From Magnificat: a beautiful meditation by Jean Vanier on service

“The word ‘authority’ comes from the Latin ‘augere’ (to grow). All authority, whether it be civil, paternal, religious or community is intended to help people grow towards greater freedom, justice and truth. Often, however, it is used for honor, power, privilege and positive self-image of those who exercise it. By stooping down to wash the disciples’ feet, Jesus calls us all to exercise authority humbly, as a service …

By washing his disciples’ feet, however, Jesus is calling them not just to be good shepherds but to exercise authority at the heart of community in a totally new way, a way that is humanly incomprehensible and impossible. It is just as new and just as impossible as his invitation to forgive seventy-times-seven-times, to love enemies and to do good to those who hate us, to give our clothes to those who ask for them, to be constantly gentle and non-violent. It is just as amazing as when he identified himself with the poor and the outcast. ‘In my kingdom, the greatest must become the smallest.’

Jesus asks his disciples to exercise authority like a child or a servant, where they are vulnerable and open to others. Can this authority ‘from below,’ where, out of love, we place ourselves lower than others, still be called authority? Is it not rather love and communion? It is like the authority a child has over a mother, or a friend over a friend, or a wife over husband or vice versa. They are there for one another, at each other’s service. They listen to one another and are never too busy to be disturbed by the other. They live inside one another. Their joy is in giving to each other and being in communion one with another.”

—Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche internationale, an international network of communities for the mentally disabled. (From “The Scandal of Service: Jesus Washes Our Feet,” 1998, Novalis, St. Paul University, Ottawa.)

The above meditation appeared in the July issue of Magnificat magazine to accompany today’s readings.

Below, Jean Vanier with Pope John Paul II.  Both men, I’m convinced, will one day be declared saints.  For more, visit JeanVanier.org.


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