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Welcoming Jesus

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I’ve moved a lot over the course of my life. For me, one of the hardest things about moving is making new friends. I wish I could pack up all the awesome people in my life and bring them along everywhere I go. That would be SOME party! But hidden in the pain of having to start over is a gift — the gift of remembering what it feels like to be alone.

How is “aloneness” a gift? When I feel it, I want it to be over. It’s sharp and its cold, and it makes me want to hide. And yet, once I make my friends and start to cultivate my community, I begin to forget what it feels like to be on the outside. I get so comfortable in my lovely circle of laughter and warmth that I don’t give a second thought to those who are still hanging out in the wintry loneliness.

Getting to experience that aloneness reminds me that there are many people who probably feel alone. I see them at Mass, sitting by themselves. I see them in the store, or on the street. And because I recently experienced the gift of aloneness, it gives me the courage to reach out. Most of the time it’s with a smile, with a compliment, with a word of encouragement. Those little things can make such a difference to people.

Last year, during Christmas Mass, I was sitting with my friend who is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. As it turns out, we had nearly two whole benches that were empty, but because of the shape of the church you could not tell there was free space when you looked from the back. I told him to go invite some people to come and sit down. He went all the way to the back — where people were standing outside — and invited a dozen people to come and sit down.

After Mass, one of the women who sat down came up to us, and she was crying. “Thank you,” she said. “I was on the outside, and you brought me in. You don’t know what this means to me.” And I could tell that something had moved deep inside of her, and that there was healing going on when she went back to kneel and cry and pray some more. 

Sometimes it’s hard to take a risk to reach out to another person. What if they think we are intruding or what if they tell us to mind our own business? My conclusion is this: The risk of leaving someone out in the cold is a much greater risk than my small discomfort at possible rejection. As Christians, as those who have experienced love, it is our job to make people feel welcome, to know God’s closeness.  

Our churches should be the place where we feel most welcome, most at home, most part of a family. And many times, they are not. This is my challenge to us this Christmas and New Year: Let us take the risk to interact with someone whom we don’t know. Encourage a parent who is struggling with a fussy child. Smile at someone who looks sad. Invite the person sitting by themselves out to breakfast with your friends or family. Tell someone who looks awkward standing there at church: I’m so glad you’re here!

Allow God to use you to touch someone with his love this Christmas season. This is what it means to welcome Jesus into your heart — by welcoming the people he places in your life.

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta

Comments from readers

Bernardo R. Garcia-Granda, M.D. - 12/27/2017 09:46 AM
What a wonderful message to all of us who go through life, always rushing and failing to pay attention to the acts of kindness that bring us closer to God. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Bernardo Garcia-Granda, M.D.
james - 12/26/2017 09:58 PM
Dear Mary Ann Wiesinger and faithful, Thank you for this beautifully written piece. When I lost my job here in the US I took a chance and moved to Asia and the Middle East for work. As for feeling "alone" I believed that I owned that word. I traveled to 53 countries. Most everywhere I went I was blessed to find loving people and Catholic churches. I remember all of those people that helped me so much. t is very important to reach out to all people as we all have stories to tell and may be experiencing problems. Thank you and kind regards, blessings, in Jesus name, Amen.
R. Esperanza - 12/26/2017 08:22 PM
Then Peter said, “We have given up our possessions and followed you.” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive [back] an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come.” (Luke 18:28-30) I used to think this only applied to clergy and religious who take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I realize now that everyone who seeks to fulfill their baptismal calling, professed and lay, must strive beyond personal and material attachments. Let the Lord fill our lives with the graces and virtues to love Him and serve Him who is in the guise of our unnoticed neighbor. Then will we each feel the interdependence of the parts of the Body of Christ that we are! Feliz Navidad y prospero 2018, Mary Ann! May the peace & joy of the Infant Jesus be with you and your So. Florida readers. Prayers & encouragement from your friends in your old stomping grounds in the Bay Area.
Antonio Fernandez - 12/26/2017 01:18 PM
Mary Ann, thank you for your words; you have reminded us that at Mass we are called to create a common union with Christ and His people, specially with those in need and that appear to be lonely, troubled, different... Thanks! God bless you!
Lisa P - 12/26/2017 09:25 AM
Mary Ann, thank you for your simple yet powerful suggestion that can be carried out by each one of us to create a culture of encountering Christ. We will only know on the other side the extent to which these generative acts of "noticing" and "inviting" open the door to God's grace and healing, as you mentioned. Merry Christmas!

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