Jean Vanier shaking hands with one of the core members of L'Arche Daybreak, John Smeltzer.

Jean Vanier shaking hands with one of the core members of L’Arche Daybreak, John Smeltzer. (Photo via Wikipedia)

On March 11 the Templeton Foundation gave its most prestigious award to my hero, Jean Vanier.  For Linda and our children and me, he has also been our retreat leader, our teacher of humility, our guide.

A few years ago, when we went to Trosly to celebrate Christmas with Jean, we sat with him for a few minutes to share in the celebration. He had spoken earlier in the day of the pain we all experience in trying to accept our smallness, our nakedness, our littleness. “As we become close to someone weak, compassion arises,” he had said, “and a compassion to help others rises up. It is not the goal of consoling others but rather of helping, of becoming a peace maker, of longing for unity among all…Christmas is the celebration of God becoming weak and little and naked just like us so that we can awaken to love, awaken to compassion, awaken to entering into relationships where we have nothing to prove…relationships where we are just loved.”

All 7 of us together with our great friends, the Sorenson family of 6, awaited Jean for our little meeting after the talk. We were nervous a bit—what could we say to him? What should we ask? He entered the small room in his usual blue jacket and mischievous smile and sat unassumingly. “How are you all,” he said with a big smile. “Are you having any fun?”

We laughed. The kids looked at the parents as if to say, “how can we say we’re having fun when we’re spending all our time in church?” Instead, we asked about his world and his thoughts for the future. At one point, I asked, “Jean, what is your advice to these children who are at an age where they’re searching for what to do with their lives, who to become?”

He smiled. “They should do what makes them happy,” was his big smile response. “I stayed here at L’Arche because this is where I was happy. I wanted to be here. They should do the same.”

The world of Special Olympics joins me in big cheers of delight to the prophet of simplicity, humility, and happiness. That’s a combination few of us remember to pursue, but for Jean Vanier, it is only in compassion that we find happiness.

May his example grow in all of us.


Editor’s Note: Please enjoy this great March 11 piece in the Huffington Post on Jean Vanier:

It started with an act of kindness.

In 1964, Jean Vanier invited two men with developmental disabilities to share a house with him in Trosly-Breuil, near Paris. It was a life-changing move for the Canadian philosopher that would, over time, radically improve the lives of many others…

You can click here to read the full story of this profoundly poor and triumphant man.  

And to learn more about Jean Vanier please head here: http://www.jean-vanier.org/en/home

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