How did you do last month with my challenge? If you remember, I encouraged you to invite your neighbor over for dinner and dessert, to strike up a conversation with someone you do not know and to introduce yourself to a stranger or a visitor in your parish. Hospitality is all about invitation, and a simple invitation has the potential to have far reaching ramifications.
At our diocesan hospitality meeting, “The Summit,” in June, Bishop Robert Gruss shared about an invitation he received to participate in a Bible study. His response was: “I’m not sure this is for me, I don’t even own a Bible.” The Holy Spirit moved Bishop Gruss’ heart that day as he said, “yes” to a simple invitation to participate in a Bible study. His participation transformed his life forever.
This past I year I have heard from a number of parishioners throughout the diocese how the Holy Spirit and hospitality are truly moving and changing the hearts of the individuals and parishes of our diocese — one invitation at a time. I wanted to share one such story with all of you from a parishioner at Our Lady of the Black Hills Church in Piedmont:
“During a recent Saturday afternoon while I was preparing to serve at Our Lady of the Black Hills, I learned firsthand the workings of the Holy Spirit in the area of hospitality.
“As I parked my car, I noticed someone sitting in their vehicle by the side of the church, and I thought, ‘This woman must be waiting for someone.’ While I organized, the lady eventually came into the building.
“I stepped out to greet her, and she inquired ‘Is this a Catholic Church?’ I answered that it was and asked her if she would like to be shown around. She replied that she would, and we began a conversation. I introduced myself, and I could see she was starting to experience the restful atmosphere of our church. She said she had a relative that shared my name. I told her that I was the church librarian, and she again replied that her sister was also a librarian.
“She told me her own name, and we started to walk around. During our tour, I stopped to tell her about the baptismal font and the beautiful stained-glass windows above it. She said she was Catholic, but hadn’t been to church in a long while. We stopped to talk at the main altar and then at the side area where the tabernacle is located. Another parishioner was in the church and greeted her with a smile and a hug.
“The visitor was impressed with our church and seemed to enjoy walking through the building. Later we stopped at the side alcove with the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and then walked over to the confessional, and stepped inside. I explained that people could sit and pray with the priest now, face-to-face. Then I told her about the Returning Catholics program, which would be starting soon, but she replied that she still considered herself to be a Catholic who never left the church. Then I asked her if she had time to tour the rest of the building.
“Upon walking back up the stairs, I noticed that Father Steve Biegler was in his office, so I asked her if she would like to meet him. I was praying he wouldn’t be involved in a conference call and could greet her. When we entered his office, I introduced her and told Father Steve she might be interested in visiting our parish. He smiled and stood to greet her. The Holy Spirit may have whispered in her ear because she asked him if she could visit with him right then. He replied that she could, so I closed the door and left. They spent time together conversing.
“Later, she walked past the library where I was working, and she was smiling. I gave her a hug and a copy of the parish bulletin that included the Mass times for the upcoming weekend. I had the great pleasure of seeing her at Mass that next Sunday, as well as several more that followed.
“Looking back over the last year, I’ve realized that my awareness of ‘hospitality’ has increased greatly because of the emphasis the diocese and our parish has placed upon its importance. Notes in the bulletin on the topic and Father Steve’s sermons have made me realize that hospitality isn’t meant only for one designated committee in the parish, nor is it only the responsibility of the priest. When we are open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we can become instruments of his grace. I was blessed to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit at OLBH with this new parishioner. The incident has encouraged me to continue offering hospitality to the stranger.”
What a beautiful story of the power of an invitation! When one offers hospitality to another, in and through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, so much good can be done. The summer months offer us many opportunities to reach out to the many visitors and guests coming through our parish doors. Do not be afraid to extend an invitation and to make room for the visitor, the guest and the stranger in your midst. Your invitation could change the direction of a life.