Independent Catholic News logo Welcome Visitor
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Text: Jean Vanier at Westminster Cathedral
Comment Email Print
¬†Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche Movement gave the following lecture in the 'Faith in Europe' series at Westminster Cathedral, last night Hope in Europe: Becoming More Human: Jean Vanier Good evening. I find it very moving to be here to talk about "Hope in Europe" shortly after the death of our beloved Pope John Paul II. Because the funeral and the whole of the reality around it was an incredible sign of hope. And I believe that we are called to look deeply into the legacy of John Paul II because he leaves an immense legacy of holiness and an incredible legacy after these last years where he became particularly fragile, vulnerable and poor. I think that those years, when he was barely able to talk or to walk, were greater than any encyclical. It is the good shepherd who gives his life for the flock. There are two particular elements, I believe, that are part of the vision, part of the incredible vision of John Paul II: two elements that were particularly wounding to his heart. One was the growing gap between rich and poor, between rich countries and poor countries. The other element was his cry for peace, to break down the dividing wall that separates countries, groups and so on. On one side his cry for compassion, which says something about the lessening of the gap between the rich and the poor. On the other side forgiveness. One of the strong words that he used was that there can be no peace without justice, and no justice without forgiveness. From a divided Europe to a United Europe In May/June 1940 I was 11 years old, and a refugee, with my family, fleeing the north of France invaded by the Nazi army. Since my father was in the diplomatic corps, we were able to escape in a British destroyer which brought us to a cargo ship "the Nariva" and then to England. In 1942, I joined the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. In January 1944, a few months after the liberation of Paris, I accompanied my mother who was in the Canadian Red Cross, to the Gare d'Orsay in Paris≠ the train station where hundreds of men and women arrived like skeletons in their striped blue and white uniforms, from Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbruck and other concentration camps. So, as an adolescent and young adult I was caught up in the things of war. War is a horrible reality. We can give thanks for men like Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi and many others who laid the foundations for a united Europe where conflicts could be resolved and where people of different cultures could meet. Europe today can, and hopefully will, become an even more wonderful meeting place or training ground, a school of mutual acceptance, a human laboratory not just for the resolution of conflict but also for the discovery of the beauty of different cultures, different peoples. France , for example, is not just a place for good wine and cheese and football teams! It is a land of beautiful cathedrals, old Roman and Gothic churches; Italy is a land of Giottos, Pierra de la Francisca, Dante, Francis of Assisi. As we begin to learn each other's language, as we visit each other's country and discover each other's culture, we can begin to open up to a wonderful and deep sense of our common humanity. We begin to meet people, each person, hidden behind the label of nationality or culture. But even more: we can join together with our wealth, competence and wisdom to make of our world - not just Europe - a better place. Young people of different countries can come together and discover the joy of service, particularly to those in serious need in Europe and other continents. The Primacy of the person Over the last centuries, European countries were at war with each other. There was fear, hatred and suspicion between them. Different Christian churches were estranged from each other even fought each other. The so-called upper classes and lower classes did not meet. There were clubs for some and bars for others. Men knew that they were better than women! The colour bar and racism rampant in the United States was also strong in many countries of Europe. Forms of slavery existed in order to have cheaper labour. People were defined by their group. Each group had a more or less closed identity. People knew who was right and who was wrong, who was good and who was bad. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, particularly since 1950, an immense revolution or evolution is taking place. From the primacy of the group, the tribe or the country there has grown an awareness of the primacy of the person: the value, importance and beauty of each person. This has come about through - a sense of the horror of war, genocide, particularly the Shoah - the creation of the United Nations, the proclamation of human rights, the protection of minority groups - our multi- cultural, pluralistic societies where people of different cultures and origins work together - the development and growth of psychotherapy and other forms of therapy that help people discover their person and their real needs, hidden behind the knots of their story. - the insistence of Christian churches on the person loved by