This is the word that I think best summarizes today’s Gospel. It is also a word that I would like to challenge us as a community to attempt to embrace as we begin this new school year.

Since I have come back from vacation, many of you have said to me “welcome.” “Welcome back” is something that has been said to me many times. So it occurs to me that “welcome” does not mean to just pass through or remain for a short period of time. When I hear “welcome back,” I am hoping that it means for at least a few months or so!!!! When we welcome people to our homes or communities, we do not just let them in the front door, only to show them to the back door. The word “welcome” implies an invitation to stay for a while and join us. The invitation that Jesus gives us is to join Him at His table, share in the Eucharist and be members of His community, the Body of Christ. Once we have accepted His invitation, and become members of His community, the Body of Christ, we too are challenged and called to also be welcoming members of His Body the Church and to extend an enduring invitation to others.

Today, I would like to speak about two different ways that we as a parish community might respond to this call to be welcoming. The first of these is through the Ministry of Greeters and Ushers. The second is by the invitation that we can extend to others by asking them to consider joining our parish community by becoming Catholic through the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults.

When I first arrived at St. Peter’s about four years ago, I mentioned my hope that we could strengthen the ministry of greeters and ushers at St. Peter’s Church. I hoped to establish a ministry of hospitality that I have sometimes encountered at other parishes, where people greet and welcome all who come to church. We have made a good beginning at this effort. When I first asked for volunteers for this ministry, I was amazed that about 10 to 15 people offered to exercise this ministry. But then, as I got to know people here in the parish, I discovered something a little humorous. These 10 or 15 people who signed up to be greeters were the same 10 or 15 people who served as Lectors at Mass and as Ministers of Communion. I almost felt guilty to ask them to hand out music sheets before Mass, run to the front of the church to read, then rush to help with the collection, come back for Communion, and then run back to the doors to pass out the bulletin. As I saw this small group of people doing all this, I eased off on the efforts to really develop this ministry as I saw how much they were already doing at every Mass. I am very grateful to those who have faithfully exercised this ministry for their faithfulness.

It is for that reason that I am hoping today to try again by asking for 8 to 12 new volunteers to think about joining the ministry of Greeters and Ushers. Over the last few months, I have been speaking about Stewardship and the call that is given to all of us to take responsibility for the life of our community. There is a sign-up list at the back of the church and I would like to invite new volunteers to sign-up for this ministry, if you are interested. It is a ministry that is open to men and women of all ages—even to those above the age of 16. With enough volunteers, we should be able to appoint a coordinator for each Mass, and schedule those who exercise this ministry, so that no one feels obliged to exercise this ministry every Sunday. There is a sign-up list at the back of the church and there will be a training workshop for this ministry on Saturday, September 28th at 2:00 pm in the church.

Another way that we as Catholics can welcome people to our Church is by inviting them to join our community of faith. As Catholics, we take the word “welcome” very seriously. For us, “welcome” does not just mean come by and have your wedding here or baptize your child as you pass through on a Sunday. For us, “welcome” means “please join us,” stay with us”—be with us and Jesus here so that we can be together with Him for all eternity in Heaven. In this week’s bulletin, there is a pamphlet on the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults, also known as the R.C.I.A. This is the process and journey of Catechesis and Rites by which a person who is interested in becoming a Catholic, joins our Church. An important part of our faith is the Sunday Eucharist where we worship God and celebrate Christ’s resurrection and victory over death. To be a Christian means to believe that Jesus rose from the dead and to celebrate this from Sunday to Sunday as He has asked us to od “in memory of me”—meaning Him.  Those who wish to join us are welcomed to our Sunday Eucharist and to learn about the faith at our Tuesday night sessions. This process in our parish begins in mid-September and concludes at Pentecost, with the Sacraments of Initiation being celebrated at the Easter Vigil. The Sunday Mass and Tuesday catechetical sessions make up the components of the preparation for becoming Catholic. I would ask you to share this information and pamphlet with anyone you might know who is interested in becoming Catholic and let them know that they would be welcome to join our community here at St. Peter’s Parish.

This week marks a big change for our weekday Mass community. The Centre is now closed to our parish and will re-open after renovations as the Office of Refugees for the Archdiocese, the Office for Catholic Youth, and as the Archives for the Archdiocese and the Loretta Sisters and possible a few other religious communities. As we make this transition, we are going to try and keep the church open Monday to Friday for Eucharistic Adoration (Monday to Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Friday 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.). This will be initially possible because the Archdiocese has temporarily located a computer training lab in the basement of the church and a security guard will be here in the church from Monday to Friday to watch the building. In a year or two, when this computer lab moves back to the renovated centre, the guard will move back to the centre as well. I hope by then, with the Sisters of Life, we can develop a centre for Adoration that will allow us to keep the church open. However, we can only do this while it is safe. Unfortunately, if it appears to be unsafe, we will have to keep the church closed and open it only for Mass. If you wish to see the church remain open for adoration, you are welcome to become one of those who joins us here Monday to Friday for adoration.

Since I have returned from holiday, many of you have said to me, “welcome”, “welcome back.” When I hear these words, I am happy to be here and hope that it means that I am welcome back for a while. When Jesus welcomes us, it is not for a moment. He invites us to stay. As a Christian community, we are to be open to welcome people—not just for a wedding or a baptism—but to become part of us—members. I ask for your help to assist me to extend that enduring welcome by inviting others to join us and stay.

At the beginning of this new school year, I pray that it will be a blessed year for all.

Fr. Michael McGourty,
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto.