August / September 2019 - Vol. 105

meeting Christ on the road to Emmaus (from a film
Walking Toward the Covenant
Quotes from the writings of Jean Vanier,
founder of L'Arche Community

A birth of hope
I realise more and more how many young people are wounded in their capacity to live in relationship and remain very immature emotionally. Perhaps they lacked a warm, emotional environment when they were young and, above all, genuine and trusting relationships with their parents. So they are on an emotional quest, frequently confused and lost, particularly in the area of values and of the meaning of sexuality. They need a community in which to grow towards greater maturity and healing and wholeness; they need a secure and emotionally warm environment where they can establish the relationships they need without danger. They need older people who have time to listen to them.

Some young people will find healing and meaning to their lives in these communities, and then will move on and put their roots down in another soil. Others will put down roots in one of these communities, which then becomes the earth in which they grow and bear fruit. But between the initial call to community and the final rooting, there are many passages, moments of doubt and crises of all sorts. The final rooting is the recognition and acceptance of a covenant, a bonding between people that is holy and sacred because it is given by God. And this covenant between people is founded on the bonding or the covenant between the individual person and God...

Communities whose members live faithfully a life-long covenant with God are signs of the fidelity of God.

In our time, when there is so much infidelity, when there are so many broken marriages, so many disturbed relationships, so many children who are angry with their parents, so many people who have not been faithful to their promise to love each other, more and more communities need to be born as signs of fidelity. Communities of students or friends who come together for a short time can be signs of hope. But the communities whose members live faithfully a life-long covenant with God, among themselves and with the poor, are more important still. They are signs of the fidelity of God.

The Hebrew word hesed expresses two things: fidelity and tenderness. In our civilisation we can be tender but unfaithful, and faithful without tenderness. The love of God is both tenderness and fidelity. Our world is waiting for communities of tenderness and fidelity. They are coming.

Commitment in a community is the recognition by its members that they have been called by God to live together, love each other, pray and work together.

The first call
Commitment in a community is not primarily something active, like joining a political party or trade union. Those need militants who give their time and energy and are ready to fight. A community is something quite different. It is the recognition by its members that they have been called by God to live together, love each other, pray and work together in response to the cry of the poor. And that comes first at the level of being rather than of doing. To accept being rooted in a community is more or less preceded by a recognition that you are already 'at home', that you are part of its body. It is rather similar to marriage; couples recognise that something has been born between them and that they are made for each other. It is only then that they are ready to commit themselves to marriage and remain faithful to each other.

So in community everything starts with this recognition of being in communion one with another; we are made to be together. You wake up one morning knowing that the bonds have been woven; and then you make the active decision to commit yourself and promise faithfulness, which the community must confirm.

It's important not to let too much time pass between this recognition that the bonds or the covenant are there and the decision. That's the best way to miss the turning and end up in the ditch!

…If a community puts pressure on its members to decide before their time has come, this is because the community itself has not yet found its freedom. It is too insecure; it clings to people. Perhaps it has grown too quickly, forced by an expansionist pride. If our communities are born from the will of God, if the Holy Spirit is at the heart of them, our Heavenly Father will send the people we need. A community has to learn how to be cheerful about letting
people leave and how to trust that God will send other brothers and sisters. 'Oh people of little faith! Seek first the Kingdom of God and all the rest will be given in superabundance.'

There is nothing attractive about mediocre communities - they disappear.

The focal point of fidelity
Communities are born, flourish and then often degenerate and die. You only have to look at the history of communities and of religious orders to see this. The enthusiasm, the ardour, the generosity of their beginnings disappear as they gradually become comfortable; they become mediocre, and rules and law take precedence over spirit. There is nothing attractive about mediocre communities; they disappear.

It is important for communities to discover the focal point of fidelity which enables the spirit to stay strong, and what makes for deviation from it. There seem to me to be two essential – and linked - elements which lead to deviation: the search for security, or a weariness of insecurity, and a lack of fidelity to the initial vision which gave the foundation its spirit.

When a community is born, its founders have to struggle to survive and announce their ideal. So they find themselves confronted with contradictions and sometimes even persecution. These conditions oblige the members of the community to emphasise their commitment; they strengthen motivation and encourage people to go beyond themselves, to rely totally on Providence. Sometimes, only the direct intervention of God can save them. When they are stripped of all their wealth, of all security and human support, they must depend on God and the people around them who are sensitive to the witness of their life. They are obliged to remain faithful to prayer and the glow of their love; it is a question of life or death. Their total dependence guarantees their authenticity; their weakness is their strength.

Jean Vanier
Jean Vanier (1928 - 2019)

Excerpts from Community and Growth, Revised Edition, by Jean Vanier, Copyright © 1979, 1989. First published in Great Britain in 1979 by Darton, Longman and Todd ltd, London, UK.

Jean Vanier, (September 10, 1928 – May 7, 2019), was a Canadian Catholic philosopher, theologian, and humanitarian. In 1964, he founded L'Arche, an international federation of communities spread over 37 countries, for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. Subsequently, in 1971, he co-founded Faith and Light with Marie-Hélène Mathieu, which also works for people with developmental disabilities, their families, and friends in over 80 countries. He continued to live as a member of the original L'Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France, until his death.

Over the years he wrote 30 books on religion, disability, normality, success, and tolerance. Among the honours he received were the Companion of the Order of Canada (1986), Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec (1992), French Legion of Honour (2003), Community of Christ International Peace Award (2003), the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award (2013), and the Templeton Prize (2015).
[source: Wikipedia]

Top image: Christ meets two disciples on the Road to Emmaus, film clip from BBC miniseries "The Passion" 2014

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