PATH TO PEACE – REMEMBERANCE 2020
I would like to share with you today some thoughts by the man known in history as Jean Vanier. I am sure that all of you know that Jean Vanier is the son of Georges Vanier - one of our country’s Governor-generals. But Jean himself is even better known for his work with people who more often than not are ignored by society. He is the founder of the L’Arche communities. These communities have sought to address the needs of the severely handicapped by providing them with a stable and caring home – a place where they not only feel safe but are encouraged to engage life to the fullest of their abilities.
At the time of the Second World War, Jean was a boy of 11. By the war’s end he was still a teenager but certainly not a naïve young man. His life had changed forever. He had experienced hatred and violence beyond what many of us could ever imagine. He knew not only that he could be killed but he learned how to kill. He learned about enemies and that the only good enemy was a dead enemy. His childhood was cut short and yet he still had to live those years. His toys were replaced by guns. His thoughts of carefree days at play or in school were replaced by the need to learn to survive.
But having survived such a time in his life, he began to ponder the direction that his life could go. In his book, “The Broken Body”, Jean begins reflections on restoring the broken body to wholeness with these words: “My brother, my sister, you who are called to follow Jesus, to become a man or a woman of peace in this divided world of ours, may I give you some words of hope to help you along your journey? From an early age I was involved in the business of war. I learnt how to use guns and machines of destruction, how to be quick and efficient in order to destroy the enemy before we were destroyed. But Jesus called me to leave the things of war for the things of peace and to follow Him.” (The Broken Body, pg. 70)
Jean’s journey led him to a place where he dedicated himself not to the destruction of the body and spirit but to a place where the body and spirit can find healing and wholeness. And while we do look to Jesus to heal and to make not only ourselves but others whole, we also need to look to ourselves to be agents of healing and wholeness.
One of the last things our Lord did after His resurrection and before His ascension was to give the disciples the Spirit of God. He breathed on them a new breath. As God had created us from the elements of this earth and gave us breath in body, so now Jesus – the Son of God – who is one with the Father gives to the disciples the breath of God in spirit.
At an early stage in the history of what has come to be known as Christianity, people were known as followers of The Way. Faith in God as revealed through Jesus Christ was seen as following the way of Christ. And that is truly what we are to be in this day and age. We need to recapture what it truly means to be disciples of Jesus. We need to get beyond our religious history and forms and see once again the vision of God for a people of faith, a people who follow a way through life and to life. “This way is open to us all,” writes Vanier (The Broken Body, pg. 72). Each of us is called to go deeper and to be compassionate as He was compassionate, wherever we find ourselves, and whatever our circumstances.
Jean continues: “The poor and the weak have revealed to me the great secret of Jesus. If you wish to follow Him you must not try to climb the ladder of success and power, becoming more and more important. Instead, you must walk down the ladder, to meet and walk with people who are broken and in pain. The poor with whom you are called to share your life are perhaps the sick and the old; people out of work, young people caught up in the world of drugs, people angry because they were terribly hurt when they were young, people in far-off lands where there is much hunger and suffering, people who are oppressed because of the colour of their skin or orientation, people who are lonely in overcrowded cities or isolated in rural areas, people in pain.” (The Broken Body, pg. 72-3)
Too often religion is used to justify actions which belie the truths of that faith or to affirm the superiority of one faith over another. The opportunity for dialogue is lost in the thunder of rhetoric which too often has found its end in armed aggression. Interestingly, Paul preferred dialogue. When he came to a place where many gods were worshipped and found that one was called the unknown god, he took the opportunity to tell the people about the God revealed through Jesus Christ. He did not denounce their gods but chose instead to speak of the way he had come to know, the God who had come into his life and let each of them decide for themselves.
Different faiths, different languages, and different cultures – these can be ways to isolate ourselves in this world or ways to expand and grow. When I visit a new country or a new part of Canada; when I meet a people whose language or culture is different from mine, I can choose to do one of two things: I can either decide to learn about and appreciate the place and the people for who they are or I can decide to make them like me. I prefer to learn and appreciate. I will inevitably be invited to share my culture with them, but I will have learned to value them for who they are and appreciate the fact that they have let me be part of their lives.
Just to show you that as much as things change, they stay the same, hear these words of Jean Vanier written in 1988:
“Now, as never before, we must try to bridge the gap that separates people, cultures, races, religions, rich and poor. Conflict is too dangerous a game; war can lead to annihilation. Jesus calls us to follow Him to help bridge the gap – especially the great chasm of fear – and so become peace-makers like Him.” (The Broken Body, pg. 75)
For decades, our military was known for being peacekeepers. In recent conflicts – even though they were called to take up arms in a different way – many of them sought to be peacemakers. Some of their efforts were successful, others were not. But it has not stopped them from trying. For peace to be kept, peace has to be made. And if we cannot make peace with our neighbours, with those whose language, culture or religion is different from our own, we will never be able to keep peace.
That is the challenge we face: to see in the other our own self.
Jean closes this section of his book with these words: “Can we not bridge the gap and discover Jesus, Prince of Peace, calling us each one of us to be peace-makers, bringing together in love people with all their differences?” (The Broken Body, pg. 76)