Inspiration
The Impossible

We say there is an impossible gap between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, between the walls created between groups of people. And because we say it is impossible, we close up and say our world is doomed to warfare. But we are not doomed to warfare. What is important is that each one of us finds a place of hope -- that spark hidden in our person, sometimes hidden behind the walls.

Jean Vanier, Address to the Business Community, April 05

Then We Begin to Understand...

Then, we begin to understand that we ourselves are not perfect either, and never will be! We too have our share in wrongdoing: we have wounded our parents, our children, our husband, our wife and our friends. When we realize this, we do not have to condemn ourselves but rather to learn to accept our own poverty and inner brokenness.

Jean Vanier, Seeing Beyond Depression, p. 71

The Poor at the Heart of Celebration

At the heart of celebration are the poor. If the least significant is excluded, it is no longer a celebration. We have to find dances and games in which the children, the old people and the weak can join equally. A celebration must always be a festival of the poor, and with the poor, not for the poor.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth , p. 319

Laughter

Laughter is the greatest of relaxations. And there is something funny about humanity. Little as we are, poor as we are, we are called to be brothers and sisters of God. It seems so ludicrous and wonderful, so crazy and so ecstatic. Everything seems upside down!

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 317

Meet Father Thomas Philippe, Mentor of Jean Vanier

Father Thomas Philippe was born on 18 March 1905 near Lille in France. He grew up in a family of 12 children of whom seven became members of a religious order. As he will say after 60 years of religious life, “my sacerdotal vocation goes back to the day of my first communion when I was only six years old”. Driven by this desire, he entered the Dominican order at the age of 18, took his vows a year later and was ordained priest on 25 July 1929. Father Thomas Philippe taught theology in the Dominican faculties of theology in Rome, and became the rector of one of them in 1941. After the war, he gathered around him a group of students from different countries and started a community called “Eau vive” (Living Waters) in Paris. It was the theological and spiritual formation that Jean Vanier had sought when he joined this group in 1950. Father Thomas described his coming to Trosly in 1963: “After many different services and hardships of all kinds, God led me to Trosly to be with people with an intellectual disability; those who are poor in their head, in their person, but who have such a love for Jesus”. He became the chaplain for the "Val Fleuri", an institution for about thirty people with an intellectual disability in the village of Trosly Breuil, in the Oise region of France. He invited Jean Vanier to visit him there and encouraged him to “do something” for these people. A year later, in August 1964, Jean Vanier, founded L’Arche. In 1971, Père Thomas founded “La Ferme”, a place of prayer and welcome set in the heart of the community. He celebrated the Eucharist there every day. He counselled and accompanied people from L’Arche, and many others who came for his help. “After sixty years of priesthood, I am pleased to notice that it is amongst them that I have been able to be the apostle of the Holy Preaching which comes right from the heart and which is addressed to the heart”. Father Thomas remained the priest of L’Arche Trosly until the end of his life. He died on 4 February 1993, and is buried near the chapel at La Ferme in Trosly Breuil. Note: Quotations are taken and translated from a speech given for his 60th anniversary of priesthood (see La Maison Thomas Philippe).

The Human Heart

Love can never be static. A human heart is either progressing or regressing. If it is not becoming more open, it is closing and withering spiritually.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 267

The Gift of Listening

This is an important gift in community. But if we are able to listen, we must offer security. An assurance of confidentiality is an essential part of being a listener. This means knowing how to respect the wounds and the sufferings of others and not divulging these.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 253

The Point of Community

We must always remember; a community is never an end in itself; it is each individual person who is important. And people can grow in holiness and communion with God in the midst of a broken, dying community, and through persecutions of all kinds.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 234

The Scandal of Service

“The fact that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet may seem to some people a simple, ordinary gesture; to others it is something shocking and challenging. In L’Arche we consider the washing of the feet to be an important and highly significant act.” The Scandal of Service is a meditation on what Jesus did at the Last Supper when he laid his outer clothing aside and washed and dried his disciples’ feet, a task ordinarily performed by the lowly household slave. Jean Vanier pursues the connection of this gesture of humility and service to Jesus’ actions at the Supper with the bread and wine, to the beatitudes and the rule of God in Jesus’ ministry, and to the actions of Judas and Peter at the end of Jesus’ life. In calling us to follow Jesus’ example Vanier invites us to break down the barriers that separate human beings and to put ourselves at the service of the weakest among us. This book speaks to all who want the teaching of Jesus to be sewn into the fabric of their daily lives.

The Scandal of Service, Softcover; Novalis, 1996; Pp86, Jean Vanier

A Circle

A good leader will not exercise authority from 'the top'. The diagram for community is not a pyramid but a circle. A community leader leads with others. The pyramid is the diagram for an army or for industry.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 228

Ways of Exercising Authority

There are different ways of exercising authority and command: the military model, the industrial model and the community model. The general's goal is victory; the factory manager's goal is profit. The goal of the leader of a community is the growth of individuals in love and truth.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 212

Grace

I am a great believer in the grace that is given to carry out a mission or to assume a function. God will always come to the aid of people in authority if they are humble and try in truth to serve. To really understand that becomes very liberating for leaders, who then do not have to carry all the worries of the world.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 209

Our Calling

L'Arche is called to be a prophetic place of peace and reconciliation. This is our call and our gift. And our beloved God will give us the nourishment we need as he gave it to his people in the desert with the gift of manna and of water springing from the rock. If we cry out in pain God will feed us.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 204

Seeing

The question is not just believing in God, but believing in human people, believing in ourselves, believing in ourselves as children of God called to see people as God sees them, not as we would like them to be.

Jean Vanier, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, PBS, May 26, 2006

Growth and Patience

One of the best resources is the feeling that we are growing and making progress. We can get discouraged if we think we are at a standstill. But we also have to be patient when we feel we are not growing. In winter, it seems that the trees aren’t growing; they are waiting for the sun; they have to be pruned. So we need reminding too of the value of waiting.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 182

Love is Necessary

Community life demands that we constantly go beyond our own resources. If we do not have the spiritual nourishment we need, we will close in on ourselves and on our own comfort and security, or throw ourselves into work as an escape. We will throw up walls around our sensitivity; we will perhaps be polite and obedient, but we will not love. And when you do not love, there is no hope and no joy.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 168

Community Gatherings

Every community gathering must be carefully prepared, whether it is a meal, a liturgy, a weekend, a sharing or a holiday celebration. Each of these can be an occasion of wonder and awe. When something unexpected happens during a celebration - as it often does - we become conscious of a moment of grace for the community and a moment of the presence of God, a deeper silence; our hearts are touched.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 171

Nourished ...

Each individual person in a community must be nourished in love. If not, he or she will sooner or later find him or herself in opposition to the life of the community and its demands of love and of forgiveness. These people then become like dead weights. They tend to pull the community down; they criticize decisions; they drain away joy.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 166

Cry of the Poor

Sometimes during a meeting of the International Council of L'Arche, we speak of one of our communities as a problem. It has been in crisis for such a long time; assistants do not want to stay and the people with a handicap are not well, and so on. We forget that before being a problem, the community is poor and in pain. In some mysterious way God is present there. The cry of a community in pain is also the cry of the poor. We must approach such a community with great love and respect.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 156

Insecurity

A French civil servant said to me, "What you are doing is certainly very fine and I'm sure it is the ideal situation for handicapped people, but it depends completely on the motivation of the assistants. Does the government have a right to invest in a place which could disappear completely the day it can't find assistants who want to live that way? What guarantees can you give me?" Of course, I had none. But insecurity is one of the only guarantees that a community will go on deepening and progressing and remain faithful.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.149

Celebration

Celebration expresses the true meaning of community in a concrete and tangible way. So it is an essential element in community life. Celebration sweeps away the irritations of daily life; we forget our little quarrels. The aspect of ecstasy in a celebration unites our hearts; a current of life goes through us all. Celebration is a moment of wonder when the joy of the body and the senses are linked to the joy of the spirit. It unites everything that is most human and most divine in community life. ... the harder and more irksome our daily life, the more our hearts need these moments of celebration and wonder. We need times when we all come together to give thanks, sing, dance, and enjoy special meals. Each community, like each people, needs its festival liturgy.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 315

A Feast of Unity and Fun

I love chapter two of the Gospel of John when Jesus brings the disciples to a wedding feast. It is a wonderful moment of relaxation and enjoyment, showing us that our life is to be enjoyed, and that we are all called to a feast.

