Tributes have been flooding the internet in thanksgiving for the life, ministry and witness of Jean Vanier who died on Tuesday 7 May.

I am pretty sure that the only real tribute that would interest Vanier is the tribute of the lives of those with whom he shared love and compassion. His legacy is the reality of the relationships he shared and in which he claims to have found mutual nourishment and beauty.

On 10 January 1972, Jean Vanier sat down with Mother Teresa and the host of Man Alive Roy Bonisteel for a frank and challenging conversation about their faith and work.  https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/751157827798

In the interview, both Mother Teresa and Jean Vanier offer a compelling embodiment of the integral relationship between softness and strength.

Here are some of Vanier’s words:

We are living in a world where we are called to live with impoverished people. This means there is an emotional involvement. We love each other. We are happy to be with each other.

When you look at a country like America, which has “economic stability,” look at the death on the faces of many of the people who are in “economic stability.” They are dying. They themselves have become “stable.” But they haven’t opened their human heart. They’ve closed up some part of their being where the living waters of love and compassion are hidden. And that’s why there’s no joy and there is death on their faces.

Humanity is meant to have poor and rich. But they need to combine together. Why is it that those who are “rich” don’t hear the cry of the poor? Why is it that they are shutting themselves off behind their barriers?

I think that in the human heart there is a fight between pride and humility. And, for some imponderable reason, man enters into the world of egoism. Maybe he doesn’t know that there’s this world of love. Or, maybe he doesn’t believe in the world of love. Maybe it’s because it’s true that he has lost faith in love and in God and lost faith in himself at the same time.

I will die one day and you too. On our deathbed we are miserable. When Jesus died he cried out, “My God why dost Thou abandon me.” The agony of death is the agony of separation.

Death is one of those fantastic passages where there’s great agony.

This is one of the reasons we are rejecting our suffering brothers. We don’t want to face the reality of death.  It asks me, “What are you doing in front of this?” All the possessions you have, all the houses you have, all your egoism, this is nothing in front of death. This is a bubble, it’s all going to burst.

Death pushes you back against the wall and we’re all frightened of it. That’s why I don’t want to look at my suffering brother who reminds me of my death.

Love carries no doubts. Eventually, it comes down to the certitude of our own poverty. And we doubt ourselves. And, because we doubt ourselves, we trust in the Spirit of God.

We are meant to flow. We are meant to flow out.