The Lord speaks to our hearts in innumerable ways, and delighting the senses is an ideal way to evangelize through hospitality. Imagine flying ten hours overseas with overcoming jet lag heavy on your mind. Now imagine biting into a soft, buttery pastry called cornetto (an Italian twist on a French croissant, often filled with hazelnut-flavored chocolate) followed by a sip of steamy hot, dark-as-night espresso. Suddenly, jet lag seems like a far off memory.
This Italian breakfast was served to me and about twenty-five other friends and family members, in the home of a young couple who moved from America to Rome nine years ago (John and Ashley Noronha). A group of us traveled to Rome the day before to attend my future brother-in-law’s Diaconate Ordination later that week at St. Peter’s Basilica. When I heard that his family was invited to an Italian home for breakfast, I thought it was a kind gesture for this couple to welcome us. Later, I learned that this invitation was not just for his immediate family of four, but for all of those who traveled to Rome for his ordination. We wondered how they were going to fit nearly thirty people in their Italian apartment while making and serving coffee and breakfast for all of us; but they insisted, and in our weariness, we were not about to turn down such a thoughtful invitation.
The Holiness of Delight
As we walked to the couple’s apartment, we were greeted by one of our hosts, John, who was walking up to the front gate with a large box of freshly baked cornetti in his hands. His wife, Ashley, welcomed us at the door downstairs and led us up to their living room where the sound of soft music, the scent of fresh flowers on their table, and a colorful spread of cornetti, fruit, Italian cured meat, juice, and espresso awakened our tired senses.
The couple’s home was made warm by their loving welcome, great attention to detail, and attentiveness to their guests. Even before stepping into their home, I felt a sense of comfort just by seeing their smiling faces. Why did they show so much genuine interest in each of us and go out of their way to prepare their home to welcome us? Why, on a work day, did they offer their time to show us care and love?
How to Evangelize Through Hospitality
A few days after the ordination, I saw John and Ashley at Mass, and afterward I thanked them again for their generous hospitality. Ashley told me that showing hospitality is what they love to do and that it is part of their family mission as a couple. She shared about the charism of hospitality that they wrote for their family, which is: “To offer a place of warmth and welcome where the visitor – Christ – can discuss any topic in an atmosphere filled with Christ’s love. We pray for all who enter our home.”
She also shared with me their entire mission statement: “Simplicitas et Humilitas cum Compassio et Cartias, cum Delectatio” which means, “Simplicity, Humility, Charity, and Compassion…with Delight.”
Through the living out of this charism and mission, I saw how John and Ashley evangelize through hospitality. I experienced their love for Christ through the love they showed for us and their ability to see Christ in each of us.
To detach themselves from worldly things that are not of God, while keeping at the forefront of their minds Philippians 4:11-13, which speaks of knowing one’s strength because of Christ who empowers us and provides all we need.
While at their apartment, never for a moment did I feel that there was an object in their home too valuable or too fragile to touch. Through their gentleness, they opened their home as though it were my own. Your home and life do not have to be fancy in order to evangelize through hospitality.
To embrace authentic humility by acknowledging their gifts and talents and responding to these strengths with a spirit of thanksgiving and deep gratitude.
The couple showed great humility during our visit. One of the very first things they did after we settled into their living room was to share with us a brief introduction of who they are and what they do. This was immediately followed by a question of my brother-in-law’s parents, asking them to share with the group what it is like to have raised a son who is entering the Priesthood. They were genuinely curious and interested in their guests. They desired to hear how God has made His love and presence known in the lives of other families.
To nurture a spirit of loving neighbor through their Love of God, based on the theme of their wedding, “As I have loved you” (John 13:34) and “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Their charity was made evident by how they took sincere interest in each person who entered their apartment.
To offer both sympathy and empathy as they treat others as they themselves would like to be treated.
As I watched John and Ashley interact with their guests, I read compassion on their faces as they reacted to the trials their visitors spoke about. They opened their doors and their hearts to evangelize through hospitality.
To delight in each other and radiate the joy and happiness that comes from the reason for our hope.
John and Ashley were so excited to hear about the fast-approaching wedding of myself and my fiancé. I could see the joy and love that John and Ashley had for one another. They enthusiastically expressed how amazing the call to the vocation to marriage is, and in their joy, they radiated Christ’s love. It made us even more excited for the Sacrament of Marriage!
Show the Love of Jesus
Pope Saint John Paul II encourages us to evangelize through hospitality by pointing to 1 Peter 3:15-16:
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.
This young couple concludes their mission statement with the same idea: to give others the reason for their hope (this reason being Christ and the Church). They have heeded John Paul II’s words when he said:
Only those who have opened their hearts to Christ can offer a hospitality that is never formal or superficial, but identified by ‘gentleness’ and ‘reverence’.
John and Ashley welcomed us into their home, while giving us ample reason for their hope, simply by virtue of who they are as individuals and as a couple. They welcomed each visitor with the goal of showing reverence to them as they would show reverence to Christ. By seeing Christ in each visitor, the couple pointed us toward Jesus, helping each one of us grow in awareness of the deep love He has for us.
In the comments below, tell us about a time when you received the love of Christ through the hospitality of another!
Susanna Bolle serves as Evangelization Manager for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the Office of Evangelization. She is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program with the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. When she’s not reading and writing you can find her enjoying life with her new husband, brewing French press coffee in her kitchen, reading wine labels with friends in an effort to discover the perfect Pinot Noir and blogging about her travel adventures. You can learn more about her here.