Jean Vanier. Becoming Human. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2008. (Kindle)
I was looking for a book that would introduce me to the author and explain how he got started on the Arche project. This work was just what I was looking for. In his introduction, Vanier tells us he was born on September 10, 1928, the son of Major-General Georges Vanier who became the Governor General of Canada (1959-1967) and his wife Pauline Vanier. Jean Vanier was born in Geneva, while his father was on a diplomatic service in Switzerland. He joined the Royal Naval College in England at the age of 13 and served in the Royal Navy until 1950.
This book explains the philosophy and theology behind Jean Vanier’s conversion from the world of success to the humble world of the poor in spirit who follow Jesus Christ. Vanier is the founder of the communities of L’Arche which in 2008 numbered 134 communities in 35 different countries. The movement began when Vanier, moved with compassion, invited Philip Seux and Raphael Simi to come to live with him in a home which he purchased at Trosly Breuil, France, north of Paris. This was in April, 1964 and fourteen years after Vanier had left the French Navy to find “another road to peace”. In addition to the Arche communities, Vanier founded Faith and Light Federation which shares the Arche experience in retreats and lectures in 80 countries.
Becoming Human develops the principle themes and insights into what it means to be fully human in a Christian perspective. The title suggests that we become fully human, we are not born so. Under five headings: loneliness, belonging, healing, freedom and forgiveness, Vanier explains how these elements provide a way to be fully human and fully Christian. The path or way to becoming what we are meant to be lies in a transformation which is life-long. One is not alone even with human disabilities because God is always with us. Similarly belonging to a community, being accepted and having a sense of self-worth contributes to becoming holistically human. The path to healing is from exclusion to inclusion. Those with mental disabilities experience rejection but when they are welcomed and accepted by loving communities they experience the healing from such exclusion. Being fully and truthfully free means discovering God’s love and care and thus finding the path to freedom. And finally the ability to forgive others and receive their forgiveness completes this human and Christian transformation.
At the heart of Vanier’s message is the gospel message. Jesus Christ calls blessed the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek and humble, peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of justice. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is his way to holiness and also the path to human integrity and merciful salvation.