Was that the best you could do?

“I Was a Stranger … Welcoming the Stranger Through Hospitality,” was the theme for Pastoral Ministry Days, held at the end of March. During this time together we looked at how our parishes and we as individuals can reach out to others and invite all into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Bishop Robert Gruss began by sharing a biblical understanding of hospitality and he encouraged us to see hospitality as a virtue.

In an article titled, “The Virtue of Hospitality: An Attitude of the Heart,” the author describes hospitality as the simple art of paying attention. “When we pay attention, we divest ourselves of self-preoccupation. To be hospitable we have to get out of ourselves and become interested in the other.” From personal experience, we all know this is easier said than done.

The night of Father Peter Kovarik’s funeral, I was in the cathedral hall vesting for the Mass when a couple approached me. They explained that they were good friends with Father Peter’s parents and were invited to sit with the family for the Mass. This couple asked where the family was gathering. I said, “Do you see the lady dressed in red? She is standing right in front of the kitchen. Go past her and past the kitchen, the first door on the right is the food pantry, the next door on the right is a large meeting room. That’s where you will find the family.” Instead of walking with the couple, I pointed and sent them off with a set of confusing directions to search on their own. After the funeral, as I prayed my nightly examination of consciousness at Casa Maria, I retraced the steps of my day and reflected upon where I encountered Christ with a grateful heart and where I could have done better. On this night, when I remembered my meeting the couple in the cathedral hall, I felt the jolt of the Holy Spirit probing my heart, “Now Father Mark was that generous hospitality — was that the best you could do?” It called me to ask for Our Lord’s mercy for this negligence.

This experience was a needed wake-up call for me. It reminded me that hospitality must be deliberate if I am to truly welcome the stranger in my midst. The heart of one striving to live this generous hospitality sees each person as Christ, each encounter as an opportunity to care for, serve, and love him. The challenge arises, however, as we battle with our selfishness and self-centered focus on our problems and our difficulties. This examination at the end of the day focuses our sight of those in our midst and seeing those in need.

Hospitality invites us to create space, to make room in our hearts to welcome another, to invite another, or simply to be with another, even when it is as simple as saying hello, sharing a hymnal, or inviting a visitor to bring up the gifts at Mass. All of these very simple gestures become far-reaching signs of welcome.

Hospitality happens in the here and now. It demands a directed attentiveness and an immediate response. As I reflected back on the experience at Father Peter’s funeral, I realized I would never get that opportunity again. I failed to act in the now moment of time that God had offered.

We must see hospitality as a holy event. Jean Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche Community in France — a community of peoples with and without disabilities who share their lives in communities of faith and friendship. Vanier writes, “Welcome is one of the signs that says a community is alive. To invite others to live with us is a sign that we aren’t afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and of peace to share … The community which refuses to welcome — whether through fear, weariness, insecurity, a desire to cling to comfort, or just because it’s fed up with visitors — is dying spiritually.” Vanier’s words certainly challenge us!

Is our parish community alive or dying? How do we welcome one another as the body of Christ? Does our parish offer a generous hospitality to those whose faith has become lukewarm? Do we welcome and acknowledge the visitor or stranger in our midst? Is hospitality a holy virtue in our parish?

Pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit

Happy Easter to all of you!

I hope and pray that the celebrations of Holy Week and Easter were inspiring and life-giving. We would be remiss though if we left this great celebration of resurrected life in the past as just another Sunday in the church year. The Easter season, this time of grace, spans fifty days, concluding on the great feast of Pentecost where we relive the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit upon Mary and the apostles gathered in prayer in the Cenacle.

Throughout this Easter season each of us are invited to pray daily for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives enabling us to grow in our relationship with Christ and our dedication of our call to discipleship. We all need this whether we are the bishop, a priest, deacon, religious, or layperson.

The Lord has so much more for each of us, but we are limited by our own lack of desire for more. The Lord Jesus has already given the Spirit to us, but he is waiting for us to let him ignite the fire — which means we must want this fire to be ignited and pray each day that it is ignited. But it also takes letting go of what I want and seeking what the Lord wants for me.

“In effect, Jesus’ whole mission was aimed at giving the Spirit of God to men and baptizing them in the ‘bath’ of regeneration. This was realized through his glorification, that is, through his death and resurrection: Then the Spirit of God was poured out in a super-

abundant way, like a waterfall able to purify every heart, to extinguish the flames of evil and ignite the fire of divine love in the world.” (Benedict XVI, “Let Baptism of the Holy Spirit purify every heart,” L’Osservatore Romano, May 14, 2008)

What a great image Pope Benedict gave us — “like a waterfall able to purify every heart, to extinguish the flames of evil, and IGNITE the fire of divine love in the world.” Has this been your experience of the Holy Spirit in your life? I invite all of us to pray for this these remaining days of the Easter season. Jesus wants to lead us to drink from the “streams of living water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:10, 14; Jn 7:37-39).

The Holy Spirit renews all things in our lives and helps us to live in a different way. Pope Francis speaks of how we cannot be a part time Christian because it doesn’t work. We have to be “all in,” so to speak. Being a disciple of Jesus ultimately means, not doing things, but allowing oneself to be renewed daily by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who opens our hearts to Jesus and prepares us for this renewed daily encounter which the Holy Father has spoken of so many times.

In a General Audience message, he shared: “This is the precious gift that the Holy Spirit places in our hearts: the very life of God, life as true sons, a relationship of confidence, freedom and trust in the love and mercy of God, which has as an effect, also a new gaze toward others, near and far, always seen as brothers and sisters in Jesus to be respected and loved. The Holy Spirit teaches us to look with the eyes of Christ, to live life as Christ lived it, to understand life as Christ understood it. That’s why the living water that is the Holy Spirit quenches the thirst of our lives, because it tells us that we are loved by God as children, that we can love God as His children, and by His grace we can live as children of God, like Jesus.” (May 26, 2013)

A renewed encounter with the Holy Spirit will not only bring new life to our lives, but also to our parishes and to our diocese. I am praying for this tremendous gift. Therefore, I am asking every person and every parish across our diocese to join with me in praying a “Novena to the Holy Spirit” in preparation for Pentecost. We all need a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our culture, our families, our parishes. An authentic and renewed conversion to our Lord Jesus Christ can only happen through the power of the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit that transformed the lives of those disciples in the upper room at Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit radically changed the early disciples from fearful, scared, lost men and women into courageous witnesses to Christ and enlightened heralds of his word. It was the Spirit who guided them along the difficult and new paths of mission, that same mission that has been given to every baptized person. We ask the Holy Spirit to bring about an amazing renewal among us.

Let us all join together for nine consecutive days beginning on Friday, May 15, for prayer and reflection on the gifts the Spirit brings, inviting the power of the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon each of us, our parishes, and our diocese. The “Novena to the Holy Spirit” will be provided by your parishes or can be found on this website: www.spiritans.com. Watch your parish bulletins for more details regarding how this will be celebrated in your particular parish.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love!


West River Catholic: April 2015

Enjoy the April edition of the West River Catholic

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