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Be Brave and Reach to Her

I am friends with a woman who, for years, attended a nice parish where she was involved in multiple Bible studies. Despite the fact that she showed up week after week no one knew her name, for no one asked her name. Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and Scripture sustained her but she was lonely; she had no friends and no community.

Another friend told me how in reading the Bible and taking ownership of her faith she has passionately fallen in love with Jesus Christ. It has changed her life and ignited her heart. But as she searched for peers in her parish, for the kind of friends who were also joyfully in love with Christ, she found no one. At times she was ignored and at other times she was even scandalized.

These stories break my heart and shame me. I know I am not solely to blame for these women’s feelings but I also know that I bear some of the responsibility and when I am judged I will be accountable for that. I cannot help but compare it to the story from today’s Gospel. If my whole parish is healed then I don’t want to be part of the group that is so busy that I don’t notice what God has done for me. I want to be part of the group who is so profoundly thankful that the trajectory of my life is changed by how I live out that joy and gratitude. I want my life to be a response of praise and love to God for what He has done for me. And I want it to be so powerful that I cannot help but reach out to others.

I never want a person in my parish to say, “No one ever seemed to care if I was there.” I want them to know that I care and I need to act in a way that conveys that fact. What about saying to someone, “We always sit in front of you! What’s your name?” and then remember that name and use it the next time I see them? What about offering, “I saw there’s an event next weekend. We’re thinking of attending, what about you?” Even for the shy and introverted, you could say these things, sister!

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “I could never do that! I would be a fool!” But you know what, you wouldn’t. You would love it if someone did that to you, and it would brighten your day. I know it would brighten mine! We need to live our lives as a joyful response to what Christ has done for us and we can start by treating people the way we want to be treated.

Open conversation with someone at church this week. You’d be surprised at how she might react!

Bonnie Engstrom is a writer, baker, speaker, and homemaker. She, her husband, and six children live in central Illinois, and her son’s alleged miraculous healing through the intercession of Venerable Fulton Sheen was submitted to the Vatican for Sheen’s beatification. Bonnie pretends she has a green thumb, bakes a fantastic chocolate chip cookie, loves naps and chai tea, and blogs. You can find out more about her here.

13 Comments

  • Reply
    Elizabeth
    November 15, 2017 at 5:13 am

    Your post speaks directly to parishes needing Christ Renews His Parish or the CHRP program.
    I just attended our parish CHRP retreat 2 weeks ago and it has changed my life; I pray that this will lead to changing other lives in positive and God-filled ways.

    • Reply
      Bonnie Engstrom
      November 16, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      I have heard wonderful things about that program! I’m glad it was such a powerful experience for you!

  • Reply
    Amanda
    November 15, 2017 at 5:34 am

    Bonnie,this is so needed, thank you. Far too often it can feel cold and lonely within a parish, and you’re right- we are all responsible for extending love and welcoming others as we would like t have them do for us!

  • Reply
    Paula
    November 15, 2017 at 6:50 am

    Thank you this morning, this was a very powerful message.

  • Reply
    Lorraine Smith
    November 15, 2017 at 6:53 am

    Bonnie,
    This is so important. We as Catholics and Christians really need to take better care of eachother .
    In the past year, I have had 2 women who I am friends with, tell me that for 10 years they just came and went, every Sunday . Nobody EVER reached out to them. They were nameless to those around them. Shame on us.

    Thank you for this devotional. Theses are the things we need to work on as believers. Relationships. With others and most importantly Our Heavenly Father and Blessed Mother.

  • Reply
    Amy
    November 15, 2017 at 6:53 am

    I just love this reflection! We do need to be more inviting at church! At my last parish there was a holy man who would sometimes give my kids a dollar after mass and tell them they had such good behavior and that God loved them. He would also always shake my husband’s hand and tell him he loved seeing our family at church (there unfortunately weren’t many). It made us feel SO welcome and part of the parish community in a town where we didn’t have any family. Now, it’s my turn.

  • Reply
    Brooke Heet
    November 15, 2017 at 9:05 am

    This was just beautiful!

    Here is a beautiful and life changing thought from a Jeff Cavins Bible Study I attend on the Acts of the Apostles:

    It’s not I’m here and God’s over there. We are so united to His LOVE! We are the Body of Christ! Imagine how are Church would change if we treated everyone as the Body of Christ. We have not just become Christians, but Christ himself to the world.