Jean Vanier in "Living Gently in a Violent World," p. 22

Unity in Community

Is the L'Arche community made up above all of assistants with similar motivations who freely choose to come, or is it above all the people in need who did not have this free choice but were placed? We do not want two communities - the helpers and the helped - we want one. That is the theory, but there is a tendency for the assistants to make their own community. Truly to make community with the poorest is harder and demands a certain death to self.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.91

An Imperfect Community

A community that is committed to itself - to appearing perfect, stable and secure - rather than to people, to their growth and inner freedom, is like a person giving an address who is more interested in the beauty and coherence of the talk rather than in whether the audience can hear and understand it. It is like a beautiful liturgy that nobody can follow and during which people have difficulty praying.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.20

Belonging

The longer we journey on the road to inner healing and wholeness, the more the sense of belonging grows and deepens. The sense is not just one of belonging to others and to a community. It is a sense of belonging to the universe, to the earth, to the air, to the water, to everything that lives, to all humanity. If the community gives a sense of belonging, it also helps us to accept our aloneness in a personal meeting with God. Through this, the community is open to the universe and to humankind.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.17

A Challenge to become open

Tensions may arise from the fact that some people are too set in their opinions. With time, these people become more open and discover that reality has other dimensions. Their vision is modified and the tensions disappear. That is why we have to be patient with tensions and not always seek a speedy resolution.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.123

Peace is Our Problem

Peace is not just a problem for political leaders, it is our problem. Peace comes when we live in truth and accept who we are, with our strengths and weaknesses, and when we help others with their strengths and weaknesses to do the same. Peace also comes as we realize that we are not alone. God is with us, like a friend [and] is guiding us. And so in the midst of all our difficulties we can give thanks!

Jean Vanier Letter, June 2006

The Power of Love

I am touched by the stories of young men and women who have been in L'Arche for three or four years living in a house with [people with intellectual disabilities]. So many affirm that they have been transformed by the people they live with, by their simplicity, their trust....In spite of the difficulties, I can truly bear witness to the power of love that attracts many assistants and anchors them in L'Arche.... There is something that reveals to them the fundamental beauty of their humanity.

Jean Vanier Letter to My Brothers and Sisters in L'Arche (1996) Introduction p. 13

Caring for the treasure and for ourselves

Every day I realize more how precious L’Arche is for us as well as for our societies and our churches and religions. [In the richness and mutuality of our relationships together with people who have intellectual disabilities] we hold a treasure which God has put into our hands to manage and which I believe is a source of healing for many. It is important, therefore, for us to find encouragement and strength to continue.

Jean Vanier, Letter to My Brothers and Sisters in L’Arche (1996) Introduction p. 5

Prayer

Praying is like opening of a door to something which gives meaning to all the pain of the finite. And yet it's something we can just rest in. I think fundamentally, prayer is to rest.

Jean Vanier, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, PBS, May 26, 2006

Awakening the beautiful

Power and strength can separate people; whereas weakness and recognition of weakness and the cry for help brings people together. When you are weak, you need people. It's very easy. When you are strong you don't need people, you can do everything on your own. So, somewhere the weak person calls people together. And when the weak call forth the strong, what happens is they awaken what is most beautiful in a human person--compassion, goodness, openness to another and so on. Our weakness brings people together.

Jean Vanier Belonging: The Search for Acceptance Windborne Production Video

Power and Masks

When people have power, they put on masks. When they put on masks, they hide their center from others and from themselves. They hide their source from themselves and from others. They hide their cry from others because somewhere they are inserted in society and they have their place and they are recognized in their power. So they wear a mask because they have a position to defend. Often their function is their mask. But when you are dying, you have no mask. It is a pity that we have to wait until our last breath to accept who we are!

Jean Vanier,

The Smallest Gift

Even the littlest and weakest person has a gift for the community, and that gift must be honored. Each one of us is very different one from the other. But all together we are like a symphony, an orchestra; all together we make a beautiful bouquet of flowers. That means, however, that we must learn to live difference, to see it as a treasure and not as a threat.

Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.44

Celebration

We must learn to celebrate. I say learn to celebrate, because celebration is not just a spontaneous event. We have to discover what celebration is. Our world doesn't know much about celebration. We know quite a bit about parties, where we are artificially stimulated with alcohol to have fun. We know what movies and distractions are. But do we know what celebration is? Do we know how to celebrate our togetherness, our being one body? Do we really know how to use all that is human and divine to celebrate together?

Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.45

Community is Not an Abstract Ideal

Community is not an ideal; it is people. It is you and I. In community we are called to love people just as they are with their wounds and their gifts, not as we would want them to be. It is giving each other freedom; it is giving each other trust; it is confirming but also challenging each other.

Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.35

Preconceived Idea

Some of the men and women I have been living with for a number of years now are still in quite deep anguish. They are more peaceful than they were, but there are still moments when anguish surges up in them. The essentials at such moments is to walk with them, accepting them just as they are, to allow them to be themselves. It is important for them to know that they can be themselves, that even though there are wounds, and pain in them, they are loved. It is a liberating experience for them to realize they do not have to conform to any preconceived idea about how they should be.

Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.17

Belonging Together

Living with men and women with intellectual disabilities has helped me to discover what it means to live in communion with someone. To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together. Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and their capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain.

Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.16

Our hope and vision must be rooted in the present

So much suffering comes from disappointment. We wait for something which we believe will bring us happiness, and it does not arrive. We see only the negative things that have come our way - illness, a child with a handicap - and we close up in anger and rebellion. Human wisdom means coming back down to earth; not closing ourselves up in a beautiful ideal which we must attain, but welcoming reality just as it is; discovering God present in reality; not struggling against reality, but working with it; discovering the seed of life, the possibilities hidden in it. Of course we must have a vision for the future and focus on it, we must have a plan, and be aware of and responsible for the future, but our hope and vision must be rooted in the present. This is Buddhist wisdom, but also Christian - to discover God in the present moment, to be a friend of time and of reality.

Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, pp. 165-166

Celebration

Celebration expresses the true meaning of community in a concrete and tangible way. So it is an essential element in community life. Celebration sweeps away the irritations of daily life; we forget our little quarrels. The aspect of ecstasy in a celebration unites our hearts; a current of life goes through us all. Celebration is a moment of wonder when the joy of the body and the senses are linked to the joy of the spirit. It unites everything that is most human and most divine in community life. ... the harder and more irksome our daily life, the more our hearts need these moments of celebration and wonder. We need times when we all come together to give thanks, sing, dance, and enjoy special meals. Each community, like each people, needs its festival liturgy.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 315

Guardian of unity

The leader is the guardian of unity. He or she must thirst for unity and work for it day and night. For this, the leader must not fear conflict, but rather accept it and strive to be an instrument of reconciliation; the leader must be in contact with all the different elements in the community, and particularly with those who are in pain or who are angry with the community.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 215

Breaking out of the shell of selfishness

It takes time to grow to a maturity of the heart. ... Little by little, as we live and work with others, especially if we are well-guided, we learn to break out of the shell of selfishness and self-centredness where we seek to be brilliant and to prove our goodness, wisdom and power. We receive and give the knocks of life. We all have to discover that there are others like us who have gifts and needs; no one of us is the centre of the world. We are a small but important part in our universe. We all have a part to play. We need one another.

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, pp. 58-59

Hidden Beauty

The belief in the inner beauty of each and every human being is at the heart of L'Arche, at the heart of all true education and at the heart of being human. As soon as we start selecting and judging people instead of welcoming them as they are - with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses - we are reducing life, not fostering it. When we reveal to people our belief in them, their hidden beauty rises to the surface where it may be more clearly seen by all.

- Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 23

Easter Gathering with young Jean Vanier.

“In April 1950, after a voyage to Cuba on exercises with the US Navy, the Maggie put into New York. At the time Jean Vanier was reading Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain. Discovering how much the author had been influenced by Friendship House, founded by Catherine Doherty in Harlem for the city’s down-and-outs, he telephoned the community and spent all his free time in New York with the occupants. He was deeply and spontaneously drawn to their life amongst the poor black Americans. They had a large store from where they distributed food and clothing. They themselves lived very simply in two apartments. On Easter Day Jean Vanier took them a large leg of lamb and at one point invited them all to come and eat in the officers’ dining room on board the Magnificent. Fifteen men and women in varying states of poor attire formed a curious gathering in such formal surroundings but one very much in the spirit of the gospels.” (pp. 28-29)

Kathryn Spink, in her book, The Miracle, the Message, the Story: Jean Vanier and L’Arche (Novalis, 2007), gives another account of Jean’s first visit to Friendship House

Basic

The desire to be loved as a person, as someone unique, is at the source of the person's development and at the source of all self-esteem.

