“The Vanier Way”

The Vanier Way Qoute

My mom and I watched a documentary on EWTN recently called the “Vanier Way.” A group of students from the Canadian Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School: “visit the L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France, and immerse themselves in the culture as they partake in workshops in pottery, mosaics, and gardening.” (@EWTN) These disillusioned high school students visit Parisian and French cultural, religious, and historical sights as well as immersing themselves in a few different L’Arche communities around the Paris area. The students were more moved by the L’Arche community than the Eiffel tower. Why? Because they experienced authentic love and joy. They experienced real truth and beauty amid the broken, outcast, and “undesirables” of society.

“L’Arche was not my project, but God’s.”- Jean Vanier

The students are blessed to interact with the Founder Jean Vanier who established the first L’Arche community in the late 1960s outside Paris after visiting local asylums. A female friend suggested the term “L’Arche” or “The Ark” in English indicating a community where people with intellectual disabilities could create a new family and no longer hide in the shadows of society. In 1970, the first L’Arche community opened in India. In 1972, the first USA L’Arche home was founded in Erie, PA. Theologian and priest Henri Nouwen lived his last 10 years at a Toronto’s Daybreak L’Arche home. As the founder states, “L’Arche’s first seeds were planted in the earth of the Roman Catholic Church. Through God’s grace, other seeds were planted in other soils. . . L’Arche became ecumenical.” All L’Arche communities have a religious dimension to their community even in communities with those of severe intellectual disabilities. “Some communities are one religion, others are inter-denominational or inter-faith. Members are encouraged to grow in their spiritual journeys, and people who are not affiliated with a particular religious tradition are also welcomed and respected in their freedom of conscience.”

“Without this spiritual dimension and growth in holiness, L’Arche could become simply another group home. It would lose what makes it unique.”- Jean Vanier

The beauty of the documentary lies in the reactions of the high school students interacting with members of the community, how they process those interactions, and the transformative seeds planted. Another beautiful aspect is the insightful and authentic observation and story telling quality of Jean Vanier who speaks with a spiritual depth, peace, and humility few people evoke. He warns about the impact of social media (guilty here) and the power of “the tyranny of the Group.” And provides interacting on a human level with “the other” as an antidote against “the tyranny of the group.” These human interactions, absent of cell phones and social media shake us up and out of ourselves and illuminate the lies and pressure we follow so blindly with or without question.

The heart of the Vanier Way is simply the recognize and live in accordance with the profound recognition of the intrinsic dignity of every human being from conception to natural death regardless of form or function. Our job is to love. Love and be loved in return. To love without measure or degree. To love the lovable and unlovable. And to allow love to transform us and inform us. “Freedom exists for the sake of love.” – St. John Paul II

“Our community life is beautiful and intense, a source of life for everyone. People with a disability experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings.” —Jean Vanier

May God bless you and keep you! You are more precious than you believe!

To learn more about the United State’s L’Arche community: LINK

To learn more about the  International L’Arche community: LINK


Do I Believe in the Impossible? Movie Review: Little Boy

Photo Credit: Little Boy (2015)
Photo Credit: Little Boy (2015)

Looking for an uplifting and touching yet authentic film? Then look no further than “Little Boy.”

What do mustard seeds, magicians, corporal works of mercy, and short stature have in common? Little Boy. Critics panned Alejandro Monteverde’s new WWII movie while viewers rated this movie well. Recently, the Huffington Post acclaimed this movie as the Best Family Film of the Year. After wanting to support and view this film, I finally did and aptly on Memorial Day weekend. Little Boy captures the 1940s Battle of the Home-front through the eyes of a precocious and precious boy whose diminutive stature earns him the title “Little Boy.” The film artfully captures the love of father and his child. A love many of us do not know or understand in an increasingly fatherless society. When the father (Michael Rapaport) joins the US army’s campaign/ defense of the Pacific, Little Boy’s (Jakob Salvati) love for his father prompts him to embark on a fantastical quest to bring his father home involving a magician (Ben Chaplain) and the magical power of belief. After Little Boy hears Fr. Crispin’s (Eduardo Verástegui) homily about mustard seed sized faith, the local pastor, Fr. Oliver (Tom Wilkenson,) gives Little Boy a prayer card of sorts listing the corporal works of mercy and another line item: Befriend the local Japanese resident, Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.) Little Boy struggles with the prejudice in his town, family, and heart. Because even with the smallest ounce of hatred, great acts of faith cannot transpire. Do you believe he can do it?

Spoiler Alerts: Movie Specifics . . . 

At times, a blend between Secondhand Lions and Bedtime Stories, the movie involves flashes into a child’s imagination as Little Boy processes and copes with his wartime situation. The flashes to old west showdowns, high sea adventures, and samurai warriors reminds me of my childhood imagination. The artful manner in which the imaginative elements weave into the film juxtapose the alignment of Little Boy’s home-front challenges with flashes into his father’s life-threatening situations somewhere in the Pacific.

