Jean Vanier. Photo courtesy Templeton Prize: Paul Hackett

Jean Vanier. Photo courtesy Templeton Prize: Paul Hackett

Remembering Jean: Mourning with the Community of Daybreak

The Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, was asked to provide a reflection on Jean Vanier to the L’Arche Daybreak Community in Richmond Hill, ON, as the community remembers his life and grieves his death. Daybreak is the second L’Arche Community in the world, and the oldest and largest L’Arche community in North America.

With the Community of Daybreak, I mourn the death of Jean Vanier. With you, I give thanks for his life and labours among those whom he chose to describe as “otherly abled”. With you, I pray he will rest in peace and rise in the glory of Christ.

Jean founded L’Arche in 1964 opening a house in Trosly-Breuil, France. Now L’Arche communities can be found all around the world. Coming as I do from Nova Scotia, I remember visiting the communities in Halifax, Wolfville, Antigonish and Sydney. With delight, I remember my visit to your community a couple of years ago. I remember the warmth of your welcome in the chapel, in the lunchroom, and in the common room. I remember the visit to the woodworking shop and the pottery shop. I remember how you taught me to make a candle which I gave to my wife at Christmas that year. Your community and others like it are beautiful expressions of the kingdom of which Jesus speaks. Everyone knows they are valued in the community. Everyone’s life is celebrated. Your dignity is honoured. Birthday celebrations are important. Your physical, emotional and spiritual needs are met. You live together. You eat together. You work together. You play together. You pray together. You create together. You travel together. You laugh together. You cry together. You wash each other’s feet. You celebrate your accomplishments. You share your griefs. Your lives are oriented by the values of the gospel.

This was Jean’s vision for L’Arche. He once said that in the Church, he learned the faith, but at L’Arche, he learned to live it day by day.

Jean will be remembered by many with much affection and great respect. Known for his holiness and humility, he is already venerable to many of us. He is the image of a happy saint. Wherever he went to bring greetings on behalf of L’Arche, to give lectures, to address assemblies great and small, he appeared with an open collared shirt and his blue windbreaker style of jacket. His smile was as broad as any I have known. His eyes danced with delight in the message he was conveying. A hand or two was always raised in making an important point in a conversation or a talk, in inviting the assembly into yet deeper reflection in what it means to “become human”, in inviting the gathering into prayers.

I have heard Jean speak several times in my life, including at a Lambeth Conference in 1998. That is a gathering of Anglican bishops from all over the world. I also heard him speak at a couple of meetings of the Primates (Presiding Bishops) of the Churches of the Anglican Communion in 2016 and 2017. I well remember him talking about how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, giving us an example that we should wash one another’s feet. I remember him talking about the potential this humble act of service has for drawing us together in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and collaboration, for the sake of our common humanity and our care of our common home, the earth itself.

I have most of the books Jean Vanier wrote and I cherish each of them. One that is never far from my reach is his book, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John. In the introduction he writes:

What I share in these pages is the music I have heard behind these words and the flow of the Gospel of John. I have listened to the song, which warmed and stirred my heart, opened up my intelligence, gave hope, meaning and orientation to my life, with all that is beautiful and all that is broken within me, and meaning to this world of pain in which we live.

I want to sing this song too, even if my voice is weak and sometimes wavers, so that others may sing it and that together we may be in the world singing a song of hope to bring joy where there is sadness and despair.”

And sing he did! To the end of his days on earth.

For me, Jean Vanier in life and in death was a wonderful example of what it means to embrace the gospel of Jesus – a gospel of simplicity in being, of trusting in God, of living in right relations with one another, of caring for the most vulnerable in our midst.

His life and labours are a beautiful testament to honouring what the Lord requires of us – that we love kindness, do justice and walk humbly with God”. (Micah 6:8)

Jean was remarkably graced by the wisdom of which Solomon writes, “She is a breath of God, a pure emanation of the Almighty, a reflection of eternal light, a spotless image of the working of God, an image of God’s goodness. In every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets”. (Wisdom of Solomon 7:25-27)

Thankful for his friendship here on earth and for his prophetic leadership in drawing the world closer to those beautiful moments, when as song writer John Bell puts it, “angels tread on our dreams and the magnificent themes of heaven’s promise are echoed below”.

Remembering our founder and friend,

“We give thanks for the love he offered and received while he was with us on earth.

We pray that nothing good in his life will be lost, but will be of lasting benefit to the world; that all that was important to him will be respected by all those who follow; and that everything in which he was great will continue to mean much to us now that he is gone.

We ask that he may go on living in our communities, in our homes and our hearts, in our courage and in our conscience.

We ask that we who were close to him may now, in his death, be ever closer to each other, and that we may in peace and friendship here on earth always be deeply conscious of your promise to be faithful to us in death.

May God grant us confidence in our new life in Christ.

We ask this in the name of the Risen Lord. Amen.” Alleluia!
(Prayer for a Funeral Liturgy, slightly adapted, p. 602, The Book of Alternative Services)


The Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, Primate
The Anglican Church of Canada
May 13, 2019

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