The Paradox of Disability, p.20

The Child within

The child inside of us, the child which is called to trust, to sing, to dance, to look at other people without fear and without wanting to control is not alive. So it's true that our society is killing children. We do not allow children to be themselves but we prepare them for power.

Jean Vanier, Man Alive, CBC, March 1992

Just as You Are

The ideal doesn't exist. The personal equilibrium and the harmony people dream of come only after years and years of struggle, and then only as flashes of grace and peace. Peace is the fruit of love and service to others. I'd like to tell the people in communities, "Stop looking for peace. Give yourselves where you are. Stop looking at yourselves, look instead at your brothers and sisters in need. Ask how you can better love your brothers and sisters. Then you will find peace."

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.34

The one who is poorest is not the one that we think is the poorest.

Is it possible to discover that I am more governed by my fears than by anything else? I don't want to hear the cry of the poor because if I do, I will have to change. And, I will not know what to do. I will feel lost and not know what to do--a feeling of complete inadequacy and powerlessness. And this will reveal to me that I have everything except the essential. I have friends, I have money, power, knowledge; but I do not have the capacity to share, to listen and to love. Not only do I feel helpless but I discover that maybe I'm all wrong, that all my values are upside down. I suddenly discover that I am not so good and, finally, that I am more governed by fear than by anything else. I begin to put my finger on the fear, and out of that culture which told me that I must be the best, I discover that the poor are teaching me that I am poor.

Jean Vanier

Am I a Peacemaker?

We become peacemakers when we are no longer struggling for power, to be at the top, but just working to serve each other... We cannot all do big things, but all of us can kneel at each other's feet and say, "I trust you and I believe in you."

Jean Vanier: Encountering 'the Other' p 58

What People Need

There is something intolerable about pain and suffering when we cannot cure the person. No one wants to be with people in pain, unless they can do something to alleviate the pain...When all is said and done, in L'Arche there are no cures. What people need when all the therapy has been tried is a friend who is faithful, who stands by them, a loving milieu where they are respected as full human beings.... "

Jean Vanier, Letter to My Brothers and Sisters in L’Arche (1996) Introduction p. 11

The Gift of Our Deepest Being

When so-called normal people become adolescents and adults, rational language frequently takes precedence over the language of communion. Communion can become a bit frightening because it implies vulnerability and the gift of self. Communion is not just a passing emotional experience in the child, but an experience which is written into each person’s story. It is the gift of our deepest being and calls for continuity and fidelity. Words are necessary to articulate this.

Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p.41

A Privilege

Over the past forty years I have learned the transforming power of people with disabilities. I don't live all the time in a home anymore. I have a little place outside. But I have the privilege of eating all my meals in a home with people with disabilities.... A lot of people know how to drink whiskey and go to the cinemas, but they don't know how to celebrate. To celebrate is to say we are happy together.

Jean Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World. pp. 73-74

Caring for the treasure and for ourselves

Every day I realize more how precious L’Arche is for us as well as for our societies and our churches and religions. [In the richness and mutuality of our relationships together with people who have intellectual disabilities] we hold a treasure which God has put into our hands to manage and which I believe is a source of healing for many. It is important, therefore, for us to find encouragement and strength to continue.

Jean Vanier Letter to My Brothers and Sisters in L’Arche (1996) Introduction p. 5

Superficiality

The value of efficiency, power, money and pleasure have become all-important in our world today. They tend to eliminate the values of compassion, humility and presence to the powerless. The mass media nourish and encourage this vision rooted in force, in which exteriority and appearance are more important than interiority and being. We constantly need people to remind us of where true inner freedom and peace are to be found.

Jean Vanier, An Ark for the Poor, p.101

Community Gatherings

Every community gathering must be carefully prepared, whether it is a meal, a liturgy, a weekend, a sharing or a holiday celebration. Each of these can be an occasion of wonder and awe. When something unexpected happens during a celebration - as it often does - we become conscious of a moment of grace for the community and a moment of the presence of God, a deeper silence; our hearts are touched.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 171

Prayer

Praying is like opening of a door to something which gives meaning to all the pain of the finite. And yet it's something we can just rest in. I think fundamentally, prayer is to rest.

Jean Vanier, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, PBS, May 26, 2006

A New Form of Family

God wanted L'Arche to be a new form of family: a family of the poor that rises above prejudice and fear of difference, a family witnessing that the only way to build peace and unity is to recognize our own poverty and our need for others

Jean Vanier, An Ark for the Poor, p.11

A Journey Towards Openness

What sort of society do we want? There are, for me, a few principles. A society that encourages us to break open the shell of selfishness and self-centredness contains the seeds of a society where people are honest, truthful, and loving. A society can function well only if those within are concerned, not only with their own needs or the needs of those who immediately surround them, but by the needs of all, that is to say, by the common good and the family of nations. Each one of us, I believe, is on a journey towards this openness where we risk to love. Growth toward openness means dialogue, trusting in others, listening to them, particularly to those who say things we don’t like to hear, speaking together about our mutual needs and how we might grow to new things. The birth of a good society comes when people start to trust each other, to share with each other, and to feel concerned for each other.

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 34

Longing Community

“Community is what we long for. We long for the recognition of another. We want to know there is someone who knows us and loves us. We desire a place of belonging and we are willing to work for it. …When you truly enter relationships in L’Arche you are stripped of barriers and limits and it is sometimes hard to find this elsewhere. So we come back to be stripped and filled again. Living community is not easy and it takes commitment. And it is, in my eyes, a beautiful way of life…”

Cathy MacMillan, Founding Director of L'Arche Halifax

The Greatest Resource

Sometimes the greatest resource of all can be a small gesture of kindness from someone who is poor. It is often a gentle look from someone who is vulnerable which relaxes us, touches our heart and reminds us of what is essential. One day I went with some sisters of Mother Teresa to a slum in Bangalore where they were looking after people with leprosy. The sores stank, and humanly speaking, it was revolting. But the people there had light in their eyes. When I left I felt inexplicable joy, and it was they who had given it to me.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 185

Listening to all

One of the essential qualities of people with responsibility is an ability to listen to everyone and not just to their friends and admirers. They have to know how people are feeling towards the community and how they are growing. They have to create bonds with them which are true, and if possible, warm.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 225

Rest

Rest is one of the most important personal resources, and it has a whole discipline of its own. Sometimes, when we are over-tired, we tend to flit about, doing nothing and spending long hours talking into the night when we would do better to get more sleep. A lot of aggression and conflicts have somatic causes. Some assistants in our communities would do well occasionally to take a long hot bath, go to bed and sleep for twelve or fourteen hours!

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 179

Simple words

Some people have the gift of speaking to the whole community, others to smaller groups. Those who feel incapable of speaking at all often believe that speaking demands great competence and a wealth of ideas. But people are touched by the simplest words - the ones that come with humility, truth and love. There is nothing in intellectually complex sermons to nourish hearts; they come from the head and are sterile.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 175

Our Daily Bread

If we are to remain faithful to the daily round, we need daily manna. It may be ordinary, a bit tasteless. But it is the manna of fidelity to the covenant, to responsibility, to the small things of everyday life. It is the manna of meetings, of friendship, of looks and smiles that say 'I love you' and that warm the heart.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 169

Communities of the Old

Some communities are composed entirely of old people. Their time of expansion seems to be over and it is probably now too late for a young person to come into them. The gaiety and peace of these communities is sometimes astonishing. Their members know that their community is dying but they don't mind. They want to live fully and to the end. In other communities, by contrast, old people are in terrible anguish in the face of their sterility. They have not discovered that this sterility can be transformed into a gift of life by offering and suffering.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 156

Community Health is Measurable

The health of a community can be measured by the quality of its welcome of the unexpected visitor or of someone who is poor, by the joy and simplicity of relationships between its members, by its creativity in response to the cry of the poor.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.143

Community or Sect

Communities are distinguished from sects by the fact that the members of a sect focus on a single authority - their founder, prophet, shepherd, leader or saint. True Christian communities always have a multiplicity of authorities including the founder, the Gospel, the whole tradition of the Church, the bishop, the Holy Father (if they are Roman Catholic) and other Christians living in the spirit of Jesus.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.144

Culture as a place of Belonging

There is something very profound about culture as a place of belonging, a place of security, a place of celebration, a place where we can be poor and weak and strong together because the group protects the weaker ones, protects the more fragile ones.

