Hospitality - Welcoming Strangers

03-17-2024Letter from the PastorFr. Don Kline, V.F.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Maybe you have heard the critique that is lodged against Catholic parishes that goes something like this. “I went to Mass at that parish for 20 years and no one even said hello to me.” One could ask why an isolated person didn’t say hello either. But still, hospitality is an essential charism for any community that wishes to grow and flourish! I have heard from many visitors how blessed they felt by the warm welcome that have received at St. Bernadette.

The topic of hospitality brings me back to my seminary days. I began my seminary formation to become a priest at St. Meinrad in Southern Indiana. One of the first questions that new seminarians ask is, “Who is St. Meinrad anyway?” Born in 800, Meinrad was a Benedictine hermit-monk who longed to dedicate himself to prayer and solitude. But Meinrad’s reputation as a wise and holy man led people to seek him out for counsel and prayer leading to a tension in his life between solitude and hospitality. Meinrad became convinced over time that he needed to share the fruit of his contemplation, so he welcomed and tended to guests’ needs, both physical as well as spiritual.

One day, two robbers came to Meinrad’s hermitage believing he had treasures hidden--gifts from the people he had counseled. Despite a premonition of his impending death, Meinrad invited the robbers in and offered them food and drink. When they discovered his life of poverty, the men became angry and murdered him and then fled in fear.

St. Meinrad’s death earned him the title of “Martyr of Hospitality.” As seminarians at St. Meinrad, we were taught the charism of hospitality which not only flowed from St. Meinrad’s example but from the Rule of St. Benedict. The rule is the book of guidelines for monastic living written in 530 by St. Benedict. It is followed by monks still today. In the rule, St. Benedict says, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he Himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt 25:35).

St. Bernadette is a large prospering Catholic community. It can also be intimidating when one first walks in the door. But when a newcomer invests in one or more of our parish ministries, it becomes an intimate spiritual home for many. All it takes is that first step to belong that often needs to be preceded by an invitation from you. I am so grateful for any parishioner who takes that extra effort to greet others with a smile and words of welcome.

It is critical to notice and seek out the stranger as St. Benedict directs his monks and welcome them as Christ. This isn’t just the work of the priests or our hardworking staff. We all are called to welcome and invite newcomers to pray with us, to work with us in building the Kingdom and to even suggest ways in which they can become involved to make this community home.

Sometimes an invitation by you can change everything. Your willingness to direct a stranger to our office might inspire them to consider joining our parish family. Sometimes hearing a newcomer’s story can make a lasting impression. Sometimes inviting a lost Catholic to Mass and then maybe to the Grotto for coffee and can be the impetus for greater faith and repentance of sins. Giving a stranger a tour or inviting them to consider a particular ministry can engender good will and a lasting relationship.

In short, we priests, though important in parish life, supplement what is sewn, one parishioner to another. Perhaps during this Lenten Season, we can pray about hospitality so that when strangers arrive in large numbers at Easter, for example, we will see ourselves as the hosts that we are, welcoming the Risen Lord hidden in the hearts of the stranger who longs to be one with us.

God Bless,

Fr. Don Kline, V.F.