We continue with our consideration of the Letter of James that comprises our first readings this week. In today’s reading the community is being reminded (perhaps admonished) that the meaning of “all are welcomed” is to not make distinctions between the poor and rich members of the community. I am sure that dynamic remains a part of parish life to some degree large or small. But the problem of “partiality” that is more prevalent in our times is welcoming the stranger, the visitor, the person not known to us that joins us in Sunday worship.
We are communal creatures at heart. Sunday Mass is often the time in which we get to catch up with people we know. But there is also a part of Catholic culture that says protocol is to enter the church, find our pew (silently hoping no interloper has usurped our usual place), say our prayers, then remain still and quiet before Mass. It is not uncommon for people to have shared a sign of peace with others, done so for years, and not be sure of their names. If that is true for our “pew regulars,” then what must the visitor feel? After Mass is when we can cluster, chat and catch up.
It is true for the priests also. I think it is part of our culture that the most identifiable person in the assembly is the priest. I think that if a visitor / new parishioner introduced themselves, it is most likely to be one of the priests. We priests often want to catch someone after Mass to discuss this or that – or catch up on one thing or another.
It is true we don’t check name, rank or Catholicity at the doors of the church. It is true some people want anonymity, celebrate Mass and leave, undisturbed, but we are communal creatures at heart. A simple “hello… my name is…” goes a long way towards making all feel welcomed – to show no partiality.