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The Church’s Hospitality Problem

Updated: Apr 3

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a hospitality problem.

And in this new apostolic era for the Church, I’m not talking about the important work of

evangelization – for me, my own capacity to overcome my introversion and personally invite

others to the fullness of the Catholic faith.

I’m not even talking about what today increasingly is termed “radical hospitality” – which the

Lewis Center for Church Leadership, affiliated with the United Methodist Church’s Wesley

Theological Seminary, defines as “hospitality that goes beyond being friendly; it is welcoming

guests with a warmth, openness, and authenticity that significantly exceeds expectations.”

No, I’m not talking about radical hospitality. Because, alas, far from exceeding expectations, too

often the people of our parishes, organizations, and ministries cannot be bothered to even meet

the most fundamental expectations of Christian hospitality. Harsh words, I know. But in this

Easter season of joy and celebration, we should soberly reflect on that reality and own it.

When I assert that we have a hospitality problem, I’m referring to the basics. The Benedictines

of Saint Louis Abbey note that the practice of hospitality – not radical hospitality, but just the

elementary kind – “reflects the key concept of encountering Christ in the stranger and the


In our perpetual busyness, many of us in the Church are failing to see and respond to one

another in the simplest, most hospitable, most Christ-like ways. And that – just as much as the

reticence of many of us to actively evangelize by personally inviting others to the Christian life –

is proving disastrous within our communities of faith.

Even worse, it’s not that we are failing to encounter Christ in the stranger; often, we aren’t even

bothering to see the stranger at all.

Allow me to share a few examples from my family’s personal experience:

  • When my younger son was in our parish’s elementary school, he was ill for an extended period. Knowing about my son’s illness but never once expressing any concern about his health, the school sent a tone-deaf form letter to me and my wife that emphasized the importance of our son not being a truant.

  • When that same son, now an adult, registered at his new parish by clicking on a QR code in his parish’s bulletin, he subsequently heard nothing from the parish for two months. No welcome letter from the pastor, no telephone call from a parish member, no Flocknote email, not even an affirmation that his form was successfully submitted. When my son phoned the parish to make sure his QR code-registration had gone through, he was told that people who check the online-giving box when registering via the QR code (as my son did) receive no further communication from the parish. It’s a streamlined process, or something.

  • I can’t count the number of times I have reached out to fellow Catholics – some of whom, ironically, specialize in Catholic communications or evangelization – and I receive no reply from them. A dialogue is invited, but the result is a failed encounter. Such was the case most recently with my hoped-for connection with my parish’s new Communications coordinator. My welcome-to-your-new-role email was met with crickets.

Of course, we need to account for the fact that we humans can be far from perfect sometimes.

Such is the human condition. Personal busyness is usually to blame for missed personal

connections. As Ferris Bueller aptly noted, “Life moves pretty fast.”

But our Risen Savior calls us to a higher standard – and busyness is not an acceptable excuse.

As we rightly continue to emphasize the need for personal invitation, evangelization, and radical

hospitality, let us also please not overlook the basics – even in our technological world – of

taking the time and the effort to see Jesus in our neighbor and to respond hospitably.

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