All of a sudden, throughout these past few months, the word “hospitality” has left the realm of social anonymity and has become the focus of public discussion. Large migrations of peoples, driven by necessity to the old European Continent, have placed the problem of hospitality at the forefront.
Yet the problem of hospitality regards not only these great events that demand political or social action, but the life of each and every one of us. In order to live together it is necessary to welcome, to accept that others have a space within our own existence —at work, in our neighborhoods, and even in our own families. To welcome, in the end, is to come to terms with the diversity of others. The other, he who is besides me, who enters into my living space, is never as I would like him to be; he cannot be condensed into my image of what he should be like. Yet something always tempts us towards this type of reduction: we would like the other, whom reality places close by, to not be a bother, to not constrain us to change our habits. It’s true: change is at times dramatic and hard to take, but often it is not great changes that bother us. Instead, it is the small daily changes at work or at home. If someone occupies our normal parking space, we get angry, even when there is a free space ten meters off … If a son or daughter has different plans from those which their parents have always thought for them, family life becomes unlivable. If grandpa’ is no longer able to live on his own, few families are willing to bring him home with them. Welcoming frightens us. Diversity frightens us. Why?
What is different disturbs us because it does not fit into our habits or frames of mind. It breaks into our projects of peace and security. The Gospel draws our attention to the risk of pursuing an ideal of peace and security according to our plans in the parable of the rich man who has acquired this type of security. Things are going well and once more the fields have yielded a bountiful harvest. Thus he plans to construct a bigger barn and to live the rest of his days living off the grain stored up. You fool—it is the voice of God speaking — this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Greed is not, as we often think, wanting to have everything for one’s self, but rather an ideal of security in which, just as the rich man in the parable, we try to buildup defenses, schemes, and habits for a life sustained by a false tranquility with no cares, and without pain. We strive to accumulate barriers and filters in order not to suffer, and, in the end, to not have to die. Yet, as the parable says, all these are but vain attempts, “foolish”, as the voice of God says.
Jean Vanier said: “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.”
It is not possible to welcome —at a personal or at a social level— if a source of security in the heart is not present. This source, as the Gospel says, cannot be the fruit of an effort of ours, nor of an ability to defend ourselves, nor of a vain attempt of ours. To welcome means to discover what Someone has already done for us. We were welcomed first, loved first. Our diversity was accepted, it was given a space. There is someone who loves us in this way: this is the only but immense security which no fear can conquer. A security which renders anxiety pointless. Thus one can understand why in the Gospels Jesus places himself at the center of such hospitality: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Mt 25,35). He does this in order to free us from the prison of our anxiety, from the greed that dominates our life. God is supremely different from us, but in learning to welcome by making space for others, we make space for Him: the only true security possible for our heart.

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