Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics

Jean Vanier: On Love and Community

I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.

Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don’t talk about it; they are the ones who make a community live.

Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.

Community is only being created when we have recognized that the greatness of man is to accept his insignificance, his human condition and his earth, and to thank God for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness. The beauty of man is in this fidelity to the wonder of each day.

If we are to grow in love, the prisons of our egoism must be unlocked. This implies suffering, constant effort and repeated choices.

When people love each other, they are content with very little. When we have light and joy in our hearts, we don’t need material wealth. The most loving communities are often the poorest.

Jesus is the starving, the parched, the prisoner, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the dying. Jesus is the oppressed, the poor. To live with Jesus is to live with the poor. To live with the poor is to live with Jesus.

All of us have a secret desire to be seen as saints, heroes, martyrs. We are afraid to be children, to be ourselves.

A Christian community should do as Jesus did: propose and not impose. Its attraction must lie in the radiance cast by the love of brothers.

People cannot accept their own evil if they do not at the same time feel loved, respected and trusted.

It is only when we stand up, with all our failings and sufferings, and try to support others rather than withdraw into ourselves, that we can fully live the life of community.

We have to remind ourselves constantly that we are not saviours. We are simply a tiny sign, among thousands of others, that love is possible, that the world is not condemned to a struggle between oppressors and oppressed, that class and racial warfare is not inevitable.

The response to war is to live like brothers and sisters. The response to injustice is to share. The response to despair is a limitless trust and hope. The response to prejudice and hatred is forgiveness. To work for community is to work for humanity. To work for peace is to work for a true political solution; it is to work for the Kingdom of God. It is to work to enable every one to live and taste the secret joys of the human person united to the eternal.

The poor are always prophetic. As true prophets always point out, they reveal God’s design. That is why we should take time to listen to them. And that means staying near them, because they speak quietly and infrequently; they are afraid to speak out, they lack confidence in themselves because they have been broken and oppressed. But if we listen to them, they will bring us back to the essential.

A community that is growing rich and seeks only to defend its goods and its reputation is dying. It has ceased to grow in love. A community is alive when it is poor and its members feel they have to work together and remain united, if only to ensure that they can all eat tomorrow!

A growing community must integrate three elements: a life of silent prayer, a life of service and above all of listening to the poor, and a community life through which all its members can grow in their own gift.

Love is what we want, yet it is what we fear the most. Love makes us vulnerable and open, but then we can be hurt through rejection and separation. We may crave for love, but then be frightened of losing our liberty and creativity. We want to belong to a group, but we fear a certain death in the group because we may not be seen as unique. We want love, but fear the dependence and commitment it implies…

Sometimes it is easier to hear the cries of poor people who are far away than it is to hear the cries of our brothers and sisters in our own community. There is nothing very splendid in responding to the cry of the person who is with us day after day and who gets on our nerves. Perhaps too we can only respond to the cries of others when we have recognized and accepted the cry of our own pain.

I am told that there is a Chinese word for ‘crisis’ which means ‘opportunity and danger’. Every tension, every crisis can become a source of new life if we approach it wisely, or it can bring death and division.”

Militants for a cause will tend to be organized for a struggle which they hope to win; they will seek to impose their way aggressively. Frequently they seek outward change more than inward change.

As long as there are fears and prejudices in the human heart, there will be war and bitter injustice. It is only when hearts are healed, and become loving and open, that the great political problems will be solved.

The response to war is to live like brothers and sisters. The response to injustice is to share. The response to despair is a limitless trust and hope. The response to prejudice and hatred is forgiveness. To work for community is to work for humanity.

Copyright 1989 Jean Vanier. These quotations are drawn from his book Community and Growth.

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Jean Vanier (born 1928) is a Canadian Catholic philosopher, theologian and humanitarian. He founded L’Arche in 1964, an international federation of communities spread over 35 countries for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. Subsequently in 1971, he co-founded Faith and Light which also works for people with developmental disabilities, their family and friends in over 80 countries. He continues to live as a member of the original L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France. In 2015, he won the Templeton Prize.

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One comment on “Jean Vanier: On Love and Community

  1. anisioluiz2008
    December 11, 2016

    Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.

    Like

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This entry was posted on December 11, 2016 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry, Social Justice, War and Peace and tagged , , .
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