Review: The beautiful message of Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier with L'Arche community members (Photo by Élodie Perriot).

Jean Vanier’s new book, We Need Each Other, is classic Vanier. Longtime readers of the writings of this revered spiritual master and prophetic voice will recognize many of the lessons and anecdotes that Vanier shares from his other works. Nevertheless, his simple lessons on humility and Christian love always bear repeating.

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We Need Each Otherby Jean Vanier

Paraclete Press, 144p $19.99

In 1964 Jean Vanier founded L’Arche—a group of communities in which disabled and able-bodied people live together. After encountering inhumane living conditions in a French mental institution, he took in two patients from that institution and began to care for them himself, forming the first L’Arche community. There are now more than 150 such communities around the world.

Vanier still lives in the original L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France, where the community that he cared for over more than 50 years now cares for him.

Jean Vanier: “We need to touch our wounds and keep the vision. I am wounded. I need help from my community. I need help from Jesus, because I cannot do it on my own.”

We Need Each Other, published in honor of Vanier’s 90th birthday, is adapted from a retreat he gave in Kenya in 2008. The book combines Scripture reflections with stories from Vanier’s life and anecdotes about the disabled people and their families with whom he has worked and lived. Each story ends with a variation on the same lesson: God is just as needy and hurt as we are, and we come in contact with God through others, no matter their disability, poverty, nationality, religion or anything else that might estrange us.

“In reality, we need each other;” Vanier writes. “We need to touch our wounds and keep the vision. I am wounded. I need help from my community. I need help from Jesus, because I cannot do it on my own.”

This small book draws the reader, who becomes a retreatant, into reflection with succinct yet probing questions: What are you looking for? Have you met Jesus? Is healing possible? Vanier helps the reader first to acknowledge and explore his or her own weakness and then to bring that weakness to God and one’s community for healing through acts of love.

Kathy Berken
3 days 20 hours ago

I lived and worked in a L'Arche community in Clinton, Iowa, for ten years. Met Jean a few times when he'd visit or or community would go to see him. Liturgical Press (Collegeville) published my book of stories about my years in L'Arche in 2008. And Jean Vanier was kind enough to write the foreword. So very, very honored.

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