Did you ever visit a town and not know where you were going? This happened recently when a friend and I took an afternoon ride to a small village and ended up in an antique shop. There, we met a friendly middle-aged woman and asked her about a good place to eat. She spoke highly of a restaurant across the street.

friendly woman

We decided to eat there. As we finished our meal, the woman we met in the antique store walked up to our table and asked how the dinner was.  We never saw her eating there, but she cared enough for two strangers to reach out and make sure we felt comfortable. After telling her that her suggested restaurant was a good one, she smiled and left. By then, we felt a part of this small town, even thought we only knew one woman there.

On the way home, I thought of what we can learn from this friendly woman in our churches, as stranger after stranger comes to Mass on Sundays to be fed on the Word of God and the Bread of Life. How do we reach out to them when they arrive and leave? How many visitors feel comfortable and connected to anyone in our churches, like we did to the woman in the story? How can we change this? Doing so, involves a shift in attitude and the conviction that hospitality to strangers is often the determining factor as to whether they return again or go somewhere else where they feel welcome.

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A priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a Professor of Pastoral and Systematic Theology at the Athenaeum of Ohio, Father Bob Hater is also Professor Emeritus at the University of Dayton. Order Fr. Hater’s new book, Common Sense Catechesis: Lessons from the Past, Road Map for the Future.