God and called by God These factors ≠ plus many others ≠ have led people to a new type of relationship, particularly with those who are "different". People of different Christian churches and different religions are meeting, respecting one another. There are places of dialogue. People with disabilities or with mental illness are seen as fully human beings Each person is being called to develop their personal conscience The gifts, wisdom and beauty of people coming from different African and Asian cultures are being recognised. When the person is sought underneath the label, the world is no longer divided into the good and the bad, one group superior to others. People realise that the "good" and the "bad" are in each one of us, in you, in me, in all of us. It takes a lifetime for all the light to emerge from the darkness within each one of us. But there is another side of the story In our societies today, it is not always the primacy of the person that has emerged, a strong self-centredness has also been unleashed. With the breakdown of social and religious restraints, many people use their freedom for their own material success, egotistical pleasure, sexual activity without any commitment or sense of responsibility for others. This individualism can lead some people to loneliness and a feeling of emptiness, which in turn can push them to seek closed sectarian political and religious groups which give security, a sense of superiority, which can enhance group conflicts. Once again the world can be divided into the "good" and the "bad". The primacy of the person implies a belief in the sacredness and interiority of each person, with their gifts, their brokenness and in all their differences. It brings people to love and to be responsible. It does not use others nor seek to possess or control them. It respects what is most precious in each person and seeks to help each one rediscover their dignity and self-esteem. The social and theological vision of John Paul II is based upon this truth: the importance of each person, each one created by God and for God; each one has his/her inner conscience and is capable of welcoming God, becoming the dwelling place of God. Etty Hillesum was a young Dutch, Jewish woman who was assassinated in Auschwitz in November 1943. In one of her letters from Westerbork, the camp where some 10,000 Jews were waiting to be carted off to Auschwitz, she wrote: "And I thank You for the great gift of being able to read people. Sometimes they seem to me like houses with open doors.every one must be turned in a dwelling place for You, o God. And I promise You, yes, I promise that I shall try to find a dwelling and a refuge for You in as many houses as possible. There are so many empty houses, and I shall prepare them all for You, the most honoured Guest. Please forgive this poor metaphor" Let us hope that with Europe as a "laboratory" and a meeting place for people with those who are "different", a new and deeper vision of the person and of human freedom may grow. But we have to admit that this discovery of the value of each person is a long road where we are confronted by all the pressures of the media and the surrounding culture of pleasure, and material success, and by our own inner fragility and poverty. Our human fragility As we look at ourselves and at our world, we have to admit that we human beings are a broken and wounded people. It is moving to see in the book of Genesis, the first words of Adam after he had turned away from God. He responded to God who was looking for him I was frightened because I was naked and I hid. (Gen 3) At the heart of each one of us, descendants of Adam, there is the same terrible sense of "nakedness", inner poverty and emptiness that often frightens us and makes us hide from God and from others. Who are we? What is the meaning of our lives? We seek to be someone, by comparing ourselves to others, we have to be better, stronger, more clever, than them. If we are not better than others, then we become depressed and sad, victims. We are all frightened of showing our brokenness and poverty. With Adam and Eve's broken relationship and broken communion with God, competition, hatred, oppression, contempt, jealousy, violence entered into the world. Cain killed his brother Abel. To control this violence, strong, closed groups were created with their rituals, laws and powerful authority. Violence was contained in the group but individual freedom was curtailed if not crushed. Conflict then broke out between groups, cultures and religions. Each group had to show that it was more powerful than the others. To be a warrior, to die for one's country, was noble. Does this mean that culture and religion which formed these groups were just for personal security and protection against the emptiness and the loneliness of individuals? Culture, Religion and the Emergence of the "I" Religion, morality and culture can become walls behind which people can hide their nakedness and their fear of relationships. They feel secure, superior, powerful behind them. But religious traditions and cultures can also become the roots of our human growth in maturity and spirituality. They give us the necessary inner security to enable us to go beyond that which separates us from others, to meet those who are different, to discover their beauty and