Jean Vanier Belonging: The Search for Acceptance Windborne Production Video

Unity in Community

Is the L'Arche community made up above all of assistants with similar motivations who freely choose to come, or is it above all the people in need who did not have this free choice but were placed? We do not want two communities - the helpers and the helped - we want one. That is the theory, but there is a tendency for the assistants to make their own community. Truly to make community with the poorest is harder and demands a certain death to self.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.91

Keeping Feet on the Ground

It is good if people with a responsibility do [some] manual work, whether this is washing up or cooking the occasional meal. This keeps their feet on the ground and ensures they get their hands dirty. It creates new relationships; those who work with them see them as people and not just as functionaries.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 228

The Place to Grow in Love

Community is the place where people grow in love and peacemaking. That is why it is imperative for communities to grow, expand and deepen; and for many new ones to be founded and supported. Today war has become too dangerous; it could bring an end to our planet and to the human species. We are all called to grow in love and forgiveness.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.31

An Essential Conviction

There can be no peacemaking or social work or anything else to improve our world unless we are convinced that the other is important. You are precious--you, not just "people, but you. And we have a call to make history--not just accept history. We are called to change things--to change the movement of history, to make our world a place of love and not just a place of conflict and competition.

Jean Vanier, "Living Gently in a Violent World," p. 63

Responsibility

To carry authority is a huge responsibility. That is why those in authority have to do more than refer to those who appointed them, as the secretary of an association would do. They must refer to God and discover the divine light in their own hearts.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 209

Our Calling

L'Arche is called to be a prophetic place of peace and reconciliation. This is our call and our gift. And our beloved God will give us the nourishment we need as he gave it to his people in the desert with the gift of manna and of water springing from the rock. If we cry out in pain God will feed us.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 204

What changes us?

I know a man who lives in Paris. His wife has Alzheimer's. He was an important businessman--his life was filled with busyness. But he said that when his wife fell sick, "I just could not put her in an institution, so I keep her. I feed her. I bathe her." I went to Paris to visit them and this businessman who had been very busy all his life said, "I have changed. I have become more human." I got a letter from him recently. He said that in the middle of the night his wife woke him up. She came out of the fog for a moment, and she said, "Darling, I just want to thank you for all you're doing for me." Then she fell back into the fog. He said, "I wept and I wept."

Jean Vanier, "Living Gently in a Violent World," p. 66

A Time for Inner Renewal

The time when a community feels it may die is not the time to change externals, like the rules or identifiers. If it does this, there is nothing left to hold people together. This is the time for inner renewal, for a renewed trust in personal relationships; it is a time to stay close to the poor and those in distress. When the inner life is strong and when love is truly the guiding spirit, then we can reduce the externals but not before.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.118

The Gift of Wonderment

People who have spent a long time in community tend to forget what is beautiful in it. They may have lost the gift of wonderment. They need to be renewed by listening to the sense of wonder in the younger people who feel called to commit themselves to the community. The sense of wonderment in the young can blend with the fidelity, wisdom and ability to listen of the older members to make a community which is really beautiful.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 255

The Fruit of an Open Heart

The heart is never "successful." It does not want power, honours, privilege, or efficiency; it seeks a personal relationship with another, a communion of hearts, which is the to-and-fro of love. This opening of the heart implies vulnerability and the offering of our needs and weaknesses. The heart gives and receives but above all, it gives. The heart goes out to those who are humble and who cry out in their weakness and their need for understanding and love. It is the human heart and its need for communion that weakens the walls of ideology and prejudice. It leads us from closedness to openness, from illusion of superiority to vulnerability and humility. Because of this, instead of finding security in the group, we find it in our hearts, which have found a new inner strength, a real maturity.

- Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, pp. 63-64

Having Faith in People

Each person is important, each is capable of changing, evolving, becoming a little more open, responding to love and to communion. I would like to pass on to others this faith in human beings and in their capacity for growth. Without it, our societies are in danger of becoming purely paternalistic in their attitude to those who are weaker, doing things for them rather than helping them to stand on their own feet so that they can do things for themselves and then open themselves to others. Our societies are in danger of rejecting those who disturb them too much, and sometimes even wanting to get rid of them.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, pp. 147-148

Giving Life

People who are old or sick and offer themselves to God can become the most precious members of a community - lightning conductors of grace. There is a mystery in the secret strength of those whose bodies are broken, who seem to do nothing all day, but who remain in the presence of God. Their immobility obliges them to keep their minds and hearts fixed on the essential, on the source of life itself. Their suffering and agony bears fruit; they give life.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 155

Experiencing God

I think we can only truly experience the presence of God in and through our own poverty, because the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the poor in spirit, the poor who are crying out for love.

- Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.20

The Gift of our Physical Selves

We have to remember that we have a body which has its own laws, and that the physical has its effect on the spiritual. We have to respect our body and its needs, and care for it even more than a craftsman cares for his tools. Our body is more important than a tool. It is an integral part of our being, of our self.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 255

Do You Want to Dance? March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day!

Every cell in the human body has 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 total chromosomes). That is, for most of us. A whole bunch of people in our world have an extra chromosome. The extra chromosome causes problems with the way the body and brain develop. Actually it is not a problem because if anything, most people I know who have Down syndrome are happier and more content than you or me. I notice that they are much more present and engaged in day to day relationships than I am. I am very busy trying to change the world. Sometimes I feel tired and discouraged. There is so much that is not right. I draw enormous inspiration from my friends who have Down syndrome. They ARE the change that the world needs…. gentleness, a great work ethic, quickness to forgive and yes, you guessed it, they are great dancers. Do I wish the extra chromosome upon anyone? No. Am I amazed and grateful for the unique gifts and contributions made by people with Down syndrome. Absolutely! Today is World Down Syndrome Day. Let’s celebrate the gift of difference. Let’s celebrate the presence of the extra chromosome. And if, by chance, someone should ask you to dance, go for it. It matters!

Nathan

A Compassionate Society - Being and Openness

What meaning can be found in life in the modern world? So many people today are searching, so many seem lost and no longer have any kind of ethical reference points; so many are dissatisfied with a purely materialistic life, with ephemeral pleasures or with a quest for power and success. Through my experiences both before and in L'Arche I have discovered the importance of two essential elements in human life that can give it meaning both for people of goodwill who have no religion, and for people who are searching for God, whatever their religion: being, and being open, having a clear identity and being open to others. We establish an identity through the place where we live, our family, culture, education and physical and psychological state. But we establish it too through our choice of profession, our gifts and abilities, our values and fundamental motivations in life, through friends, through the commitments we make and through searching for truth in ourselves and in life. Being open to others, especially to those who are different from ourselves, is to see them not as rivals and enemies but as brothers and sisters in humanity, capable of bringing light and truth into our lives, and of living in communion with us. Openness does not imply weakness, nor a tolerance which ignores truth and justice. Being open does not mean adhering to others' ideologies. It means being truly sympathetic and welcoming to people, listening to them, and in particular to people who are weak or poor or oppressed, so as to live in communion with them.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p 145

A Shout of Love

When people come to honor success and power or to give out prizes to winners, they do not celebrate. They clap and applaud. They are proud if the winners come from their club or group or family or country. In some way they identify with the winner and feel they are the best. But there are so many who do not win, who have no success or power. Celebration is a shout of love, and of openness, not a feeling of power or superiority.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 316

Laughter, the Greatest Relaxation

Laughter is something very human. When human beings are too serious they become tense. Laughter is the greatest of relaxations. And there is something funny about humanity. Little as we are, poor as we are, with all our 'animal' needs, we are called to become more than angels; brothers and sisters of God the Word made flesh. It seems so ludicrous and wonderful, so crazy and yet so ecstatic. And the most rejected are called to be at the heart of the Kingdom. Everything is upside down. No wonder some people at sacred moments have the giggles.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, pp. 316-317

Is There Any Room for Me?

People can justify a vision of society which is like a pyramid. This vision, however, is so often perverted, with those ''on top'' crushing those ''on the bottom''. Pyramidal societies become places of harsh competition and struggle. Jesus came to change this type of society into a body where each person has his or her place.

