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“I ended up with a Doctorate in Philosophy....... started teaching at the University of Toronto ......I suppose that during that time, though my heart was growing a bit in Jesus, I think I was essentially developing my head.
These people (with handicaps) were very different from my students..... I think my students rather liked my head, but they were rather disinterested in my person. But, these people with handicaps were interested in my person, and not at all interested in my head..... I found they had a great cry for relationships”.
Jean Vanier is talking about two levels of Christian faith: understanding more about Jesus (head) and being more like Jesus (heart). The head without the heart seems fairly empty. As people in leadership within the Passionist Family Group Movement, involved with ordinary people, there needs to be recognition of both head and heart..... but especially too, that ‘the poor’ are not concerned with our ‘head’.
Looking back at your experience in your ministry as a Family Group leader or parish co-ordinator, when have you appreciated that your heart is more important than your head?
Has this enabled you to recognise the ‘cry for relationships’ that each of us need?
I think it is true that in our world we are frightened of people who are different......there’s a tendency to get rid of people who are ‘different’ and ‘unproductive’, and I think it’s true that we have discovered just by living with them that these people have much to offer....... there’s a gentleness, and an openness, and in a way they change us...... you have to really slow up, but in a way, they are curing us, because our sickness is to keep running. to be doing things to prove ourselves, and so we loss touch with our own humanity - which is our heart........ very quickly we have discovered it is they who are giving us our dignity........ they have taught us what it is to be attentive listening people..... we tend to spend a lot of our time proving ourselves to people.
I think everybody must be part of a community, and community is somewhere really wanting to see other people growing, to respect them as people, to love them as people, not see them first as a function.
Then eventually, community is a recognition of a covenant....we are linked together, we’re born to bring something together - we’re a body. Then I think we’re called to discover the covenant relationships we have together. If we don’t have that, then we’re alone...... if that happens we become anguished, we have to put up barriers and to arm ourselves..... so today, it’s almost a question of life or death; to find community is to find a way to peace, because community is the respect of difference, it is the love of difference.
From your point of view, is there a healthy respect for differences among the members in your group?
Are you accepted as you are? Can you accept others as they are?
“It’s obvious that there will always be people in community who will want to prove themselves.. doing things out of duty instead of love and compassion - this is human reality, and we must never deny human reality - what we really need to believe is that human reality can little by little be transformed. That is not that our wounds will be healed necessarily, but we can learn to walk with them. And then we can learn to forgive. Because I think that at the heart of our human communities just as at the heart of any relationship, there must be forgiveness”.
“We’re in a world where either we’re going to put more and more of our money into armaments and then it all ends in a catastrophe - or gradually we’re all going to accept to disarm. However there is no question of disarming in front of a national enemy unless we’re beginning to disarm inside our schools, unless doctors are beginning to disarm in front of nurses, unless teachers are beginning to disarm in front of children, and unless in business labour and management are beginning to disarm in front of each other. That is, unless there is a growing in between us, a system of trust; and the system of trust is one in which we essentially listen to the other people in an open and kind way. Its no longer a question of “Is this a good thing or bad thing?’ I’d say its a matter of life and death”
“I think the important thing for a human being to be, is to be open. open to others, open to reality......open to God. I think that belief in God is the ultimate movement of this opening up of a human being to discover other people, to love other people.... and eventually to discover this mystery of God at the heart of the universe and in the heart of our hearts”.
“One of the dangers is for us to be frightened.... what is essential for us to believe is that God is in the hearts of people, and therefore reinforce to work for ‘little’ people and to live with the poor. Resurrection is not just a belief that Jesus is risen, but we have seen people move from death to life, and when you have seen this in other people, and you’ve seen it in yourself, then there is hope for the whole world”.
Have you recognised God as being alive in the hearts of the people to whom you have ministered?
Is there an instance when you can recall someone moving from ‘death to life’ in your Family Group?
In your own life have you experience ‘new life’ ?
When you reflect on these matters do you have the same hope that Jean Vanier has, especially at this time with the threat of war ?