value, to serve and love them. To discover also that we are all part of an immense human family, that each person is important for God. Jesus came not to destroy the different ways that lead to God and to truth, but to fulfil them, to confirm them ≠ even to go deeper ≠ to lead each person into a new meeting with God, a communion with God. My hope is that we may learn to cherish - and even more to love deeply - our own church, our own religion and our own culture because they can open us up to a greater love of our own person, to God, to truth, to life and to love those who are different. They can call us to a greater maturity, while deeply respecting others and seeing the work of God within them. I believe that the genius of John Paul was on the one hand to affirm and deepen the identity of Catholics, and on the other to open us up to others who are different, to meet them, love, respect and understand them. Was that not his vision as he called leaders of different churches and religions to Assisi in 1986 and in 2002? Small communities How can we seek to live the primacy of the person and yet belong to a specific church or a religion that proclaims an absolute? How can we pass from a vision of the world, where it is clear who is bad and who good, who is wrong and who is right, what is false and what is true to an awareness that both the bad and the good, the wrong and the right are in you, in me, in each one of us? My experience is that we cannot truly discover the person of another and respect and appreciate him or her with all that is negative and positive in them, without a place of belonging where we are bonded together with others, can share together our joys and pains, and help each to grow to greater wisdom and maturity. The first community is the family where man and woman ≠ after a honeymoon period and a delightful and exciting fusion, discover how different they are! Family life - with the children that are given ≠ is a long road towards acceptance of the other, admiring and rejoicing in their gifts, being patient with their faults and inadequacies, learning day after day to forgive. Today for many reasons, the family is in danger. Breakdowns in communication can arise quickly. Children who do not have the privilege of a happy family bonding need other places of belonging. These places of belonging are not formed only by people with a common goal. They are places of mutual caring and covenant relationships. They are like schools where people learn to relate, to love others as they are, to meet the person behind the label, to live tenderness, to communicate, to forgive, to work together, to grow in inner freedom, and to learn to disarm their need to be right and to control. They are places where people can learn about themselves, learn to welcome their own personal story and accept their shadow side. They become more conscious of their fears, their nakedness and their need to hide. It is there that they learn to come out from behind their hiding places and begin to grow to greater personal maturity, freedom, wholeness and wisdom. These places of belonging need, however, to be open, leading each person to greater freedom, giving the opportunity for some to leave, if it is good for their growth. Small, open communities are essential to help people come out of the pangs of emptiness, loneliness, anguish and insecurity, and yet not fall into the closed, fearful sectarian groups which bring apparent security but crush a sense of freedom My experience of 40 years living with people with disabilities: in small communities of celebration The power of an intelligent and tender love For a long time before 1960, across Europe, hundreds and hundreds of dismal often overcrowded institutions and hospitals were filled with terribly lonely children and adults with disabilities who had been "put aside". Some parents, horribly disappointed and surprised by the birth of a child with disabilities, felt guilty; they saw no meaning to their child and felt obliged to put him or her away. These children and adults were often considered "not fully human", not fully a person, nonentities, a mistake or an error of nature. Our Churches frequently ignored their importance as children of God. What have we, in l'Arche and in Faith and Light, discovered? Hidden underneath the label of disability, there is a person yearning for relationship. Did you know that it was only in the 1930's that Dr Bowlby and others like him discovered the value and importance of parental love ≠ made of tenderness, attentiveness - for the growth of the child towards maturity? A person who was not loved as a child or a person who has been physically or sexually abused as a child and has lived in the shadow of fear, will have more difficulty growing into a mature, free human being. They have to protect their extreme vulnerability. If a child is not loved, will he or she be able to grow in love? If a child is not seen and respected as a person how will he or she learn to see and respect others as persons? To love is not to possess or to control another. To love is to respect another. To love is to reveal to another person their value and beauty; to help them rediscover their self esteem, deepen their personal conscience and become more fully themselves and not just what others want them to be. In the 130 L'Arche