The Holy Spirit is working everywhere by Jean Vanier

The Holy Spirit is working everywhere 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) in his book “Community and Growth,” revised edition, published in 1991. When he wrote the book, he has already lived day by day for 28 years with people who have mental handicap. He still lives with them today.

1.A shepherd who yearns for Unity (p.151-152)

As I think of all the communities throughout the world, struggling for growth, yearning to answer the call of Jesus and of the poor, I realise the need for a universal shepherd—a shepherd who yearns for Unity, who has clarity of vision, who calls forth communities and who holds all people in prayer and in love, who is a guardian of unity and a servant of communion.

How long will it take before people realise this deep need for a universal shepherd? How long will it take for Roman Catholics to understand the depths of their gift and be confounded in humility, and to open themselves up to others in understanding and love? How long will it take them to recognise the beauty of the Orthodox Church with its sense of the sacred; and the beauty of and gift of the Church of South India and of Protestant Churches, especially with their love of Scripture, of announcing the Word, and their desire to live in the Holy Spirit? How long will it take them to see the light of truth and the presence of God in so many men and women of other religions?

Yes. I yearn for this day of unity.

Roger Schutz, founder of Taize, has a prophetic passion for unity and I would wish to have the same passion. In the Acts of the Council of Youth 1979 it is Written:

A way exists to put an end to the scandal of the divisions among Christians and to allow the Churches to join in a common creation: that every local community refer to a ministry of reconciliation at the heart of the People of God. These past few months, the eyes of many men and women have been opened more than ever before to the ministry of a universal pastor: ‘attentive to serve humanity as such and not only Catholics, to defend above all and in all places rights of the human person and not only those of the Church’. (John XXIII).

2.Vatican II (p.172-173)

It is good that different types of Christian community meet to share their hope and their vision. It is good too that Christians meet to see how the Spirit is acting among them. It is encouraging and strengthening to discover the network of the Holy Spirit and the marvels of God across the world. We realise then that we are not alone with our problems and that there is a universal hope.

It is important to know what the Spirit is doing in the Church, be cause he is always raising up, providentially men and women to show us new ways. The most prophetic are sometimes the most hidden during their lifetime. Few people knew Therese of Lisieux or Charles de Foucauld before their deaths.

Today Roger Shutz and his brothers in Taize are truly prophetic. Their community is bringing forth much fruit. Truly the Taize community, and Brother Roger’s words and gestures, are a sign of God in our broken world. Their yearning for unity amongst Christian churches is a sign of the yearning of God. It is important to listen to such signs and to integrate them into the vision of our own community. The same is true of the vision of Mother Teresa; she also is a sign of the presence of God in our world. She is reminding all our communities that we must be open to the poorest and the weakest of our world, for they are a presence of Christ. Such prophets are showing us a way.

Vatican Il announced so clearly that the Holy Spirit is working in all the Churches, not just in the Roman Catholic Church. It seems to fl1 that this teaching is not always put into practice. It remains a theory, a doctrine, a vision. Shouldn’t we all look at the consequences of it? Roman Catholics are often enclosed within their own groups, their own club, their own community. They are not sufficiently alert to see the signs of the Spirit present in other Churches, other communities, or in people of other religionsYet the Spirit of God is at work there. God is speaking to them; he is revealing himself there. We must be attentive to others, to notice in them the presence of the Holy Spirit. If we confine ourselves only to the workings of the Spirit in ‘our’ group or in ‘our’ Church, we will miss something; we will be lacking in a gift of the Spirit. Communities have so much to offer to each other. They can offer each other their food, their nourishment.

But of course, in order to really appreciate the Spirit working in the hearts of other communities and Churcheswe have to be well rooted in our own; we have to belong. Otherwise we risk living in

some confusion, without roots. 

3.We want to help each person to deepen in their own faith(198-200)

In those communities of l’Arche which are interdenominational, I would like to see the words, ‘I thirst for unity’. Jesus is saying to each one of the members: ‘Are you prepared to suffer for unity? Will you follow me along the road and carry the cross of this pain?’

With all the suffering of a divided Eucharist and of divided churches, we can be nourished by this bread of pain. We know the road is uncharted and painful, but we are walking with Jesus; we are walking towards unity.

However, all of us hate pain. We try to flee from it; we do every thing to avoid it. So, time and time again in our communities, the question of intercommunion comes up, sometimes in quite an aggressive way, especially as new assistants arrive. It is not easy to keep walking on the right path, particularly as we do not always receive the necessary encouragement from the clergy in the different Churches. Each priest or minister belongs to a particular church, where they have their own problems; they are not always concerned about an interdenominational community. To whom does such a community belong? Perhaps to all the Churches involved, but only as long as they are yearning for unity as Christ does.

The danger for interdenominational communities is that the people in them begin to see religion and the Churches as a source of division. It is so easy to slip away then from all spiritual values and religious activities, and to put all our energy into leisure activities and community celebrations where we can be united. But such activities are not sufficient for building and sustaining community. L’Arche communities could easily become good group homes and forget they are communities, with all that that implies.

To live ecumenism, each person is called to live and deepen what is essential to their faith in Jesus: to be in communion with the Father and to grow in love for others. But they must live and deepen what is specific to their own Church too. True ecumenism is not the suppression of difference; on the contrary, it is learning to respect and love what is different. The members of the community must then be grounded in their own tradition and love it. It means also that they feel truly called by Jesus to eat the bread of pain in order to further that unity. In such communities each person must be truly nourished spiritually, in order to grow in wholeness and in holiness.

If interdenominational communities cannot be nourished by the Eucharist, there must be other moments when the presence of Jesus is signified to bring about communion. Communities, as I have said, are places of communion before being places of cooperation. This communion must be nourished. Members of interdenominational communities are called to deepen their prayer life together. They are called to celebrate all that unites Christians of different traditions: in particular baptism; the Word of God; the cross of Jesus and carrying our cross; living in the Holy Spirit, prayer and the presence of Jesus. Together, all the members are called to holiness and love. If they cannot celebrate the Eucharist together, they can celebrate the washing of each other’s feet; living it as a sacrament.

In l’Arche, if we cannot eat at the same Eucharistic table, we can all eat together at the table of the poor. ‘When you give a banquet,’ says Jesus, ‘invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, not your friends or relations or rich neighbours’ (Luke 14:13-15). If we cannot drink together from the same Eucharistic chalice, we can all drink together from the chalice of suffering (cf. Matt. 20) caused by division amongst Christians and by the rejection of the poor and the weak. These are the specific gifts of l’Arche.

We can discover also the intimate link between the broken body of Christ in the Eucharist and the broken and suffering bodies of our people. We can discover that the poor are a path to unity. As we are called to love them, and to be loved by them, we are in some mysterious way brought together in the heart of Christ.

What I have said of interdenominational communities can also be said, but in a different way, about inter-religious communitiesHere the bread of pain is perhaps even greater. We have to discover how to celebrate our common humanity. We must discover the cycles of nature and the presence of God in all the beauty of our universe. We must learn how to celebrate a common prayer to God, the Father of us all.

In our communities of Asha Niketan in India where we live, Hindus, Muslims and Christians together we are struggling to live this Unity and diversity. We want to help each person to deepen in their own faith and find the essence of love at the heart of their faith; and at the same time we seek to celebrate our common humanity, our love for God and for each other.

In all this, we must discover that l’Arche is called to be a prophetic place of peace and reconciliation. That is our call and our gift. And our beloved God will give us the nourishment we need as he gave it to his people in the desert with the manna and the waters springing from the rock. If we cry out in our pain he will feed us.

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