An excerpt from Jean Vanier’s book Community & Growth:
To welcome is one of the signs of true human and Christian maturity.
It is not only to open one’s door and one’s home to someone. It is to give space to someone in one’s heart, space for that person to be and to grow; space where the person knows that he or she is accepted just as they are, with their wounds and their gifts.
That implies the existence of a quiet and peaceful place in the heart where people can find a resting place. If the heart is not peaceful, it cannot welcome.
* [I want to add a little note here on the subject of having a peaceful heart: Plato suggested a metaphor for the mind—that our ideas are like birds fluttering around in our brains... but in order for the birds to ever settle, we need periods of calm and quiet, solitude and reflection.]
To welcome is to be open to reality as it is, with the least possible filtering.
I have discovered that I have many filters within my own self where I select and modify the reality I want to welcome: the reality of the world, of people, of God and of the Word of God. I select what pleases me, boosts my ego and gives me a sense of worth. I reject that which causes inner pain or disturbance or a feeling of helplessness; that which may bring up guilt feelings or anger or a broken sexuality. We all have filters created from our early childhood, protecting our vulnerable hearts and minds. To grow is to let go of these filters and to welcome the reality that is given, no longer through preconceived ideas, theories, prejudgments or prejudices or through our wounded emotions, but just as it is. Thus, we are in truth and no longer in a world of illusions.
It is not surprising that Jesus comes under the guise of a stranger: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” The stranger is a person who is different, from another culture or another faith; the stranger disturbs because he or she cannot enter into our patterns of thought or our ways of doing things.
To welcome is to make the stranger feel at home, at ease, and that means not exercising any judgment or preconceived ideas, but rather giving space to be.
Once we have made the effort of welcoming and excepting the disturbance, we discover a friend; we live a moment of communion, a new peace; a presence of God is given.
The stranger is frequently prophetic; he or she breaks down our barriers and our fears, or else makes us conscious that they are there and may even strengthen them.
It is always a risk to welcome anyone and particularly the stranger. It is always disturbing. But didn’t Jesus come precisely to disturb our routines, comforts, and apathy? We need constant challenge if we are not to become dependent on security and comfort, if we are to continue to progress from the slavery of sin and egoism toward the promised land of liberation.
Welcome is one of the signs that a community is alive.
To invite others to live with us is a sign that we aren’t afraid, that we have a treasure of truth and peace to share. If a community is closing its doors, that is a sign that hearts are closing as well.