07 November 2017, The Tablet

Jean Vanier on 3-month rest after heart attack

The founder of L'Arche community is spending his days 'listening to the birds sing'

Jean Vanier on 3-month rest after heart attack

Jean Vanier, the Catholic philosopher who founded L'Arche, a network of communities that cares for people with disabilities, has revealed that he is taking a three-month rest in order to recover from a heart attack.

Vanier, 88, had a stent fitted in a blocked artery after he suffered the heart attack last month. 

Vanier has described in his latest newsletter how he was blue-lighted to Compiègne hospital near his home in Trosly's L'Arche community in France on Friday 13 October. 

Examinations showed that the main artery that nourishes the heart was clogged.

After the operation, he needed "serious rest" and was driven to a diocesan house near the sea that hosts Christian groups and individuals for times of healing.

"I feel good, but it's obvious that my heart is weaker and so me too," he writes. "I need a long and good rest to recover my strength and better to accept a life without much activity."

So he has decided not to give retreats and conferences and has cancelled all scheduled meetings until the beginning of February.

"This is a radical change that calls me to live, during this period, a very quiet life – a life where I will learn to live with my own weaknesses and fragilities and so become 'smaller' there."

He goes on to quote Jesus: "The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to little children."

(Pic: For his monthly 'Mercy Friday' in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis visited the Community of 'Chicco' in Ciampino, on the outskirts of Rome, Italy on May 13, 2016. L'Arche (The Ark) was founded by Jean Vanier in 1964 and is now present in more than 30 countries on 5 continents. The organisation provides loving homes for vulnerable people who live together in a supportive community. The Chicco community was founded in 1981 and houses 18 people with intellectual challenges. The L'Arche philosophy is 'the praise of imperfection,'that is, to thrive amidst disabilities that the world doesn't value. The residents of L'Arche are free to make their own way in life, to give and receive deep affection and to form lasting friendships. Pope Francis identified this visit as one of the most profound of his pontificate. Photo by ABACAPRESS.COM)

 In his news letter, Vanier continues that he is looking forward to having time to  learn to remain in God, to remain in Jesus who says: "Abide in my Love."

He adds: "This will be a bit like a new birth."

This new stage of his life means giving things up.

"I will not have the grace and the joy of living friendship and support in the accompaniment as I have lived so far: meetings that did me a lot of good."

Instead his days will be made up of reading material both serious and funny, walks in the garden where he will listen to birds sing, and experience the "joy" of eating salt-free food. "This life will not be just turned to the sky but also to the land where there are so many joys and wonderful things," he concludes. 

Speaking to Maggie Fergusson for The Tablet this summer, Vanier said he thought he was good to carry on until his mid-90s. Asked what happens to us when we die, he replied: “When you die, you fall asleep. And you wake up, and there’s a very gentle peace. You feel well. And then you discover the face of God coming through that ‘wellness’. Of course, we are outside time, so it’s not sequential. Seeing Jesus’ face, we suddenly have a feeling of having hurt him – we realise we could have done much better, we’ve done wrong. We are not being judged, we judge ourselves. But then comes the realisation that we are loved just as we are, in our darkness. So there’s a meeting with God, who loves us in our poverty – and this we can hardly believe. That meeting brings an immense desire to be closer. That desire becomes a place of desire – I think of Purgatory as 'the place of desire' – and it’s painful. When you have desire and not the object of desire, it’s very painful. But then the desire augments, and consequently the pain augments, until there is a moment of explosion, and then we’re in communion with God.”

In another interview with The Spectator, Vanier said of the disabled people at L'Arche: "Because they are people of fun, they love to celebrate. Every meal can become a celebration. That doesn't mean to say that now and again people won't prod their next-door neighbour with a fork — this is life. But the fundamental movement from many people with disabilities, they have been so pushed down, they don't know they're lovable, and then the day that they discover that they are lovable and they can trust themselves, then it becomes whoopee!"

A spokesman for Vanier told the website Christian Today when they revealed the heart attack last month: "He's well and he's taking a convalescence period before going back home."

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Top pic: from Jean Vanier on Facebook 


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