Why didn’t the critics like it?

1.) Little Boy performs amazing feats in the name of faith. “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) What if people believed in God again? Heaven and hell? Angels and Saints? Performed works in His holy name: Moved mountains, banished demons, healed the sick, forgave sins? Transformed hearts and culture? This movie portrays faith that literally moves mountains and transforms hearts.

2.) Metaphysical intangibles drive the film. I remember reading in Fr. Robert Spitzer’s, S.J.. book “Healing the Culture” about how our modern culture has ceased believing in metaphysical intangibles. Lay terms: Modernity teaches people to believe in only what can be seen, felt, proven by the senses or scientific reasoning while the metaphysical no longer exists because “it” cannot be proven by above reasoning. The most powerful “things” that hold society together are not proven, quantifiable tangibles but metaphysical intangibles: love, faith, God, virtue, forgiveness, mercy, hope, etc.

3.) Depicts the need for virtuous living that changes hearts, minds, and culture. Virtue, let alone heroic virtue, is considered an outdated concept. Little Boy hones virtue by performing Corporal Works of Mercy. As Catholic Christians, we believe our actions flow from the the salvific gift of faith. We strive to perform even the smallest acts of faith with great love transforming even the most menial task.

  • Feed the hungry- invites a friend over/ Hashimoto
  • Give drink to the thirsty- gives Hashimoto a soda
  • Clothe the naked- knits a baby sweater for an expectant mother
  • Shelter the homeless- gives pajamas & bedding to employee that works for father’s garage
  • Visit the sick- visits injured veteran in hospital
  • Visit the imprisoned- visits his brother Landon (David Henrie) in jail
  • Bury the dead- his father

4.) Little Boy’s acts of faith come into fruition only after “burying” his father. I loved the ending of this film, but the ending highlights that prayers and petitions will be answered in accordance with God’s will. After undergoing the heart-wrenching reality of burying their father presumed dead, Mrs. Busbee (Emily Watson) & sons discover that their husband and father was misidentified and lives. They are reunited with their father. Little Boy’s goal accomplished. However, the reality of severe physical and psychological trauma are etched upon Mr. Busbee’s face. The journey only begins for the Busbee family. Another invitation to grow in heroic virtue, develop faith the size of the mustard seed, and believe in the metaphysical intangibles of love, hope, and faith.

Congratulations, to the members of the Latino/ Hispanic film community for producing an inspiring and touching film that challenges us all to develop faith the size of the mustard seed, embrace virtue, and believe in the metaphysical intangibles of faith, love, and hope despite adversity.

*Originally posted on Blessed&Beloved Blog.

Beautifully Flawed

In the 2011 movie October Baby, a local Mobile, Alabama police officer shares his wife’s saying: “To be human is to be beautifully flawed.” Hannah, (not me but shares my namesake and some similarities) the recipient of this wisdom, understands being human means being flawed- physically, mentally, emotionally, developmentally, etc. As the Jesuits or Society or Jesus like to say: “life is a journey.” How many of us make it through life without flaws, imperfections, scars, or brokenness? No one I know. Certainly not myself. For many of us these “flaws” or imperfections seem ordained and despite ourselves. What now?
Even Christ in the Gospels experienced suffering, death, loss, pain, and grief. But Christ also experienced profound life, love, joy, hope, and faith.  Being human means experiencing both. I know moments when I experience the deepest compassion is in the midst of the worst suffering. Peace and calmness rise in the midst of death and dying. Or the simplest awareness of joy and life in the midst of uncertainty. Sometimes the nitty gritty develops, shapes, challenges, and forms us by fire, but on the other-side, we could gleam with the luminescence of a divine love forged in pure trust, mercy, and abandonment. But each of us are faced with a choice to embrace our crosses and help our neighbors or not. Some days are easier than others. But one thing is for certain we all have are beautiful flaws or brokenness. Some types are hidden to others. For those that hide their brokenness, like me, a term invisibilities or “invisibilities” can describe many forms of mental, physical, and emotional health conditions that make day-to-day living extreme to challenging.
I understand and desire confidentiality. Not everyone needs to know everything, every little detail. I’m not one to overexpose myself or my loved ones. For a person that suffers is fundamentally vulnerable on various levels. I fear being taken advantage, trod-upon, misunderstood, and ostracized. But I fear less each day . . . Thank you to all with, especially the youth and young adults, invisible and visible disabilities for your silent, steadfast testimony. You keep the world afloat and filled with hope and light! We are beautifully flawed and broken, but undeniably valuable and treasured in the sight of Heaven and those of Goodwill on Earth!