Power of the Powerless by Jean Vanier
The following quotations are from Jean Vanier’s (the founder of L’Arche, a world wide community that looks after the mentally handicapped) presentation at the press release of Pope’s Lenten Message, as reported in The Catholic News of March 3-10, 2002. (The words in the brackets are added by me to make it clearer for myself).
Power of the Powerless
I would like to bear witness here to the “power” of these so-called “powerless” people;
Their capacity to open hearts,
to help people become more truly human,
to lead people into the mystery of the gospels and a meeting with Jesus.
We cannot however ignore that children born with a severe disability are a scandal, humanly speaking. Maybe it is only the gospel message that can help us to enter into the mystery of their lives.
Still others take the rather insecure road of compassion. They want to be with the broken of our world.
(In doing so) they discover also how broken they themselves are. (And) to grow in love they (also) need help.
Through compassion they discover community and their need for a deep, personal relationship with Jesus.
They discover the meaning of Eucharist and the washing of the feet.
They discover the church, a community of believers, and they begin to cry out for unity amongst all followers of Jesus and of all humanity.
. . . .
In our world of confusion and brokenness. . .
We learn through moments of hardship, (pain and suffering and) when we touch (our inner self we see) our own violence, (and come to realise) how much we need help in order to love intelligently.
We need the support of community and good spiritual accompaniment to grow to greater wholeness, maturity and union with Jesus.
We know that each person is important, unique, precious for Jesus. People with learning disabilities have a special importance for Jesus because in all their apparent incapacities, they are more open to love. They may not be able to develop their intellectual capacities but they are people of the heart, people yearning for relationship. That is why Paul affirms in his letter to the Corinthians that God has chosen the weak and foolish in the eyes of the world in order to confound the strong and the so called clever; that those who are weakest, “the least presentable” are necessary to the church and should be honoured (1 Corinthians 1:21, 1 Corinthians 12)
Some have become faithful friends of people with disabilities, committed to them. And I can testify to how this friendship with the weak has led them to growth in maturity and wholeness and in faith in Jesus. They realise that they can do something beautiful with their lives just by being with people, learning to love them intelligently.
Lessons to be learnt
Many discover or deepen their faith through compassion. It is a road to Jesus.
They discover that God is waiting for us in the poor and the weak.
They gradually discover their own hearts, their own deepest self.
People with learning disabilities are crying out for affection, faithful friendship and understanding. They have a mysterious way of breaking down barriers around peoples’ hearts.
They awaken what is deepest within us: our hearts and our desire for relationship. We see in the parable of the “good Samaritan,” how the wounded Jewish man left lying in the street somewhere between Jerusalem and Jericho touched and awoke the heart of the Samaritan who was passing by.
A Transforming experience
I can witness that many young volunteers live an experience of transformation. Jesus is waiting for them in the poor and the week. They discoversomething fundamental about being human and about being a follower of Jesus.
They discover that to be human and to be Christian means to love people. Things and projects are important but they should always be orientated towards people. Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, says that when societies put too much emphasis on acquiring things, they tend to lose the importance of relationships. And yet the treasure of us human beings is precisely relationships, the heart. The road to conflict resolution and justice can only come through dialogue, relationship and love.
Many young volunteers want to do good to the poor, but. . .what they discover is that it is the weak and the poor who are healing and transforming THEM, leading them into compassion.
They discover that Christianity is not first of all a theology, a catechism or moral laws, but a relationship with a person, the PERSON OF Jesus.
They realise how closed and prejudiced they were before, how they were only concerned about their own immediate family or group or religion or culture and they begin to understand how richer cultures oppress the poorer ones.
This shared experience with suffering and weak people helps them to discover what it means to be part of the human family.
Isn’t that what John, the beloved disciple, reveals when he says in his letters:
“Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God and whoever loves is born of God, and know God.” (1 John 4:7)
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17)