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.