communities and the 1,500 Faith and Light communities around the world, we have witnessed the incredible power of and intelligent love. Children and adults who had been considered only as "a problem", a source of pain and distress, considered as having no value, no dignity, tend to close up in anger, and depression and sometimes self ≠mutilation. Or else they will flee into a world of dreams or madness. If they live in a community where they are loved and respected and where they receive help in order to develop humanly and spiritually, they flourish and become more fully themselves. The disability as such may not be cured, but they can open up to their environment and to others and learn to live with their limits and handicaps in a deeply human way. What is amazing for many of us in l'Arche is not so much the peace and joy and growth in spiritual and human capacities of people with disabilities, but the growth of young people - and less young -who come and share their lives with them, who often say that through this shared life they themselves have been transformed; they have discovered a new meaning to their lives. Let me tell you the story of a thirty year old woman who claims she was transformed by her shared life in L'Arche. She had grown up fearing relationships, hiding from them, because her parents were always quarrelling. Relationships for her were seen as dangerous. She decided to work hard in her studies and at work and she did well. She was promoted and was a success. She admitted however that she was wearing a mask, protecting herself, her vulnerability, and her own heart and affectivity. She discovered l'Arche almost by mistake and her whole world has changed. She discovered living, loving, kind and tender relationships; person to person, heart to heart relationships. She realised that people loved and appreciated her but did not seek to possess or control her. The people with learning disabilities she lived with were not caught up in a world of politeness and social conventions. They were not struggling for power or seeking to prove they were better than others; they were simple and open. They awoke her own heart and helped her to discover who she really was. She discovered with them the communion of hearts and a way to come out from behind her hiding places. Sometimes I go to the restaurant with Gerard. In the middle of the meal he gets up and goes over to people at the other tables to say "Hello, I'm Gerard. What is your name?" He has a deep sense of our common humanity! People like Gerard are "people for people", they live for relationships; they are not people seeking a place in the hierarchy of power. The importance of the person The main aspect of our life in community is that we are centred around the well being of each person, particularly those who are the weakest. Many in l'Arche cannot talk and we need to learn to understand their body language: their smiles, their anger, their violence, their tenderness in order to understand them and help them to discover their beauty and to grow. What is important is "you", your development, your bodily welfare, your needs, your happiness, your place, how you can grow humanly and spiritually. ou are more important than the community! All that obviously takes time, a lot of listening and often good professional help. L'Arche is founded on the need for an intelligent, wise love, so that each person may discover who they are and grow to greater maturity. Love is at the heart of the Christian message. The values of our European culture are justice and respect for people. We are all called to seek the common good, help in the creation of good laws, work for justice and truth, and develop centres of education where human values are seen as essential, where young people are taught to work together to cooperate and to understand those who are different. Compassion and Forgiveness But as followers of Jesus we are called to go further than justice an the creations of good laws and discover two particular virtues and attitudes which are essential if we are to work for peace: compassion and forgiveness. Compassion and forgiveness always go hand in hand. Jesus brings them together when he says: "Be compassionate as my Father is compassionate Do not judge or condemn but forgive" (Luke.6.) Compassion seeks to lessen the gap between the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor. Forgiveness seeks to bring down the walls and frontiers that separate people who reject each other, who refuse to speak to each other. Structures cannot be compassionate or forgiving, not even a community can be compassionate. It can encourage people to be compassionate, but as such a community is governed by rules, or laws and a constitution that specifies its goals and form of government. Only a person, a human heart, touched by the pain of another, can be compassionate and inspire the adequate response to pain. Compassion is lived when each one of us bends down and welcomes the person who is lonely, lost and in need, the one who has lost self esteem, is confused, depressed or angry. It is not simply to give something to people who are economically poor. It is first of all to reveal to a person that he or she has value, is important and unique and can grow and do beautiful things. It is to each one to help themselves and find