In his Lenten letter (which you saw last week) Bishop Barres picked up on one of Matthew Kelly’s Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic: inviting. (Kelly calls it “evangelizing,” which is a fancy church-word for the same thing.) That’s no surprise: Jesus was all about inviting, from his first call to His disciples (“Come and see” Jn 1:39), to His final instruction before His ascension (“Go and make disciples” Mt 28:19). If we’re going to follow Him, we should do our best to imitate His style and do some inviting ourselves.
I admit this can be tough, especially if you don’t have a gregarious personality or are limited by frailty in getting around. I’ll come back to those difficulties later. But for most of us, we have some contact at least occasionally with people we know are Catholic but don’t come to Mass. Let’s focus on this group.
First, recognize that it’s huge. Estimates are that only about 15-20% of Catholics attend Mass with any regularity (usually defined as at least once a month; weekly attendance would be much, much smaller). In our parish, I can give you the numbers. As I write, we have 19,521 names on our parish census – 6,048 households. I won’t claim that’s exact, but it’s probably pretty close to the actual numbers. On a typical Sunday in 2016, we counted an average of 1,439 individuals – 7.3%. At Christmas, we saw in the pews 3,444 people – 18% of registered parishioners at Christmas! I’m not blaming anyone – just saying we’ve got a lot of opportunities to discover nonpracticing Catholics.
And many of them are likely to be ripe for inviting. Do you know what the #1 reason nonpracticing Catholics give for not returning to church? “No one has invited me.” It’s pretty clear to me that people are looking for something to help them to make sense of their lives as the culture and economy crumble around us. Church practice can do that. It probably does it, at least to some degree, for you – othewise you wouldn’t be reading this. Why not share the wealth you’ve found?
If you’re wary, or not a “people person,” here are a few things that can help. First, focus on something that you’re going to go to at our parish – Mass, or some event (one of Terence’s concerts, a Family Ministry event, or the like), and try to imagine someone in your circle of everyday connections who might enjoy going to that with you – and whom you’d enjoy having with you. If it’s Mass, consider adding in a breakfast after (people tend to respond positively when food is involved). And then take the chance: “I’m going to (event) at my church on (date), and I look forward to it; would you like to come along?” That’s all that it takes.
If age or infirmity keeps you closed into a small circle, you have a role too. You can pray that others who are thinking about inviting someone will have the courage to take the chance. You can talk positively to your caregivers about what your parish means to you; prepare the soil for a possible future invitation from someone else.
A final, very important thing that applies to all of us. It’s our job to make people who do come to parish events feel welcome. If somebody sits in “your” pew, welcome them and take another seat. If a family with a baby disturbs your prayer because the baby’s crying or fussing, be an adult: Sympathize with them and do what you can to help. If people respond to an invitation to come back to church and then are turned off by what they experience at the hands of the “regulars,” we’ve driven them away – away from Christ. Inviting is everyone’s job. Until next week, peace.
Don’t miss our Lenten Retreat! Every Monday evening, 7:30 to 8:30pm, March 6 through April 10!
And don’t neglect Matthew Kelly’s daily Lenten meditation on Resisting Happiness. Sign up for a daily e-mail link at bestlentever.com!