Gentle and Faithful: Jean Vanier

Arlington Catholic-Herald

Jean Vanier–guileless, sincere, unobtrusive–showed me that it is possible, even in our toxic, flame-an-hour world, to live on an entirely different frequency. A prophet can be gentle. Faithfulness will in fact confound the wise. Vanier’s heart and his plain-spoken way (no big words, no attempts to impress) sink to deep places in my soul. In 2015, on the occasion of winning the 1.7 million dollar Templeton Prize for his work with the L’Arche communities, Vanier sat down for an interview. At the pinnacle of a life well lived, his peculiar wisdom carried gravity, warning, hope. I scribbled down three things then, what I took away from his words. I return to them now, reflecting on Jean’s life and death.

[1] Jean, at perhaps the unlikeliest moment (named Laureate for the Templeton), warned us of the dangers inherent in the “religion of success.” Have we ever needed a stern caution more than this?

[2] When Jean was asked ‘what is love?’ (and what a doozy of a question), he gave us a profound answer. “Love is to reveal to someone: ‘you are beautiful and you have value.’ That is the secret of love. It’s not primarily to do things for people, because then we find our glory in doing things. The secret of love is to reveal to someone that ‘you are precious,’ that ‘you are beautiful.’”

[3] When asked why he gave up teaching philosophy at a prestigious university so he could live with those often seen as outcasts, Jean said: “I thought Jesus wanted me to.” (refer to earlier comment about his plain speaking).

Jean Vanier, for a lifetime, attempted to be faithful to the ways and teachings of Jesus. To the way of Love. Thank you, Jean. Thank you for the light you left for us to follow.

Faithful with the Little Things

Last week on my run, I cut across the high school parking lot as I always do. The glint of copper and silver caught my eye, and there on the blacktop I beheld a quarter, a dime, a couple nickels and pennies. It wasn’t enough to make a poor man stop being poor, but it was real money, just lying there and waiting for someone to notice. Because I am the son of John W. Collier, there was no question what my next move would be. From the time I was barely big enough to waddle alongside my dad, anytime he would see any coin – any coin, a single penny – abandoned anywhere, he would always stop and pick it up, drop it in his pocket and say, “God says if you are faithful with the little things, he’ll trust you with bigger things.” I can’t tell you how many times I saw my dad walk out of his way to pick up a dirty ol’ penny, how many times he enacted his version of being faithful to the little things. If I had a penny for every time he picked up a penny, then I’d have a dump truck load of pennies.

So of course, I stopped, crawled down on the sticky asphalt and fingered the tiny scattering of coins. I tossed the grimy metal in my pocket, and I thought of what my dad would say right about then. I smiled, and I went back to pounding the pavement.

On my first run this week, I passed exactly that same way. I’m pretty darn certain it was even the exact same parking spot. And gosh almighty if there wasn’t another pile of coins, larger than the first one, just lying out in the open sun, like it was waiting for me. This time there were two quarters and several dimes and maybe 5 nickels and more pennies. It still wasn’t enough to buy 1/2 a latte at the coffee shop, but I doubled my take in one swoop. I’m no mathematician, but I have seen a calculator–and I know that crazy rule of compound interest. If this trend were to continue, I’d get to be faithful over bigger things indeed. So, grinning ear to ear and imagining my dad grinning ear to ear, I dashed off with a real jingle in my pocket.

Now I don’t know if Michael the Archangel gets a kick out of these distractions and dropped those coins, all the while chuckling and ribbing a few of his celestial buddies (watch this…). Or maybe some poor tenth-grader has an as-of-yet undiscovered hole in his North Face backpack and leaves coins strewn from here to kingdom come. But either way, I’m picking ’em up. That’s what my dad taught me. I’m raking it in.