Monday 22 July 2019

Jean Vanier Logician of the Heart - Michael W. Higgins

Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart
People of God Series
Michael W. Higgins
Liturgical Press
ISBN 9780814637104
eISBN 9780814637357


Checking my reading list, I have previously read 8 books by Michael W. Higgins.  But that was all between 1998 and 2006. But after reading this volume I have already picked up three others of his recent offerings to add to my summer reading list. I had the privilege of taking a course with Higgins when I returned to university as a mature student. And many year later attended a retreat at a convent where he gave a series of talks about the process of making saints, based on his book, Stalking the Holy. It does not seem to matter if you encounter him in person or through his writings there is a passion, energy, and a presence. And in this volume, he focuses that on a man, of whom, many would say the same, Jean Vanier.

I never had the benefit of meeting Jean Vanier in person. But know many people who have. In fact, most of my knowledge if Vanier is third hand from those who knew and interacted with Henri J.M. Nouwen (another whom Higgins has written about). This book was a fascinating read. I was familiar with Vanier the Catholic Humanist, the founder of L’Arche. But I was completely unaware of his military career. His decision to enter the navel academy at a young age. There is much about this man’s life that can serve as both inspiration and a challenge to us. No matter where we fall on the religious spectrum. When I read this book, I highlighted several passages. I want to share a few of them in this review. The first quote that really impacted me was:

“Vanier is not an economist, any more than Pope Francis. He does not issue periodic jeremiads, pronounce with oracular majesty from a distance, nor proffer solutions to complex politico-economic issues. What he does, like Jorge Mario Bergoglio, is offer a palpable alternative to being human whereby the homeless garner as much attention and sympathy as a dysfunctional celebrity or financial climber.”

Vanier it appears often did things in a new way. Often an untested, untried way. He followed his gut. And from reading this book, his trust in his instinct was strengthened by his father’s trust in him at a crucial point. Another is:

“Vanier responds unequivocally that it is praying because praying is not doing, it’s clicking, it’s compassion, thankfulness and peacefulness, gratitude and communion. “Prayer, then,” Brown surmises, “is a way of reminding ourselves . . . ,” and Vanier completes his thought with “to be who we are.””

Vanier had a keen insight into people, and strove to understand others, and through that work to better understand himself. We are told about Vanier that:

“People with disabilities, in particular, often lack a community that can bring them life. Human beings are not made to be alone. It is not what the Creator intended. Loneliness often begets hyperactivity because we need to compensate, and so we develop dependencies that are unhealthy, we become addicted, and we become frightfully competitive. And all this works against what we are meant to be: rooted in a place, bonded with others, supporting the weak, and comforting the strong. In a competitive culture, individual success is privileged; those who are weak or disabled are seen at best as losers or a nuisance, and are quickly put aside, and in some cases eliminated.”

Vanier’s beliefs and life work is a string contrast to some of what we see happening in the world today. I believe he would have been sickened by a recent case in France where a man starved to death once denied medical intervention, against his and his parents’ objections. And the final quote I will share is:

“In Eau Vive, Père Thomas’s “school of wisdom,” Vanier recognized the Dominican’s postwar vision: doing the “international work of the heart.” His commitment to doing theology and philosophy in a community of prayer and love attracted Vanier, who would join the community in the fall of 1950. The catalyst for that decision was his meeting with Père Thomas. Vanier would recall years later that it was clear he needed “a master, a teacher, a spiritual father.” He likened his response to Père Thomas to Jesus’ summons to two disciples to leave John the Baptist and follow him, to come and see where he dwelled. The meeting with the mystical French friar was that transformative and foundational; Vanier followed and he dwelled.”

Vanier spent his life living that proves of being discipled and building communities. And his example is one we desperately need today. This book is an easy read. It has challenged my thinking. And It has inspired me to pray in new ways. And I trust it will do the same for you.

A great read that I highly recommend.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2019 Catholic Reading Plan!

Books by Michael W. Higgins:
Genius Born of Anguish: The Life & Legacy of Henri Nouwen
The Unquiet Monk: Thomas Merton's Questing Faith
Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton: Faithful Visionary
Jean Vanier: Logician of the Heart
Faith and Literature Matters
Power And Peril: The Catholic Church At The Crossroads
Stalking the Holy: The Pursuit of Saint Making
My Father's Business: A Biography Of His Eminence G. Emmett Cardinal Carter

Books with Douglas R. Letson:
Soundings: Conversations about Catholicism
The Jesuit Mystique

Contributed to:
Commonweal on Contemporary Theologians
Introducing John Moriarty In His Own Words
Vatican II: A Universal Call to Holiness
Impressively Free: Henri Nouwen as Model for a Reformed Priesthood (with Kevin Burns)
Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Inquiry into the Clerical Abuse Scandal (with Peter Kavanagh)


Related Posts:
Waterloo Loses A Good Man
Michael W. Higgins
Faith in the Media Conference 2006

People of God Series:
John XXIII - Massimo Faggioli
Oscar Romero - Kevin Clarke
Megan Rice - Dennis Coday
Francis - Michael Collins
Flannery O’Connor - Angela O’Donnell
Dorothy Day - Patrick Jordan
Luis Antonio Tagle - Cindy Wooden
Georges and Pauline Vanier - Mary Francis Coadyn
Joseph Bernardin - Steven P. Millies
Corita Kent - Rose Pacatte
Daniel Rudd - Gary B. Agee
Helen Prejean - Joyce Duriga
Thea Bowman - J. Nutt

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