From Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, 1979
From ‘the Community for Myself’ to ‘Myself for the Community’
A community isn’t just a place where people live under the same roof; that is a lodging house or a hotel. Nor is a community a work-team. Even less is it a nest of vipers! It is a place where everyone – or, let’s be realistic, the majority! – is emerging from the shadows of egocentricity to the light of a real love.
There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interest first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead. Phil 2:3-4
Love is neither sentimental nor a passing emotion. It is an attraction to others which gradually becomes commitment, the recognition of a covenant, of a mutual belonging. It is listening to others, being concerned for them and feeling empathy with them. It means answering their call and their deepest needs. It means feeling and suffering with them – weeping when they weep, rejoicing when they rejoice. Loving people means being happy when they are there, sad when they are not. It is living in each other, taking refuge in each other. ‘Love is a power for unity,’ says Denys l’Areopage. And if love means moving towards each other, it also and above all else means moving together in the same direction, hoping and wishing for the same things. Love means sharing the same vision and the same ideal. So it means wanting others to fulfil themselves, according to God’s plan and in service to other people. It means wanting them to be faithful to their own calling, free to love in all the dimensions of their being.
There we have the two poles of community: a sense of belonging to each other and a desire that each of us goes further in our own gift to God and to others, a desire that there is more light in us, and a deeper truth and peace.
Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. 1Cor13:4-7
It takes time for a heart to make this passage from egoism to love, from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community,’ and the community for God and those in need. It takes time and much purification, and constant deaths which bring new resurrections. To love, we must die continually to our own ideas, our own susceptibilities and our own comfort. The path of love is woven of sacrifice.
I will give them a single heart and I will put a new spirit in them; I will remove the heart of stone from their bodies and give them a heart of flesh instead. Ezek 11;19