An authentic ministry of welcome

It is always strange to me when people ask my permission to attend Mass. This sometimes happens when non-Catholics are impressed by a Requiem Mass, a Baptism or a Wedding (we should always remember that these are occasions of evangelisation.) It also happens when Catholics wonder if they are "allowed" to come to Mass - probably because they have read in some liberal paper somewhere that the Church has "excluded" them.

Brandon Vogt, on his excellent blog has a striking parish bulletin announcement which I rather like (though I would not want it to be accompanied by the dreadful "All Are Welcome" hymn):
“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts…and you!”
I expect Brandon has to put up with people saying how young he looks. I remember that from my early years in the priesthood. Once I took one of my elder sisters around a mental hospital of which I was chaplain (this odd-sounding tour is explained by the fact that she is a consultant psychiatrist.) At one of the wards, a senior nurse said how young I looked. In the corridor afterwards, my sister murmured "They used to say that to me as a doctor. After a while they stop saying it."

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