Be Welcoming—An Old Trick for the New Evangelization

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Every week my wife and I bring our two young children to Mass. We typically go to Mass at the same time each week. We sit in the same general area. We are typically surrounded by the same people. Yet the one thing that is never “the same” is our children’s behavior.

Yes, we have some very good days when my son uses his “church voice,” recites some parts of the prayers, and even sings along. There are good days where my daughter doesn’t want to just crawl under the pews and throw the Mass response card a dozen times into the pew in front of us. But there are also days when my son isn’t a good listener and plays keep-away with his sister’s book. Yes, there are days when our daughter is very vocal.

Whether we are in the midst of a good day or a bad day, days where I can actually say a prayer besides “Lord, help me not lose it,” or days that tempt me to reconsider my discernment between priesthood and married life, we hear the same consoling words. No, I’m not talking about “The Lord be with you,” or “The Mass is ended…” I’m not even talking about the words of consecration. Almost every week, we hear “They are so good,” uttered by a couple more advanced in years than my wife and me.

Hearing those words on the days where I know and this couple knows that the children were not on their best behavior is music to my ears. Those words, that couple’s simple gesture, speak volumes about the Body of Christ; they speak about evangelization. As the Body of Christ, we are called to build each other up. As coworkers in the vineyard of evangelization, we are called to draw others closer to Christ. This simple phrase does both.

Before I had children, there were times when I would not have the same attitude that this couple has towards children who are not using their “inside church voice” or being “good listeners” for Mommy and Daddy. A baby crying did not fill me with empathy for the parents but with judgment. I would think, “Why can’t you control your kid?” This is an attitude that some may have when my children aren’t behaving as I think they should be during Mass. This attitude can divide the Body of Christ and can do the opposite of evangelizing.

We have been on the receiving end of eye rolls, loud sighs, and comments under people’s breath. It is in those moments that I can understand how people may choose to stop going to Mass. How unwelcoming; how divisive! Instead of drawing our brothers and sisters closer to the Lord, we steer them away—with a glance, a sigh, or an unwelcome gesture.

It is not my intention to paint a negative image of those who show their frustration in these situations, nor do I paint that image with broad strokes. I think the majority of people who attend Mass are understanding of these situations. I also know that people go to Mass to pray and bring their hearts’ intentions before the Lord and to receive Him. However, it is important to, in a way, leave our expectations at the doors of the church—all of us.

Parents of young children must leave expectations of their children’s behavior at the door. Of course, there is behavior to encourage and discourage. At the same time, however, we must not allow anxiety or fear of what others around us may or may not be thinking (which would fall into the category of judgment on our part) discourage us from the Reality taking place before us.

All of us should walk through the doors of our parishes or chapels ready for the Lord to take us by surprise. Getting back to what I stated above about the “sameness” we experience each week: some of the tradition and ritual will be the same—the prayers, responses, readings, etc. Yet God can surprise us and speak to us in new ways every day! If we set aside our preconceived expectations about Mass and allow His Spirit to enter our hearts, God can speak to us through a crying baby, through a kind word, or any way He wishes.

In the end, I do not know the names of this one couple or their life stories. I imagine they have been in our shoes and are doing their small part in building up the body of Christ. Whatever their intention is, they certainly have been an instrument of God’s grace and kindness for my wife and me. A simple phrase, a kind smile, and a handshake made my family feel welcome in God’s house and taught us a little bit more about what it means to be His.

Matthew Higgins

Matthew Higgins

Matthew Higgins serves as Assistant to the Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Newark and adjunct professor of Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University. He holds a Master's degree in Systematic Theology from Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University. His 10 year ministerial experience ranges from Junior High faith formation to Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministry. He lives with his wife, Olivia and 2 children in Northern NJ.

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3 thoughts on “Be Welcoming—An Old Trick for the New Evangelization”

  1. Whaa? You don’t know their names after that much interaction? 🙂

    I moved into a new parish on 20th September. I’ve sat in a different place every Sunday, and already know the names of 32 parishioners I’ve chatted to after Mass (I know because keep a list and pray for them which also helps me to remember).

    In my last parish I knew the names of most of the congregation.

    I don’t say that to show off. Just making a point that if anyone makes the effort, it’s not an issue. To leave it to welcomers or others is like ‘leaving it to Father’. It’s a rejection of our responsibility.

    With kids, the only people who tut are people who don’t know you (unless you have a supercilious air about you as you’ve judged them already, and they sense it, so they don’t like you). 🙂

    When our son was small, we never had a problem, even with the ‘old women’ others considered the most miserable grumpy: because we befriended them.

    So often people behave like lemmings out of habit, so you just smash the cycle. I’ve found they daren’t tut if they realise that if they do, they might upset one of the others in their little cabal who thinks you and your kid are the bees-knees…

    Do you know what though? This is the first parish where people have come up to me to welcome me, and it’s the most Modernist parish I’ve ever been in.

    In fact, the most traditionalist parish I’ve been in – which was most to my ‘taste’ liturgically – was the most unfriendly, riddled with snobbery and heaps of personal baggage. They were more interested in themselves and their own agendas than others. That speaks volumes.

    It’s going to be tough being in a parish so completely outside my comfort zone, but what is the New Evangelisation about, if not loving Modernists? 🙂

    Maybe rather than doing ‘Called and Gifted’ Workshops, parishioners would do better having courses in Social Psychology and how to relate to people?

    1. @James – “So good” indeed! OutsideThGate has the exact point I like the argue. We Catholics are not the lilly-white, make-no-waves, wallflowers of the “Pay-Pray-Obey” ilk. New Evangelizers SEEK (and find, of course) NEW ways to introduce and include people in our family. Amen!

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