Father Tony Hernandez, pastor of Transfiguration Church in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y., greets Carmelite Sister Felipa Blasquez, coordinator of the parish’s adult faith formation ministry, following a Spanish-language Mass at the church Feb. 3, 2008.(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

It’s Actually Not That Complicated

The witness of welcoming can bring others to Jesus and the Church

Comments Off on It’s Actually Not That Complicated

The well-known phrase “It’s complicated!” is often heard when a friend, family member or co-worker is describing what’s going wrong or may have gone wrong in a relationship. Whether you’ve become familiar with the phrase through social media or perhaps the romantic comedy movie several years ago that had those exact words as its title, there is a general understanding that the familiar response reflects problems in how we’re treating one another. Answering with the “It’s complicated!” expression is seen as a way to avoid all the gory or dramatic details that may be impacting a marriage, friendship or another close connection that’s not thriving.

Unfortunately, I often hear the same words tossed around when discussing evangelization. However, recent experiences, not to mention reflections from others in ministry, make me realize we make it a lot harder, or think evangelizing is a lot harder, than it has to be.

A case in point would be a story shared by our pastor regarding those who had just gone through OCIA, Order of Christian Initiation of Adults. Our parish follows up the program with several outreach efforts, including asking the new Catholics specific questions about their impressions of their overall OCIA experience, including what they found most helpful during the process.

Almost every person who came into the Catholic Church at our parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2023 had high praises for the instructors and the material provided. But at the top of their list was the love and hospitality they felt. That left the biggest impression on them and encouraged them to keep moving forward in their efforts to join the Faith. Imagine that. While their sessions were informative and instructive, it was the witness of welcoming that sealed the deal. How much more uncomplicated can it get than that?

Our pastor explained that the same response has been received from others walking through our doors. Whether they’re registered parishioners or just visiting, the smiles and the acknowledgment they receive before and after Mass make a real difference. So much so that it has resulted in our parish recruiting more volunteers for the simple and uncomplicated task of saying “hello,” “we’re glad you’re here,” “hope to see you soon,” etc.

While we don’t necessarily need research to remind us of how important warmth and hospitality are, it is available. Several years ago, for example, the Barna Group conducted a survey of spiritual seekers. It was commissioned by United Methodist Communications and found that the top motivators for choosing a church are knowing that everyone will be welcomed, new relationships would be formed and current relationships nurtured. Those surveyed were in the 25-to-49-age group. That age group is a prime demographic for all faiths, especially several years post-COVID-19, as the Catholic Church, along with a long list of Protestant denominations, is still working to get believers back in the pews. Those involved in the survey were not affiliated with a specific church but considered themselves “spiritual and seeking meaning in their lives,” with nearly 75% stating that having friendly and welcoming people could likely influence their attendance. Again, not exactly rocket science.

Getting back to the basics of uncomplicated hospitality is key. It’s also extremely scriptural. One of my favorite verses in the New Testament is Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”

We all know that despite how involved in ministry we may be, or how well-educated we are when it comes to all things Catholic, we must continually open the door of our hearts to Jesus, to build our relationship with him and continue with the mission of making disciples. When we’re hospitable, welcoming and loving toward Jesus, the return on that holy investment is off the charts. Jesus also told us in Matthew’s Gospel that by welcoming others we’re welcoming him.

“Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Mt 25:45).

So many people in our world are struggling with loneliness, depression, suicidal thoughts or are merely in need of some encouragement. It may seem rather trite, but even just starting with the simple and, yes, uncomplicated effort of welcoming people through the doors of our parishes with plenty of smiles to go around could be the first of many uncomplicated steps toward helping them develop a relationship with Jesus and his Church — and, in turn, building up the body of Christ. No wonder St. Mother Teresa said, “Peace begins with a smile.” 

TERESA TOMEO is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95). She is married to Deacon Dom Pastore, an ordained deacon in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe now.
Send feedback to us at thedeacon@osv.com