    The Head is not separate from the Body.

    Blessings and Peace Sisters

  • Reply
    Tanya Hielke
    November 15, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Bonnie,

    Thank you so much for your words. I see that as Catholics we truly need to work on this. There is a fear in looking silly or not saying the “right thing” to others. You are right, if we can start with a simple hello, a smile, or a “good morning” that will break the ice. If we can but trust in the Lord that we are all sent to be his hands and feet, his comfort and kindness He will guide us the rest of the way. Thank you for living your faith! Blessings

  • Reply
    MJ
    November 15, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful devotion. This was struggle we always tried to combat in campus ministry. It is easy to get comfortable with the ones that we know and then don’t bother to reach out to others. Recently I have felt like the woman you mention in your post so it brought joy to my heart to even read your acknowledgement of such a person.
    May God bless you.

  • Reply
    Christine Sosebee
    November 15, 2017 at 10:04 am

    This really spoke to me!
    My husband just went through RCIA (a long process for anyone who knows and has gone through it!) and became Catholic this past Easter. He is 25 and was very involved in the Methodist church he was raised in. One of the things he tells me he misses the most is the sense of community he felt in the Protestant church.
    I have first-hand experienced what he was talking about. When we first began to date, I went to his church a few times and was overwhelmed by the kindness people showed towards me. Everyone was quick to introduce themselves and invite me to get involved. They were eager to ask me how I was doing and anything they could pray for. Not only were they kind initially but they followed up on it! They remembered what we had talked about and would ask me weeks later how things were going and if what I had asked them to pray for was getting better! I can barely remember what I had for breakfast let alone conversations I’ve had in passing with strangers.
    I had never felt that sense of family in my home church or any other Catholic church I have been involved in. I have led youth group, organized retreats and been involved in countless bible studies within the Catholic church but I’ve not felt the sense of unity and compassion amongst the parishioners as I have in other denominations.
    This is something my husband and I pray for daily! It is often disheartening to go to mass and feel as if the passion for the holy spirit has run dry in many of our Catholic peers. It is not simply enough to just fulfill our Sunday obligation by going to mass and running out as soon as communion is passed out.
    We fully believe what the church teaches but we pray daily that the church will come alive in its people that we might share this joy with others and not simply sit quietly in our pews forgetting those sitting beside us who are there for the same reason.
    Please pray for us that we might not get discouraged.
    We can’t keep going on like this without expecting to lose more Catholic Christians.
    Even getting to know your neighbor’s name can make all the difference in their day (:

    • Reply
      Julie
      November 16, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      This reflection really spoke to me too! Actually, I’ve been praying that our church become more “welcoming”. After all, our Lord said when we welcome the stranger (Matthew 25) that we are welcoming Him. Maybe the strangers are our brothers and sisters in Christ sitting right next to us each week at Sunday mass? Maybe they are going through a difficult time in their lives and feel as though nobody cares. Maybe they don’t have family support- a lot of people don’t these days because of broken families. One act of kindness could mean so much to them! I’ve been one of the hurting and at times, im sorry to say part of the problem. At times, ive found someone ive known and solely spoken with them, to the exclusion of others. On the other hand, for years I’ve struggled with shyness, a broken family of origin, wishing someone would reach out, finding it difficult to break into many clicks in our parish. At one point, I was so hurt each week after mass that my husband and I decided to go to another mass time where there didn’t seem to be as many clicks and I didn’t feel left out. I’m not sharing this for pity. I realize Our Lord wants Me to begin to be a part of the solution and reach out to others who may feel the same way and I’ve been trying to do so. Thank you dear sisters for raising such an important topic. God Bless you all!

  • Reply
    Naomi Butler
    November 15, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Yes…Frank Mercadante highlighted that we as Catholics need to be better at intentional community…may God nudge all if us….

  • Reply
    Jean Anthony
    November 15, 2017 at 11:52 am

    What a happy difference it makes when there are greeters at each weekend mass! We started this some years ago, and now there are 30+ active ministries in our parish from scripture study, Alpha, Men’s ministry, food pantry and so on. Its the reaching out that lets the fire of the Spirit ignite us!

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