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To be in communion

  • JEAN VANIER

To be in communion with someone also means to walk with them.

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Those of you who have had the privilege of accompanying people in distress and inner pain know that it is not easy to walk with them, without having any answers to their problems or solutions for their pain. For many people in pain there is no solution; for a mother who has just lost her child or for a woman who has just been abandoned by her husband, there is no answer, there is just the pain. What they need is a friend willing to walk with them in all that pain. They do not need someone to tell them to try to forget the pain, because they won't. It is too deep. When a child has experienced rejection, you can say all sorts of nice things to the child, but that will not take away the pain. It will take a long time for that pain to diminish and it will probably never completely disappear.

Some of the men and women I have been living with for a number of years now are still in quite deep anguish. They are more peaceful than they were, but there are still moments when anguish surges up in them. The essential at such moments is to walk with them, accepting them just as they are, to allow them to be themselves. It is important for them to know that they can be themselves, that even though there are wounds, and pain in them, they are loved. It is a liberating experience for them to realize they do not have to conform to any preconceived idea about how they should be.

But this communion is not fusion. Fusion leads to confusion. In a relationship of communion, you are you and I am I; I have my identity and you have yours. I must be myself and you must be yourself. We are called to grow together, each one becoming more fully himself or herself. Communion, in fact, gives the freedom to grow. It is not possessiveness. It entails a deep listening to others, helping them to, become more fully themselves.

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Acknowledgement

Jean Vanier. "To be in communion." From Brokenness to Community (Paulist Press, 1992).

Reprinted with permission of Paulist Press.

The Author

Jean Vanier, is the founder of the international movement of L'Arche communities, where people who have developmental disabilities and the friends who assist them create homes and share life together. Distressed by the plight of people with developmental disabilities, in 1964 he welcomed two men from an institution to live with him in a little home he called “L'Arche,” after Noah's ark in the French village of Trosly Breuil. L'Arche grew quickly as this new way of sharing life together in community with people who would otherwise be shut away in institutions attracted many young people. And Vanier himself began traveling and speaking about his own life-changing experience of coming to know people with developmental disabilities. Today, there are 130 L'Arche communities in 30 countries on six continents. Jean Vanier is the author of many books, including From Brokenness to Community, Our Life Together: A Memoir in Letters, Becoming Human, Finding Peace, Seeing Beyond Depression, The Scandal of Service: Jesus Washes Our Feet, and Jesus, The Gift of Love.

Copyright © 2011 Paulist Press
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