In my earliest conversations with Bishop Rassas and as I applied to be your pastor, I found a very important fit between the culture of servant leadership here at Holy Family and my own theology of ministry. From my days in the seminary, it was conveyed to me that working with and empowering talented and committed lay people would be the very core of my priesthood – indeed, is a charism or focus for us as diocesan priests. I hope that you have noticed that commitment to ministering with you and empowering as many of you as possible is essential to advancing the very ambitious, creative and vibrant mission here at Holy Family.
During my time with you, we have had several priests express interest in joining our staff, but many, I felt, did not share the same convictions that both the staff and I share. We are blessed to have Fr. Rich with us as he shares the same commitment and vision. For much of my time here though, I have been the only resident priest. I was taught to expect this by a wise and forward thinking seminary faculty. This rarely feels like a burden because of the wealth of talent and depth of faith that I have seen in countless lay people that bless my ministry on a daily basis, particularly here at Holy Family. I love being with you and I love sharing a common commitment with you. Love is a powerful thing and my love for you drives my vocation as a priest. I can’t adequately express what an honor it is to serve with you. As I said on my 25th anniversary of the glass cup that I use every time I have the privilege of presiding at the Eucharist, “My cup is your cup.” We drink of the same cup, we share a common baptism, and thus we share a common priesthood. My calling is to be lived out alongside your calling. The same God empowers us.
The culture of servant leadership is essential, but leadership is for some; HOSPITALITY is for all of us. This is a profound spirituality and, as we know, we are all spiritual, so I would like to add SERVANT HOSPITALITY to our culture.
Servant Hospitality is rooted in the story of Abraham and Sarah in the desert at a place called Mamre. (Genesis 18:1-10) Abraham is outside of the tent, in a deserted place as the day was growing hot. Dawn Mayer recently shared an observation of this scene. She pointed out that most people, at the peak of the day’s heat in the desert, take shelter in the shade of the tent. Not Abraham. He is keeping watch for visitors and, indeed, three strangers travel by. As the passage unfolds, Abraham shows warm, genuine hospitality to these three strangers. He invites them in. He feeds them. He shows urgency as he runs to greet them, and then humility as he bows in a gesture of welcome. Not once, but TWICE as the scene unfolds, Abraham refers to himself as a SERVANT as he brings water to refresh them. He instructs his wife Sarah to “quickly” provide other gestures of welcoming and hospitality, encouraging her to see herself as a SERVANT as well.
Service can inspire us to see the importance of looking out for and keeping watch for the strangers that may come our way. We learn that hospitality is contagious, and I am underscoring that we ALL must practice it.
Ultimately, there is tremendous symbolism in the warm hospitality of Abraham and Sarah that leads to something that they desired and sought – to have a child. That was one of the most significant, if not THE most significant, thing lacking from their lives. The scene takes place when they are past childbearing years, but one of the strangers confidently says that the three of them will pass by the tent of Abraham and Sarah in a year and Sarah will be holding a son.
Sarah laughs at this possibility, but the prediction does indeed come true. They conceive their son Isaac and thus the promise from God to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sands of the sea has been fulfilled – that countless descendants in faith from Abraham and Sarah, including you and I, live on.
It can be said that SERVANT HOSPITALITY played an essential role in the fulfillment of that promise. Hospitality opened a door for Abraham and Sarah, as well as the traveling strangers. The practice of Servant Hospitality introduced Abraham and Sarah to greater possibilities in their lives. Warm, genuine hospitality puts a childless couple in touch with what they were missing, and it led to the fulfillment of God’s promise to them. It can do the same for us.
I am inviting and challenging all of you to see yourselves as servants in hospitality to those who may be traveling today, who may be strangers to a vibrant community of faith, yet looking for deeper spiritual engagement.
I am inviting and challenging each and every one of you to practice SERVANT HOSPITALITY following the example of Abraham and Sarah.
I am confident that SERVANT HOSPITALITY can renew our community and put us in touch with the fulfillment of God’s promise to us.
Practically, the practice of SERVANT HOSPITALITY can mean being attentive to, holding a posture of, welcoming and not judging where others may be on their spiritual journey. It includes being aware of others and their needs and offering to help. Remember, Abraham simply invited the strangers. It can mean watching for visitors at Mass, greeting them and inviting them to join us. It can mean listening to where others are on their spiritual journey and, regardless of where that is, inviting them to celebrate the Eucharist with us.
It can start with ALL of you serving as greeters at one Mass throughout the year. That means some pretty simple things such as:
• Arriving at Mass 15 minutes early
• Standing with your back to the inside of church at one of 3 locations – thus facing those who are arriving
• Saying Welcome
In order to bring some structure to this new and energized Ministry of Greeting, please look for details in the coming weeks, or contact Sue Geegan, our Director of Human Concerns, for details.
S Who knows where it will take us.