might be happening in their lives. And it is only if we love people that we can follow the example of Jesus who never left people in their sinful actions, habits, or attitudes, but with true love always called them to something greater. So whether we are welcoming someone home to their parish, or inviting a stranger to come and see what the Catholic faith is about, or encouraging someone whose choices have distanced them from God, or meeting someone who struggles with the label the world has affixed to them, our ordinary, our normal, can and must be to love as Jesus loved, recognizing the image and likeness of God, the God-given human dignity of each person, and inviting them to live according to God’s plan, for it is in God’s design that we find our true fulfillment and happiness. May this loving welcome be our ordinary.