Dear Parishioners and Friends of Saint Patrick,
Four years ago, I visited Hawaii, my fiftieth state on the occasion of my fiftieth birthday. While there, I requested of my gracious host, Bishop Larry Silva, to direct me to a parish within his diocese that reflected a rich experience of the Sunday Mass. I wasn’t looking for the best music, the best homilist, nor the best architecture. I wanted to experience Mass as it was celebrated among the native islanders. Accepting the bishop’s suggestion, I arrived for the Saturday Vigil Mass in a small town boasting of a few restaurants and a glorious view of the Pacific Ocean.
As I settled into my seat prior to Mass, I immediately noticed some of the parishioners who were going around and introducing themselves to those they apparently did not know. Overhearing these conversations, the designated greeters asked the visitors their names and where they lived. A warm “aloha” concluded the brief conversation with each visitor receiving a Hawaiian lei…yes, with real flowers.
Eventually, they made their way over to me. Admittedly, the introvert in me initially tends to rebuke these impromptu events, but somehow I enthusiastically welcomed their kind outreach. Truly a pleasant encounter!
As the liturgy began, the celebrant looked around and welcomed those of us who were donning the beautiful leis. “Aloha, welcome, we are honored that you are praying with us today.”
Mass continued. The liturgical music was OK. The homily was helpful. Probably no different than other typical parishes in many ways – but somehow this experience felt special.
Then, at the conclusion of the liturgy, the visitors were invited to join Father and the other ministers in the small vestibule after Mass so “we can all have the privilege of meeting you in person.” And so, thirty handshakes and thirty minutes later, I proceeded to my rental car with a heartfelt sense of warmth, connection, and gratitude.
Needless to say, I returned to my host’s residence and thanked him for the wonderful recommendation.
A yearning was planted on my heart to do something here that would hold meaning and value to both visitor and parishioner alike. I wanted it to be genuine, and yet, not disruptive to the liturgy’s natural flow. I pondered this for months. “How can we at Saint Patrick carry this out without imposing something that doesn’t belong – but can complement – our sacred worship?” Of course, Covid broke out months later and changed every aspect of the Mass. The pondering was shelved.
As we return to normal liturgical praxis, and in light of our recent reflections on the principle of hospitality and missionary discipleship, I want to revisit this question. What can we do to express intentional and genuine welcome without making a production or distraction to the Mass? In addition to the warmth of our greeters/ushers, how can we each express a warm welcome to those who honor us as guests?
While I have a few ideas, I’m approaching the maximum allotment of space for this bulletin’s column. So, why don’t YOU write me a suggestion? What would you envision as a possible gesture of genuine and intentional welcome? What would leave our visitors with a sense of warmth, connection, and gratitude that they chose to pray with us at Saint Patrick? Drop me a line: email@example.com.
Additionally, as we learn of the devastating fires in Hawaii, may we continue to keep them in our prayers during these challenging times.