I like to joke with the secretary here at my parish. Actually, she is more than a secretary; she is a receptionist and administrative assistant all in one. And I like to tell her she has more authority in the Church than the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Has the Pope ever told someone that he or she cannot obtain a sponsor’s certificate? Has the Pope ever had to tell someone that the day he or she would like to have a Mass intention for a loved one is not available? Has the Pope ever told someone that the gym is already taken for another function?
The answer to all of these questions is no. The Holy Father leads the entire 1.1 billion-member Roman Catholic Church. But our parish secretary is the one who is able to directly help people fulfill their everyday needs as Catholics living their Faith. So, in a real sense, she has more authority because she is directly involved in the lives of all of our parishioners who come calling or knocking at our doors.
Whoever answers the phone or greets someone at the door of the church office has a very important role in any parish. Our secretary here at Immaculate Conception in Willoughby, Ohio, is frequently the first person that someone new to the parish speaks with. We know that the first pillar of stewardship is hospitality. The first inquiry that someone makes at the parish ought to be met with a great deal of welcoming and hospitality. The way each one of us answers the phone or doorbell tells a lot about how we practice stewardship in the office or at home, doesn’t it?
A few years ago after Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen as Pope, I wrote a letter to the Holy Father inviting him to come to our Oktoberfest in July and (more importantly) assuring him of our prayers for him. He did not come, nor do I think he will ever set foot on our parish property. But you and I are the everyday face of the Church to everyone we meet at our parishes. Next time you see someone new who especially looks like they don’t know anyone, like after Mass or at coffee and donuts, why not use your authority as a member of your community to greet that person and welcome him or her to your parish?