Transformed by love: Jean Vanier’s great witness

Written by Judith Kwok

On Monday November 25th, Faith Connections hosted another successful Theology on Tap, this time featuring guest speaker Sr. Sue Mosteller, CSJ. For those who have never been to a Theology on Tap, these monthly gatherings provide a welcoming forum to address questions fundamental to the hungers of the human heart over food and drinks with old and new friends.
Sr. Sue, a Sister of St. Joseph of Toronto, recalled first meeting Jean Vanier when he was giving a talk at the University in 1967. She remembers hearing his beautiful message about discovering the gift of the most marginalized members of society who, when they are welcomed, transform us in ways that we cannot possibly imagine. Listening to Sr. Sue recount this moment, it was evident that she had a very real and perhaps life-changing encounter with Truth and Beauty all those years ago at the university lecture hall.

For those, like me, who were not very familiar with the story of Jean Vanier prior to attending this Theology on Tap, Vanier founded the international network of L’Arche Communities back in 1964 when he first welcomed two men with disabilities into his home in Trosly-Breuil, France. Today, L’Arche operates 154 communities in 38 countries, while supporting over 10,000 people. Moved by a desire to grow in humanity and spirituality, Sr. Sue would later go on to assume a leadership role at L’Arche for many years and oversee a home for people with disabilities. She describes L’Arche as a place for individuals at the margins of society who are “moving from loneliness to community.”

Sr. Sue then went on to discuss the exemplary character of Vanier who understood that individuals with disabilities wanted to be recognized as persons who had all aspects of humanity. I was struck when she talked about how Vanier always made it a point to acknowledge the presence and value of everyone he crossed paths with. Sr. Sue said that when they went out to restaurants, he would always talk to the waiters and waitresses and by the time they were finished their meals, these people were his friends. I was particularly moved by this story because it reminded me of my own conversion to Catholicism nearly seven years ago and how I was led to Christ by an individual who, much like Jean Vanier, never took a day off from witnessing to the love of Christ.

Over the course of the evening, Sr. Sue shared several more beautiful stories of people, some of the most vulnerable members in our society, who remind all of us that the worth of every human being is not derived from our abilities and achievements but rather from our identity as sons and daughters of God. This is an important point to remember in a culture today that increasingly glorifies “doing” instead of “being” and stresses the achievement of goals rather than the development of virtue. In the words of St. John Paul II, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.”

Judith is a volunteer with Faith Connections. She enjoys exploring new coffee shops, hiking when the weather permits, and has never visited a Cathedral that didn't take her breath away.