meaning to their lives. This revelation is not always easy to transmit when people are locked up in fear and self hate or when they have lost self esteem. It takes time, a deep love, the wisdom of relationships, and often professional expertise to help them open up and discover who they are Here I would like to make a distinction between generosity and communion of heart. A generous person gives from their wealth and knowledge to people in need; they bend down as a superior to someone inferior, as someone who HAS to someone who HAS NOT, the rich give to the poor. They are in control of the situation and give what they want and when they want. Generosity hopefully will flow into a communion of hearts where we meet the weaker person as a person; we listen to their story and our hearts are touched.. We no longer seek to control them or to show them that we are superior; we become their friend. The gap that separated us has been reduced. We have become vulnerable one to the other. Through this bonding or communion of hearts we not only give but we also receive; we give life and receive life. We help people to rise up and rediscover their self-esteem They have a friend who trusts in them, so they too can grow in trust. Compassion then is healing for the one who receives compassion but also for the one who gives compassion. Both persons are transformed; both discover their true personhood. When a mother has lost her son in an accident, there is not much we can do. What she needs is someone to be with her, who lives a communion of hearts with her. Compassion implies wisdom: do not dive into the sea to save a drowning person unless you have a rope you can hang on to! That rope is wisdom. We must not sink into the suffering of others but help the suffering person to find life and meaning. Compassion implies that: we see the person behind the label of difference, pain, sickness or weakness and move from a sense of superiority and power to a relationship of friendship and mutual vulnerability. As we seek to be compassionate for the one who is lost, lonely and in pain, we learn to become compassionate for our own selves, for the broken one within us that we have hidden away behind a mask and that we do not want to see. But how to die to this deep psychological need to prove that we are better than others? Here let me quote a prayer of the Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople: "I have waged this war against myself for many years. It was terrible. But now I am disarmed. I am no longer frightened of anything because love banishes fear. I am disarmed of the need to be right and to justify myself by disqualifying others. I am no longer on the defensive, holding onto my riches." I still have a long way to go to be disarmed. I have touched and experienced the anger, violence and emptiness within my own self and have become more aware that the anguish and feeling of helplessness are not something that I can conquer through my own will and efforts. To become I need the compassionate power of the Holy Spirit to come into the places of my own darkness, loneliness and emptiness, into those places of pain I am hiding away, and reveal to me that I am, precious to God, loved by God, just as I am, in all my brokenness. I don't have to be better than others. Let me reflect with you on one of the most powerful parables of Jesus, the parable of the Good Samaritan. This story is about two people who belong to two hostile groups, which had been enemies for hundreds of years. The story takes place in six acts: - a Jewish man is beaten by robbers and left lying on the road - three men of the same religious tradition see him lying there and refuse to stop. Why? Fear. Fear of what? Why don't we stop? - a man of another culture, a "Samaritan", an enemy of the Jewish people of that time, sees the Jewish man lying on the ground and stops. He sees in this wounded Jewish man a brother in humanity. - He knows what to do. He is competent and tender. He pours wine and oil on the wounds and helps the wounded man to get unto his donkey. Competence and tenderness are two essential ingredients of compassion. - He spends the night with him and becomes his friend. He moves from an attitude of generosity to a communion of hearts. - He leaves humbly, in the morning, asking nothing in return. At the end of this parable Jesus says: "Go and do likewise" How difficult it is to "do likewise"! Can we do it without the help of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit? Can we be compassionate to the broken and the lonely if our hearts of stone have not been transformed into hearts of flesh, if we are still concerned about our own superiority? Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian message and at the heart of every human relationship. "There is no peace without justice, No justice without forgiveness" (John Paul II) Isn't our daily prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us"? Guilt is in all of us. We have hurt others and have been hurt by others. Walls have risen up between us. We need to be liberated from this guilt by the power of forgiveness. We need to liberate others through the power of our forgiveness We need to be forgiven by the lonely, the weak, the rejected, the poor the lost with whom we have not shared our wealth, our time, our hearts We need to be forgiven by other cultures, churches, religions that we have not respected, from whom we have turned away, with a feeling of superiority. Forgiveness is not just "let's forget past hurts". It is seeing the person of the one we called the enemy behind the label. It is the transformation of conflict into friendship, seeing the other, loving him or her as Jesus sees and love him or her. This means that we have become aware of all that is dead within us, that we were and are a source of death for others because of our prejudices, our indifference and sometimes our hatred. Can we forgive others if we are not aware of how much we need to be forgiven? Last June at a Festival for Peace in Northern Ireland, I listened to the testimony of Aaron, from Israel. His youngest son was in the army and was killed by a Hamas group in Southern Lebanon. His eldest son became mentally ill because of his younger brother's death and by things he had seen done by the brutality of the army in Gaza. Instead of closing up in anger, depression and a desire for vengeance, Aaron met with another Israeli father whose two sons had also been killed in the war. These two grieving fathers made contact with Palestinian families whose sons had been killed. Together they founded "Families for Peace". In the face of intense suffering we can rise up and become peacemakers. In a Europe which seeks to be a place of peace and a source of peace, we all need to take the road of forgiveness. But it is a long road. What will jolt us out of our need for comfort and security, and give us the strength to be peacemakers? Forgiveness, like compassion, is impossible on a purely human level. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to speak well of those who speak badly of us, to pray for those who crush us. Isn't that love impossible? To bend down to those who are lost, and lonely and to become their friend. Isn't that impossible? Compassion and forgiveness become possible through the presence of Jesus: He is the Prince of Peace. "If you love me and keep my word I will pray the Father and he will send you another Paraclete to be with you forever". (John 14) Yes, the Paraclete will be with us forever to reduce the gap between the powerful and the powerless, between the rich and the poor, not only through good legislation but through personal encounters with people, listening to their stories, heart to heart. The Paraclete will be with us to open cracks in the walls that separate us from enemies and from those we dislike. The Paraclete will change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh; and will soften our hearts. We will discover a new love, an intelligent love that opens us up and helps us to discover a new and deeper fraternity and bonding. My hope is that our very emptiness, our nakedness, can become a cry to the God who became flesh, who descended with compassion from his place of superiority, to look for us and to meet us, in all our brokenness, lostness and nakedness. He can fill our emptiness with his presence. This emptiness no longer needs to remain hidden; it becomes the very place where we call on God and meet God in a new way. Jesus is knocking at the door of our hearts, waiting for us to open so that he may dwell in us, and we in him, so that he may make of us men and women of compassion and forgiveness. Etty Hillesum, in all the pain and horror she experienced in the Westerbork camp prayed to God: "You cannot help us but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us". God needs us to unlock the doors behind which we hide, to let God in, so that we may become men and women of compassion and forgiveness. There are immense forces in our societies that tend to exalt power, physical strength and beauty. These economic, military and political powers use all forms of communication and psychological methods to impose a vision which incites people to seek power for their own glory, to seek rampant and greedy individualism, which crushes the weak and the vulnerable and even annihilates them. In front of these huge forces, there are trickles of peacemakers. My hope is that more and more men and women from different Christian churches and different religions and different philosophies of life will rise up from what can seems to be for some the ruins of morality and religion, from the ruins also of rivalry, competition and economic domination, in order to serve those who are weak and vulnerable and be present to them. Every gesture of compassion, every act of forgiveness makes each one of us more human and brings us closer to God The training ground of Europe can then become the land of a new vision for peace in our world where, we can discover that it is often the poor and the weak and minority groups who inspire us to become more human; who call forth what is deepest in us - goodness and compassion and who help us to discover what it means to be truly human and a friend of God. That is my hope for Europe ≠ not only for Europe, but also for the world. Source: Archbishops House
Share:  Bookmark and Share
Tags: None

Powered by Bondware
News Publishing Software

The browser you are using is outdated!

You may not be getting all you can out of your browsing experience
and may be open to security risks!

Consider upgrading to the latest version of your browser or choose on below: