Seeing something special

“The headmaster said I couldn’t be taught.  He threw my schoolwork out the window.” Richard was eight and had a learning disability. He went on to spend 17 years in a special needs college.  Then he met l’Arche, the communities founded by Jean Vanier where “normal” people share their lives with people living with learning disabilities.

Richard tells us (Tablet, 24 February 2018) they made a film about l’Arche called Summer in the Forest and the Queen saw it.  She asked to meet Jean who, when he was a young naval officer, had looked after her on a visit to South Africa 70 years ago.  “When the Queen saw him,” Richard says, “she had tears in her eyes.  Jean said he could see something really special in the Queen.  I bet she saw something special in him too.”

In the Easter stories people don’t see anything special in Jesus at first.  He is taken as a gardener or a fellow traveller.  And often we do not see anything special in one another.  Cardinal Cupich of Chicago told a gathering at Cambridge recently that Pope Francis’ most recent letter, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love, is all about finding God revealed in the family. “Families are not problems that we have to bring solutions to but rather opportunities for us to see what God is doing.”  I take this to mean we have to approach families with great respect and try to understand how God is revealing himself in them.

And here we can return to l’Arche.  It is not a family in the normal sense but the vision of Jean was that l’Arche communities would live as far as possible as a family.  So, for instance, it is not simply a matter of providing food, shelter, therapy and security.  The overriding emphasis is on enabling each person to discover their value and their gifts. Richard discovered he is “quite good at standing on a stage and making speeches telling the story of l’Arche.”  Others discover they have a gift of welcoming people and making them feel “special.”  Enoch, at the l’Arche community in Harare, doesn’t just greet a visitor with a hand shake; he takes a firm hold of them by the arm like a kind of citizen’s arrest!

The Easter stories are about opening our eyes and seeing the beauty of others, God revealed in them, whether they are the Queen of England or the people we meet each day in our families and communities.

8 April 2017                            Easter Sunday 2 B

Acts 4:32-35                           1 John 5:1-6                            John 20:19-31

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