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Fostering a Spirit of Welcome During Lent With Paul Jarzembowski

Many Catholics return to church during Lent, and Paul Jarzembowski joins the show to help us better welcome others this season. Paul serves as Associate Director for the Laity at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is the author of “Hope From the Ashes: Insights and Resources for Welcoming Lenten Visitors.

“Lent is the ultimate social experiment,” Paul explains. “We’re all on this journey together, and we’re even journeying with people who don’t practice the faith that much. I think we don’t even realize it. Lent is actually an incredibly social season for being so inwardly focused. It’s quite an outward kind of experience, but we don’t always treat it as such.”

Father Dave affirms this thought and references a recent story about how a man’s conversion and vocation story started with a grilled cheese sandwich during Lent. He says, “It’s underscoring your point – the reasons why we do the things we do aren’t just for me, or even just for us Catholics.”

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Paul agrees and uses Ash Wednesday as an example. “There can be a visual touch point in Lent. That’s a day where we literally are crowded by everybody else in our pews when our churches are overflowing, but even just walking around, there are a lot more people with dirt on their heads on that day. And so you see that, and you start to realize that it’s more than just me, it’s more than just my community,” he says. “It’s more than just Catholics., Ash Wednesday is something that’s experienced by all sorts of Christians. So it really is, in the truest sense of the word, an ecumenical season.”

He continues, “So the challenge, really, is how do we do Lent socially? How do we do Lent beyond ourselves? A lot of that is just simply being more hospitable, more welcoming. Making people feel that they belong where we naturally feel we belong.”

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Father Dave offers a change in our perspective and says, “We should improve ourselves and grow closer to the Lord, but what if we looked at it from a completely different point of view? As opposed to seeing [church] from the point of view of, I’m a guest going to a big wedding reception, what if I thought of myself as on the catering team? Like, I’m getting ready for this thing. People are showing up, we need to be ready.

Paul responds, “I might even push it further and say we’re the host family at the wedding. Like we would if we were bringing guests over to our house, we want to make sure that everything is just right for them. And I think that we don’t recognize how many guests are with us.”

As we see new faces, Paul reminds us to practice compassion. He says, “We kind of get cynical and think, ‘Oh, they’re coming back because they’re suffering from Catholic guilt.’ Or ‘They’re a hypocrite because this is the only time of year they come.’ But many people who gravitate closer to spirituality in Lent are doing it out of a place of some hurt that they need to resolve. There is some sin that they need mercy on, there is a feeling of emptiness [for which] they need some sort of community. So many people who reconnect [with the Church] in Lent, and I think we need to be very patient with [them] too, because if they’re coming in, there may be some vulnerability.”