On Jean Vanier being awarded the Templeton Prize March 13 2015

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On Wednesday, Jean Vanier was announced as the winner of the 2015 Templeton Prize. This prize honours a living person “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s breadth of spiritual dimensions, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”

We publish, with great pride, four of Jean’s books: Tears of Silence, his meditative long poem about community illustrated with new photos by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx; Finding Peace, Jean’s reflection on the power of peace in our lives; Becoming Human, the 1998 CBC Massey Lectures, which is about loneliness, acceptance, and building places of belonging and community; and Made for Happiness: Discovering the Meaning of Life with Aristotle, an uplifting work of philosophy that grew out of Jean’s own doctoral thesis on Aristotle.

These books exemplify all three contributive elements to the prize mentioned in the description above: insight, discovery and practical works. Jean gives us insight into how recognizing and accepting weakness and vulnerability is a way of increasing our own strength. His discovery, early in his life, of the degree to which our society is divided and our values misplaced, led him to set an inspiring example of a different way we can live together. And practical works are plentiful through L’Arche and Faith and Light, the inclusive communities of faith and friendship that have been developed worldwide by Jean and many others.

As part of this week’s announcement, the Templeton Prize released a Jean Vanier fact sheet in the form of a timeline. Here is the entry for 1963:

Invited by Father Thomas Philippe to Trosly-Breuil, a village north of Paris, where he was serving as the chaplain at a small institution for people with intellectual disabilities. While there, Vanier visits psychiatric hospitals and other institutions where many people with disabilities were living, and concludes that they are among the most oppressed people in the world. His understanding of their need is crystallized when an institutionalized man asked him simply, “Will you be my friend?”

Looking again at Jean’s books and reconsidering his messages of friendship, of inclusiveness, of companionship, and of dignity, I was struck by the title of his book on Aristotle. What more comforting and heartening thought could there be than that we are made for happiness? If we are made for happiness, then happiness is something we should pursue. That, in Jean Vanier’s view, is best done together, all of us.

— Matt Williams