Jean Vanier, The Scandal of Service, p.56

Loving Someone

Loving someone does not simply mean doing things for them; it is much more profound. To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance; it is to understand them, understand their cries and their body language; it is to rejoice in their presence, spend time in their company and communicate with them. To love is to live a heart-to-heart relationship with another, giving to and receiving from each other.

Jean Vanier, Seeing Beyond Depression, p 19

The Unfolding of Generosity

Generosity must flow into an encounter, a meeting. But this meeting must go even further. It is more than just about telling one's story. It must grow into a friendship and the friendship must in turn grow into a commitment because you are my brother or my sister.

Jean Vanier, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, PBS, May 26, 2006

Communities as a Sign of Peace

Today, as never before, we need communities of welcome; communities that are a sign of peace in a world of war. There is no point in praying for peace in the Middle East, for example, if we are not peace-makers in our own community; if we are not forgiving those in our community who have hurt us or with whom we find it difficult to live. Young people, as well those who are older, are sensitive to this vision of peace. It must continually be announced so that hearts and minds are nourished.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth p. 177

Belonging in a New Way

We all belong to the universe; we all receive from it and give to it; we are all parts of a whole. The danger for people today is to forget that and to think that they are the centre; that everyone else is there for them. People must die to this form of destructive egoism and be reborn in love, where they learn to receive from others and to give to them.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 17

A Prayer for the New Year

I pray for you in this passage into the New Year. May God bless us all and give us his strength and love so that we may be instruments of peace and hope for our divided world. May God keep us faithful to our mission. Pray for me.

- Jean Vanier, Our Life Together, p. 424

Dear friends,

I like this time of Christmas. God becomes flesh. He becomes small to teach us to love and to be open to those who are suffering and who are in difficulty. Of course God is in our world but he waits silently for us to turn to him and call him to our help. In the book of the Apocalypse we read that God stands at the door and knocks. If anyone hears and opens the door, God will come in and eat with them. In the Biblical sense, eating with someone means becoming their friend. God wants to make us his friends. But there can be no love or friendship without freedom. If we turn God away, he still waits for us to open the door to him. God is a prisoner of our freedom. The God of compassion cannot exercise his compassion in the world without going through our intelligence, wisdom, capacities and heart. God is not a God of violence but rather a God who invites and who waits with love to give his love to everyone. 19/01/2010

January 2010 - Letter from Jean Vanier

Simple Prayer

Many people in L'Arche are close to God, and yet they are so little and poor. They have known rejection and have suffered a great deal. I am always moved as I hear them speak of God. When somebody asked one of our men, Peter, if he liked to pray, he said that he did. So the person continued and asked him what he did when he prayed. He replied: “I listen.” Then the person asked what God says to him. Peter, a man with Down`s Syndrome, looked up and said: “He just says, 'You are my beloved son.'

- Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.23

Belonging Together

Living with men and women with intellectual disabilities has helped me to discover what it means to live in communion with someone. To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together. Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and their capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain.

- Jean Vanier, From Brokenness to Community, p.16

Good Spiritual Nourishment as Vital

Our hearts, spirits and intellects need to be awakened and fed. When people discover their own capacity to give life and hope to others, then they want to give more. There are forces of selfishness and fear in each of us, but where there is good spiritual nourishment, the power of love rises up. At l'Arche, we recognise that if assistants are not sustained and helped to see the meaning and value of their daily lives, apathy sets in and their ability to listen and pay proper attention to others flags. But if they are well nourished, they give life.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, pp. 150-151

Celebration that Sweeps Away the Irritations of Daily Life

Celebration expresses the true meaning of community in a concrete and tangible way. So it is an essential element in community life. Celebration sweeps away the irritations of daily life; we forget our little quarrels. The aspect of ecstasy in a celebration unites our hearts; a current of life goes through us all. Celebration is a moment of wonder when the joy of the body and the senses are linked to the joy of the spirit. It unites everything that is most human and most divine in community life. The harder and more irksome our daily life, the more our hearts need these moments of celebration and wonder. We need times when we all come together to give thanks, sing, dance, and enjoy special meals. Each community, like each people, needs its festival liturgy.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 315

Real Relaxation Gives Renewal

I am realising more and more that there are many people who do not know how to relax. It took me a long time to learn. Obviously, people know that they must sleep, but relaxation is more than that. Sleep, moreover, can be a way of avoiding reality, an escape, a kind of depression. Real rest is the renewal of our energy so that we can struggle for peace and truth with more energy, enthusiasm and hope. So relaxation is finding new sources of energy, and being affirmed and supported in the awakening of these energies. It is rediscovering trust in our mission and what is deepest in us. It is the opposite of slumping in sadness, apathy, lack of self confidence and doubt. Real rest involves relaxing the heart with friends and family through celebration, laughing, singing, joy, humour. It means feeling well and happy in our body, house, family and community.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p 154

The Essence of Belonging

My vision is that belonging should be at the heart of a fundamental discovery: that we all belong to a common humanity, the human race. We may be rooted in a specific family and culture but we come to this earth to open up to others, to serve them and receive the gifts they bring to us, as well as to all of humanity.

- Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 36

Community As Caring - Further Thoughts

[Another] thing people with disabilities have revealed to me is their incredible capacity for creating community and bringing people together. Experience has shown that one person, all alone, can never heal another. A one-to-one situation is not a good situation. It is important to bring broken people into a community of love, a place where they feel accepted and recognized in their gifts, and have a sense of belonging. That is what wounded people need and want most.

- Jean Vanier, From Brokeness to Community, pp 28-29

Community as Caring

In community people care for each other and not just for the community in the abstract, as a whole, as an institution or as an ideal way of life. It is people that matter; to love and care for the people that are there, just as they are. It is to care for them in such a way that they may grow according to the plan of God and thus give much life. And it is not just caring in a passing way, but in a permanent way. Because people are bonded one to another, they make up one family, one people, on flock. And this people has been called together to be a sign and a witness, to accomplish a particular mission which is their charism, their gift.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 20

Community as a Place of Liberation

Communion is mutual trust, mutual belonging; it is the to-and-fro movement of love between two people where each one gives and each one receives. Communion is not a fixed state, it is an ever-growing and deepening reality that can turn sour if one person tries to possess the other, thus preventing growth. Community is mutual vulnerability and openness one to the other. It is liberation for both, indeed, where both are allowed to be themselves, where both are called to grow in greater freedom and openness to others and to the universe.

Jean Vanier,

Celebration--What Community is All About

Sometimes when I go to visit people, they keep the television on during the meal. They may turn down the sound, but all through the meal there is the intrusion of the television images. It makes it difficult to meet and to share together. There is little sense of being called together by God to love and nourish each other. We need to rediscover celebration. That is what community is all about. ... Celebration is to share what and who we really are; it is to express our love for one another, our hopes, and to rejoice in being called together as parts of the same body.

- Jean Vanier, From Brokeness to Community, p 46

Nourishment is Key

Our hearts, spirits and intellects need to be awakened and fed. When people discover their own capacity to give life and hope to others, then they want to give more. There are forces of selfishness and fear in each of us, but where there is good spiritual nourishment, the power of love rises up. At l'Arche, we recognise that if assistants are not sustained and helped to see the meaning and value of their daily lives, apathy sets in and their ability to listen and pay proper attention to others flags. But if they are well nourished, they give life.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, pp. 150-151

Acceptance of Others and Ourselves

It is because we belong with others and see them as brothers and sisters in humanity that we learn not only to accept them as they are, with different gifts and capacities, but to see each one as a person with a vulnerable heart. We learn to forgive those who hurt us or reject us; we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt. We learn to accept humbly those who point out our errors and mistakes and who challenge us to grow in truth and love. We support and encourage each other on the journey to inner freedom. We learn how to be close to those who are weaker and more vulnerable, those who may be sick or going through crises or are grieving. As we accept our personal limits and weaknesses, we discover that we need others and we learn to appreciate others and to thank them.

- Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 59

We are Forgetting How to Celebrate!

The danger nowadays is that people no longer know how to celebrate and eat together. In some families, everybody eats at different times. They are all busy with their own projects and people they have to meet and they bolt their food down. In order to create unity, to live as a body, we need to know how to make time over meals as well, with good wine and beer. We need to know how to tell stories, our own stories, and laugh and sing together. ---------------- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 201

On September 28th the Larche Sudbury community will gather for a Fundraiser yet it will mean nothing unless we come together in the spirit of celebration, to eat and drink together and share our stories for this past year.

