In the midst of this bone chilling weather this winter, I have been reminded of the importance of warmth in our midst. Just this evening I stepped out for dinner at one of my favorite little restaurants in Irwin, Romano's, and while enjoying the good food I was also enjoying the friendly spirit of the owners (Sharon and Carl) and their staff and a number of the patrons. I began sharing with a couple at the next table and had a great conversation (she had worked in the local school district and he was a retired pastor of the Church of the Nazarene). We spoke of many things, including our respective experiences of Church. She said that she had attended a number of funerals at our parish and was always made to feel welcome and often uplifted. Toward the end, she asked about non-Catholics receiving Holy Communion. I explained our understanding and theological position, and I also shared the emotional and pastoral awkwardness that comes from exclusion. It is one of the crosses of the division within the Church. We continue to pray that "we may be one". We have just concluded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that has that as its goal.
Hospitality is also found in the warmth of our love and our faith. I make it a point to invite those who gather for Mass to greet each other before we begin, for we gather as community, not as isolated individuals. Most people join in this greeting. A few do not, for a variety of reasons.
I was speaking to a good friend this morning, Mike Ripple of Erie, who had a less than warm experience at Mass this weekend. They attended a neighboring parish in Erie, and chose their seat. A couple came in and were very "put out" that the Ripples were seated in their seats, even though there was much room around that spot. Mike and family moved over, but the attitude was obvious to those around them that this couple was not happy. Needless to say, the warmth of hospitality was chilled in that experience.
Not everyone is into handshaking and verbal greetings before or during Mass. I have a couple that sit in the back row and do not share in the greeting, but I know through their looks and expression that they have the spirit of hospitality. That's okay. But to be isolated or cold about being with fellow Christians is contrary to the spirit of the Christian experience and the purpose for our communal worship. It is cold enough outside without bringing that cold into our hearts. As the scriptures reminded us yesterday, we are people of the light who are called to bring the Light of Christ into our every darkening world. Light brings warmth.