Forgiveness

To look forward, to want life, means we have to be willing to look backwards and become more conscious of all those who have hurt us, all that is broken in us and that has brought us inner deaths, hurts that we may have hidden and stifled. It means that we acknowledge the story of our origins, of our own lives, see and accept our brokenness and the times we also have hurt others. When we have accepted who we are and what we need in order to grow in compassion and peacemaking, we can move forward to give life. To forgive is a gift of God that permits us to let go of our past hurts.

Jean Vanier, Finding Peace, page 47-48

A Compassionate Society

What sort of society do we want? There are, for me, a few principles. A society that encourages us to break open the shell of selfishness and self-centredness contains the seeds of a society where people are honest, truthful, and loving. A society can function well only if those within are concerned, not only with their own needs or the needs of those who immediately surround them, but by the needs of all, that is to say, by the common good and the family of nations. Each one of us, I believe, is on a journey towards this openness where we risk to love. Growth toward openness means dialogue, trusting in others, listening to them, particularly to those who say things we don't like to hear, speaking together about our mutual needs and how we might grow to new things. The birth of a good society comes when people start to trust each other, to share with each other, and to feel concerned for each other.

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 34

The Crossroads

Humanity today is at a crossroads. Technology enables us to do everything, except to bring people together in love and thus make our world a happier and more loving place. Technology alone brings material progress. It gives power. It takes us some way towards conquering the moon and stars. Is it not now time to come back down to earth, to rediscover the beauty of our earth, of humanity, of each one of us? Then we can reach out together to the weak and the poor, using all that is good and humane in technology, so that our hearts and intelligence can be transformed through compassion. What can bring this about? How can we begin to change our world, one heart at a time? Is there anything in the Bible to help us?

Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 250

Peace-Makers Needed

So many in our world today are suffering from isolation, war and oppression. So much money is spent on the construction of armaments. Many, many young people are in despair because of the danger of nuclear war. Today as never before, we need communities of welcome; communities that are a sign of peace in a world of war. There is no point in praying for peace in the Middle East, for example, if we are not peace-makers in our own community; if we are not forgiving those in our community who have hurt us or with whom we find it difficult to live. Young people, as well as those who are older, are sensitive to this vision of peace. It must continually be announced so that hearts and minds are nourished.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 177

We Need Each Other

Thus we discover that we need one another. We are part of a common humanity, a universal body in which every individual is important and has a place. We are not made to be solitary heroes, "admirable" people, but to be fully and profoundly human, each in his or her place, with his or her gifts and limitations, in the body of humanity.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 249

"I Was Born That Way!"

Michele is a small woman with a BIG personality. Sometimes she is quick to let new assistants or everyone at a community gathering know what she doesn’t like about a situation. In her home, she can be very direct and hurt feelings happen. Recently we had a compliance review (a periodic in-depth review by a government official) and Michelle’s home was to be visited. Michele said she wanted to welcome the compliance officer and tell her about life in L’Arche. The compliance officer arrived exactly at 9am. Michele said hello, began talking nonstop about her life in community and in her home. At one point the compliance officer suggested Michele bring her knitting into the dining area so she could set up her materials. Then Michele took her on a thorough tour of the home, chatting and being very personable. The compliance officer was at the home for 3 hours and Michele continued to be engaged and witty and welcoming the entire time. That evening at table we were celebrating the completion of the review. The House Leader gave a heart-felt thank-you to everyone at the table and in community who helped make the review such a positive experience. When he thanked Michele for the compliance officer’s incredible welcome, Michele smiled and said, “I was born that way!” Everyone clapped and laughed and affirmed Michele’s response. She is indeed a warm, welcoming woman who loves her home and her community and is not shy to tell the stranger at her table all about it.

Michele and Donna, L’Arche Ottawa

Native Peoples Have Much to Teach

Native people have suffered greatly, not only because of white people taking over their country but also because of missionaries who have seen them as heathen and far from God. Nowadays, fortunately, albeit a little late, we have begun to appreciate that God was present in this people well before the arrival of white people; that they were a profoundly believing and religious people with a deep sense of God. They also have a deep sense of humanity and of the earth. For far too long they have been pushed aside. And yet they have much to teach Western society which has lost the sense of what it means to be human, of the human community and of the earth.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 225

The Desire to Change

In order to change and to become more open to others, we must first recognize that we need to change. If we do not recognize this, if we consider ourselves perfect, then we are not going to set out on the journey towards inner healing. We only go to the doctor if we are ill and know it, or if we need a checkup. In the same way, what gives us a desire for inner healing is an awareness of our prejudices, the difficulties we have with our sexuality and relationships, the divisions and blockages within us, the problems we have in communicating, and our fear of others and the anger they provoke in us. This desire for change becomes stronger when we want to grow in love and compassion, to live communion and cooperation, to be true to ourselves and to choose peace.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 205

A Song of Gratitude

Celebration is, first and foremost, a song of gratitude, a thanksgiving. We are not alone. We are all part of the same body and there is no longer any rivalry or competition. We are together in unity and love. The greatest of humanity’s riches does not consist in money or possessions but in loving and united hearts, the strong supporting the weak while the weak call forth the true humanity of the strong as they help them discover their hearts and their compassion. So celebration is like a prayer that flows from unity between people; it is a sign and a source of unity with God and of the inner unity in each person. The Eucharist, which is at the heart of all Christian celebration, means 'thanksgiving.'

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 200

Celebrating with Meals

A community that does not celebrate is in danger of becoming just a group of people that gets things done. It becomes an institution. It is not really a community. Where there is mutual trust and love, people want to open themselves to one another, to celebrate and be together. This celebration is expressed in smiling and laughter, in simple sharing, in mutual concern and sensitivity and in the way that people relax when they come together. But it finds its fullest expression in shared meals, good meals with good wine. Aristotle says that for two people to be friends, they must eat a sack of salt together; they must share many meals.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 199

The Most Human and Most Divine Gesture

The two disciples whom Jesus joined on the road to Emmaus recognized him in the breaking of the bread. What is a more common, ordinary gesture than breaking bread? It may be the most human of all human gestures: a gesture of hospitality, friendship, care, and the desire to be together. Taking a loaf of bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it to those seated around the table signifies unity, community, and peace. When Jesus does this he does the most ordinary as well as the most extraordinary. It is the most human as well as the most divine gesture.

Community Is to be Encouraged

When I talk about community, I mean all associations of human beings who not only have some goal to achieve, like people in business, the army or a sports team, but who also help people to meet one another on a personal level, where there is dialogue, sharing, openness and a true concern for others. Even though their initial intention was perhaps to form a powerful group in a competitive society, these people have also learned to trust one another and to help each one to become more fully him or herself. Society should encourage associations like this, just as love and loyalty are encouraged in a family.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 184

Impossible to go Back

People tend to want everything, and to want it immediately. They look for powerful and exciting experiences to make them feel alive. In a situation like this, it is difficult to re-find real guidelines to life. The kind of supports that used to exist are no longer there, and anyway life is so different from what it was before and it is impossible to go backwards.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 171

Becoming Myself

A nineteen-year old assistant from a L’Arche community came to see me. I asked him how he was getting on. He told me he was doing all right, but that it was hard. I asked him to tell me something good that was happening. He said, "I am becoming myself." Through all the stages of growth, is not the real aim in life to become ourselves, to allow the barriers to come down so that the deepest 'I' can emerge? Not to become what others want us to be. Not to refuse life, or to try to be someone else, but to grow from the seed of life within each of us, rooted in our earth and history.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 167

God Answered our Prayers

When I was in Bangladesh, I learned a beautiful lesson. After I had given a conference for a group of parents and friends of people with disabilities, a man got up. He said, "I have a son, Vincent, who has a severe disability. He was a beautiful child when he was born, but at six months he had a terribly high fever which brought on convulsions. It affected his brain and his nervous system. Now, at sixteen, he has a severe mental disability. He cannot walk, or talk, or eat by himself. My wife and I suffered a lot. We prayed to God to heal our Vincent. And God answered our prayer, but not in the way that we expected. He has not healed Vincent, but he has changed our hearts. He has filled my wife and myself with joy at having a son like him." Reality is not always changed. But by a gift of God our barriers and preconceived ideas fall, and doors are opened within us.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 166

Three Elements

Education is harmonious when a child, and then teenager and adult, can develop these three elements: communion, cooperation and competence. Together, they bring a person towards wholeness. Communion opens them to heart-to-heart relationships; cooperation opens them to social and community life; competence allows them to take their place in life.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 152

Someone to Walk with Us

In order to develop properly, some plants need the support of a stake. With this help, they produce more flowers and fruit. People also need another person to help them grow well; someone close who accompanies them, helps them to live their humanity more fully, to reach maturity and to give life and hope to others. This accompaniment is not just for teenagers who need a spiritual guide or mentor to act as an intermediary between their life with their family and their life in society. Whatever age we are, we need someone to walk with us.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 156

Let Love

Our hearts, spirits and intellects need to be awakened and fed. When people discover their own capacity to give life and hope to others, then they want to give more. There are forces of selfishness and fear in each of us, but where there is good spiritual nourishment, the power to love rises up. At L'Arche, we recognize that if assistants are not sustained and helped to see the meaning and value of their daily lives, apathy sets in and their ability to listen and pay proper attention to others flags. But if they are well nourished, they give life.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 150

Faith in the Human Being

Each person is important; each is capable of changing, evolving, becoming a little more open, responding to love and to communion. I would like to pass on to others this faith in human beings and in their capacity for growth. Without it, our societies are in danger of becoming purely paternalistic in their attitude to those who are weaker, doing things for them rather than helping them to stand on their own feet so that they can do things for themselves and then open themselves to others. Our societies are in danger of rejecting those who disturb them too much, and sometimes of even wanting to get rid of them.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p. 147

Jesus loves me just as I am

Vanier told the story of a mentally handicapped boy from Paris on the day he received his First Communion: "After Mass, which was a family celebration, the boy's uncle, who was his godfather, said to the child's mother: 'What a beautiful liturgy! How sad it is that he didn't understand anything.' "The child heard these words and, with tears in his eyes, said to his mother: 'Don't worry, Mommy, Jesus loves me just as I am.'" Vanier affirmed: "This child had a wisdom that his uncle was yet to attain: The Eucharist is God's gift par excellence."

QUEBEC CITY, June 20, 2008 — Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche Community, spoke Monday to the 49th International Eucharistic Congress

Authority

At L’Arche I have discovered two kinds of authority: an authority which imposes, dominates and controls; and an authority which accompanies, listens, liberates, empowers, gives people confidence in themselves and calls them to be aware of their responsibilities. There is no discussion. The person who exercises this kind of authority may well have a sense of the truth. But he does not know how to walk with another on his journey; he does not really respect him.

Jean Vanier

Do you have the gift?

Peace does not come from domination, power, or violence, but through weakness, humility, vulnerability, weakness and loving service. If we accept our brokenness and weakness as a gift, we transform it, and discover the spiritual depths of peace and thus can offer palpable peace to those around us.

Henri Nouwen

L'Arche Assistants

We welcome many assistants aged between eighteen and thirty for periods varying from three months to three years. They are looking for an experience of life and community. They have not yet found a place to put down their roots; they are searching for it. For some people, putting down roots is difficult because they have so many possibilities before them. They are frightened of choosing too quickly, of losing their independence, or of being disappointed, so they put off making a decision.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home,p.103

The Passage into a New Year

I pray for you in this passage into the New Year. May God bless us all and give us his strength and love so that we may be instruments of peace and hope for our divided world. May God keep us faithful to our mission. Pray for me.

- Jean Vanier, Our Life Together, p. 424

God Comes into Our Fragility

Christmas is a celebration of God who humbly comes into our fragility, where his presence is revealed in and through the weak and the broken. Perhaps this year you and I, all of us, can take a little more quiet time to open our inner sanctuary to receive God, who is hidden and silent and who needs us.

- Jean Vanier, Our Life Together,p.516

Courage

There are three kinds of courage: Courage in the face of life’s challenges; Courage in the face of violence, whether human or natural; And courage in the face of weakness, disability or death. Of all these kinds of courage, it is the last that gives us most honour – For we share the first two with animals, But the third we share with God.

Jean Vanier On Community

The great message of Vanier is that the community with the "normal" and "disabled" transforms them both. Because people with disabilities "long for an authentic relationship more than for power," they catch us all up short. He says they are not obsessed with "acclaim and promotion." Rather "they are crying out for what matters most: love. And God hears their cry because in some way they respond to the cry of God, which is to give love." (30)

from a commentary by John Hittinger

Trust

A child needs to find security in the trust of another who is there to protect, guide, affirm and love him. This trust forms the foundations of his personality and it allows him to develop self-assurance and confidence. It gives him stability, strength and a set of beliefs which allow him little by little to welcome and integrate reality, to discover who he is and what are his roots, language, religion, values and family traditions. Knowing who he is, he can then discover who he is called to become.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home,p.84

By Myself

By myself I can do nothing. We need each other—because we each have different gifts. You have gifts which I don’t have, I have gifts which you don’t have. So together we can do something beautiful.

- Jean Vanier, Unpublished conversation with students,June 2007

Family Celebration

It is so important for a family to celebrate all together. It is so important for the children to laugh and play and sing with their parents and to see their parents happy to be together.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.315

Doing Good Things

We do things for others, often good things. We teach them, care for them, give them money. But our hearts remain closed. We remain in a position of control and superiority. Sometimes, certainly, it is necessary to behave like this. A doctor, for example, cannot burden all her patients with her problems; she has a job to do. But on the other hand, the doctor who cannot really listen, who fails to perceive the anguish and deep suffering of her patients, who has no time to welcome them as they are and to understand them, cannot be a good doctor. Someone who remains on a professional pedestal, welcoming others only in her head, refusing to welcome them in her heart and with compassion, cannot really care for them properly.

Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p.70

We Wear Masks

Animals do not wear masks. They are not conditioned by a need to succeed, to be congratulated and admired, or by a fear of rejection. Each of them lives in a simple uncomplicated way. Obviously, they are afraid of danger, but they seem to be able to live confidently that which they are. It seems that a wounded heart stops a person from being able to live simply as him or herself. The human being then becomes a competitive creature, who seeks to prove that he is part of an elite and who hides his limitations, or else he victimizes himself, accusing others if they do not fulfill his needs. He no longer acts out of love for the world, but out of a need to protect and prove himself.

Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, p.63

Finding the Place of Hope

We say there is an impossible gap between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, between the walls created between groups of people. And because we say it is impossible, we close up and say our world is doomed to warfare. But we are not doomed to warfare. What is important is that each one of us finds a place of hope -- that spark hidden in our person, sometimes hidden behind the walls.

Jean Vanier, Address to the Business Community

"Peacemaking Centered on Trust"

[For] me the whole question of peace-making is centered on trust. Trust that you are important, that you are precious, that you have something important to give to the world, to give to me. If we don't believe we are precious, what happens? We have anguish. - Jean Vanier, Essential Writings, ed. C. Whitney-Brown, pp. 59-60 (from "Encountering the Other")

- Jean Vanier, Essential Writings, ed. C. Whitney-Brown, pp. 59-60 (from "Encountering the Other")

The Supreme Welcome

People with intellectual disabilities, usually incapable of abstract thought, are often more able to welcome the presence of others. Less competitive, they are better at creating communion. This hidden capacity makes them more open to welcoming the presence of the God of love.

- Jean Vanier, Our Journey Home, Introduction xiI

An Enduring Relationship--Part Two

Frank, who is 87, recently spent some time in the emergency ward of our local hospital. He was feeling quite sick and uncomfortable, and he kept turning from one side to his back to the other side and then repeating the process in reverse. As I sought to guide the tubes out of the way with each turn he made lest he become tangled in them or pull them out, I was commiserating with him and making gentle suggestions that he try not to roll around so much. Then Sylvia came to visit him. I left them alone for a few minutes. From the other side of the hospital curtain I heard her say in her commanding voice, “You stop that, honey! Lie still!” When I re-entered the cubicle, Frank was laying quietly and obediently still, his hand in Sylvia's, and I blessed Sylvia for coming!

By a L'Arche assistant

Family Celebration

It is so important for a family to celebrate all together. It is so important for the children to laugh and play and sing with their parents and to see their parents happy to be together.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 315

Listening to our Hearts

Let us simply stop and start listening to our own hearts. There we will touch a lot of pain. We will possibly touch a lot of anger. We will probably touch a lot of loneliness and anguish. Then we will hear something deeper. We will hear the voice of God... We will hear, "You are precious in my eyes and I love you." - - "Jean Vanier: Essential Writings" ed. C. Whitney-Brown, extracted from "Images of Love, Words of Hope."

Jean Vanier,

Moving towards new understanding

[When I left the Navy] another world opened up for me--the world of thought. For many years I studied philosophy. I wrote a doctoral thesis on Aristotelian ethics, and I embarked on a teaching career. Once again I found myself in a world where weakness, ignorance and incompetence were things to be shunned. Then, during a third phase, I discovered people who are weak, people with mental handicaps. I was moved by the vast world of poverty, weakness, and fragility that I encountered in hospitals, institutions, and asylums for people with mental handicaps. I moved from the world of theories and ideas about human beings in order to discover what it really meant to be human, to be a man or a woman. - extracted from "Our Journey Home," quoted in "Jean Vanier: Essential Writings, ed. C. Whitney-Brown, p. 29 , p. 13

Jean Vanier,

The Beauty of Human Beings

The beauty of human beings lies in their capacity to accept who they are, just as they are; not to live in a world of dreams and illusions, in anger or despair, wanting to be other than they are, or trying to run away from reality. They realize they have the right to be themselves. And there, they discover that they are loved by God, that they are unique and important for God and that they can do things for others.

Jean Vanier, Seeing Beyond Depression, p. 87

Grieving Together

A few weeks ago, David and I went out for coffee, and we happened to sit at the same table where we had sat with Bill the last time that Bill had come out for coffee with us before he died. David had lived with Bill many years and I had lived with them both and been close to them over the years. We didn't say much to each other as we sat down but I was thinking of Bill. David was thinking about Bill too, because he looked at me and said "I wonder what Bill is doing? He's probably telling jokes to all the angels!" We laughed, and David added, "I miss him." I said, "I miss him too."

Jean Vanier,

We are all called ...

We may not all be called to do great things that make the headlines, but we are all called to love and be loved, wherever we may be. We are called to be open and to grow in love and thus to communicate life to others, especially to those in need.

- Jean Vanier, Seeing Beyond Depression, p. 89

The Gift of Creating Unity

It is the most insignificant members who are at the heart of a community and who carry in their hearts those people who are blocked towards each other and who have different ideas concerning the community. It is the love of the hidden people which keeps the community united. The leader brings unity through justice, but these loving people are creators of unity just by being who they are.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.263

Trust as a Key

In order to open a door we need a key. In order to open the door of our hearts and to discover the meaning and rhythm of life, we need a key. We can let ourselves remain locked up in a prison of sadness and refuse to live. So we need a key to open a door to life, the door to liberation. This key is trust: to trust that deeper than all the feelings of sadness and death, lies our hidden, true self, which is unique and important. It has a destiny, which is growth to the fullest life possible.

Jean Vanier, Seeing Beyond Depression, p. 51

No Exclusion

At the heart of celebration are the poor. If the least significant is excluded, it is no longer a celebration. We have to find dances and games in which the children, the old people and the weak can join equally. A celebration must always be a festival of the poor, and with the poor, not for the poor.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 319

Joy II

I am sure that poor people can be joyful. At times of celebration they seem to overcome all their suffering and frustration in an explosion of joy. They shed the burden of daily life and they live in a moment of freedom in which their hearts simply bound with joy. It is so too with people in community who have learned to accept their wounds, limitations and poverty. They have discovered liberation. They do not have to hide away. They are free.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 319

A Shout of Love

When people come to honor success and power or to give out prizes to winners, they do not celebrate. They clap and applaud. They are proud if the winners come from their club or group or family or country. In some way they identify with the winner and feel they are the best. But there are so many who do not win, who have no success or power. Celebration is a shout of love, and of openness, not a feeling of power or superiority.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 316

Material Things

One of the signs that a community is alive can be found in material things. Cleanliness, furnishings, the way flowers are arranged and meals prepared, are among the things which reflect the quality of people's hearts. Some people may find material chores irksome; they would prefer to use their time to talk and be with others. They haven't yet realized that the thousand and one small things that have to be done each day, the cycle of dirtying and cleaning, were given by God to enable us to communicate through matter. Cooking and washing floors can become a way of showing our love for others. It is celebration to be able to give.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 297

Welcome

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 of peace to share. If community is closing its doors, that is a sign that we are closing our hearts as well.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 266

An Orchestra

A community is like an orchestra: each instrument is beautiful when it plays alone, but when they all play together, each given its own weight in turn, the result is even more beautiful. A community is like a garden full of flowers, shrubs and trees. Each helps to give life to the others.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 251

The Point of Community

We must always remember; a community is never an end in itself; it is each individual person who is important. And people can grow in holiness and communion with God in the midst of a broken, dying community, and through persecutions of all kinds.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 234

Sharing Gifts

Even very limited and fragile people, if they can work with a leader who has vision, compassion and firmness, can do marvelous things. They participate in the leader's vision and they benefit from her/his gifts. The wealth of a community lies in the fact that all its members can share the qualities and gifts of others.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 218

Spiritual Growth

I discover more and more the marvelous way in which responsibility leads to spiritual growth. Of course it is a cross, and some people mope and groan under it. Others see responsibility as something deserved which brings prestige and advantages. But if we are aware of the gravity of responsibility and what it means to carry people, and if we accept the cross with all its implications, this is a marvelous way to grow.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 211

Peace and Community

So many in our world today are suffering from isolation, war and oppression. So much money is spent on the construction of armaments. Many, many young people are in despair because of the danger of nuclear war. Today as never before, we need communities of welcome; communities that are a sign of peace in a world of war. There is no point in praying for peace in the Middle East, for example, if we are not peace-makers in our own community; if we are not forgiving those in our community who have hurt us or with whom we find it difficult to live. Young people, as well as those who are older, are sensitive to this vision of peace. It must continually be announced so that hearts and minds are nourished.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 177

L'Arche

If at L'Arche we no longer live with the poor and the broken and celebrate life with them, we as a community will die; we will be cut off from the source of life. They nourish us and heal our wounds daily. They call forth the light and the love within us.

- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 186

Prophets of peace

[Prophets of peace] have lived and proclaimed a path of non-violence. They have been able to do this because they received support and lived with a community of men and women of like minds and hearts. "When I despair," said Mahatma Gandhi, "I remember that throughout history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it always...whenever you are in doubt that that is God's way - the way the world is meant to be. Think of that and then try to do His way."

Jean Vanier, Finding Peace, page 74

Longing Community

“Community is what we long for. We long for the recognition of another. We want to know there is someone who knows us and loves us. We desire a place of belonging and we are willing to work for it. …When you truly enter relationships in L’Arche you are stripped of barriers and limits and it is sometimes hard to find this elsewhere. So we come back to be stripped and filled again. Living community is not easy and it takes commitment. And it is, in my eyes, a beautiful way of life…”

Cathy MacMillan, Founding Director of L'Arche Halifax

Community Integration

The more a community deepens and grows, the more integrated it must be in the neighbourhood. When it begins, the community is integrated within the four walls of its house. But gradually it opens up to neighbours and friends. Some communities begin to panic when they feel that their neighbours are becoming committed to them; they are frightened of losing their identity, of losing control. But there are times to knock down the walls of a community. This is how a small community can gradually become the yeast in the dough, a place of unity for all and between all.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.116

The Greatest Resource

Sometimes the greatest resource of all can be a small gesture of kindness from someone who is poor. It is often a gentle look from someone who is vulnerable which relaxes us, touches our heart and reminds us of what is essential. One day I went with some sisters of Mother Teresa to a slum in Bangalore where they were looking after people with leprosy. The sores stank, and humanly speaking, it was revolting. But the people there had light in their eyes. When I left I felt inexplicable joy, and it was they who had given it to me.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 185

Appreciating the Other

If we confine ourselves only to the work of God in 'our' group or 'our' church, we will miss something. Communities have so much to offer each other. But of course, to really appreciate the working of God in the hearts of other communities and churches, we have to be well rooted in our own; we have to belong. Otherwise we risk living in some confusion, without roots.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 174

The Gift

Contact with people who are weak and are crying out for communion is one of the most important nourishments in our lives. When we let ourselves be really touched by the gift of their presence, they leave something precious in our heart. If we remain at the level of 'doing' something for people, we can stay behind our barriers of superiority. We have to welcome the gift of the poor with open hands.

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 186

Human Being: The person who is hungry, abandoned or in need is first of all a heart who needs to find another heart; someone who will listen, understand and love. Above all, they need friendship: friends who love them and are willing to do things with them.

Jean Vanier, An Ark for the Poor, p.57

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