ON COMMUNITY by Jean Vanier


Community is the place where we ideally learn to be ourselves without fear or constraint. Community life deepens through mutual trust among all its members.

The more authentic and creative a community is in its search for the essential, the more its members are called beyond their own concerns and tend to unite. A community becomes truly and radiantly one when all its members have a sense of urgency.

It is when the members of a community realize that they are not there simply for themselves or their own sanctification, but to welcome the gift of God, to hasten His Kingdom, and to quench the thirst of others, that they truly live as community.

The process of becoming a community happens when the majority of its members make the transition from ‘the community for myself’ to ‘myself for the community.’

Loving means to want others to fulfill themselves according to God’s plan. It means
wanting them to be faithful to their own calling.

The more community deepens, the more vulnerable and the more sensitive its members become.

Community is established by the simple, gentle concern that people show each other every day. It is made of the small gestures, all the services and sacrifices which say ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m happy to be with you.’


Community reaches its height in celebration and its heart in forgiveness.

Community is the place of forgiveness. There are always words that wound, self-promoting attitudes, situations where susceptibilities clash. That is why living together implies a certain cross, a constant effort and an acceptance that comes from daily and mutual forgiveness.

If we come into community without knowing that the reason we come is to discover the mystery of forgiveness, we will soon be disappointed.

If we are to make the passage to acceptance and love of others we must start by recognizing our own blocks, jealousies, prejudices and hatreds.

Our antipathies towards others is a thorn in the flesh that perhaps the Holy Spirit may someday liberate us from. But perhaps He will let us go on walking with this thorn which humiliates us and forces us to renew our efforts each day, careful not to offend again.

Patience, like forgiveness, is at the heart of community life; patience with ourselves, with the laws of our own growth and with others.


A community is not simply a group of people who love each other. It is a current of life, a heart, a soul, a spirit.

We shouldn’t seek the ideal community. It is a question of loving those whom God has set beside us today. They are signs from God. We might have chosen different people, people who were more cheerful or intelligent. But these are the ones God has given us, the ones He has chosen for us. It is with them that we are called to create unity and live in covenant.

It is difficult to make people understand that the ideal community doesn’t exist and that the equilibrium and harmony they imagine possible are things that come only after years of struggle, and that even then come only as flashes of grace and peace.


Community is the place where each person grows towards interior freedom. It can never take precedence over the individual. In fact, its beauty and unity come from the radiance and diversity of each individual when its own light, truth and love come into free union with others.

The gift of community, of unity, will come only when all members of the community are truly themselves, living as expression of God’s love within them in the exercise of the gifts He has given them. The community becomes one because it is fully under the influence of the Holy Spirit who unites it.

Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They seem unable to see the drawbacks, they see only what is good. Everything is marvelous. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. During this time everything becomes dark; people no longer see anything but the faults of others and of the community. They feel they are surrounded by hypocrites. Life becomes intolerable. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase; that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as people; each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.

Many people who have lived together for years and whose love for one another has been often tested know that community has not resulted from the fact that they were able to hold together but from the knowledge that they were somehow held together by a greater force. We are a community not because we happen to like each other, or share a common task, but because we have somehow been called together by God.

All members of a community must be on their guard against sowing discord, whether consciously or unconsciously. All of them must constantly seek to be instruments of unity.


A community is there not only for the growth of its members, but for the growth of the people for whom it is destined. When we know these people, and our responsibility towards them, then we are able to go beyond ourselves.

A community gradually discovers as it grows that it is not there simply for itself. It belongs to humanity. It has received a gift which must bear fruit for the sake of others.

When it begins, a community is like a seed which must grow to become a tree. As it matures, and becomes a tree that bears fruit, it also must be a place where birds of the air can come to make their nests.


Community is always in a state of growth. The growth of a community depends on the growth of each of its members.

Communities need tensions if they are to grow and deepen. There are a thousand reasons for tension. And each of them brings the whole community, as well as each individual member, face to face with its own poverty, its inability to cope, its weariness, aggression and despair.

There is nothing more prejudicial to community life than to mask tensions and pretend they do not exist, or to hide from them behind a polite facade and flee from reality and dialogue. But people are not necessarily helped to overcome their limitations, egoism, jealousy and inability to enter into dialogue simply by being made conscious of them. In fact, this can sometimes shut people off in an even greater despair.

People can generally only become conscious of their limitations if at the same time they are given the strength to overcome these by being helped to discover their own capacities for love, goodness and positive action, and to regain confidence in themselves and the Holy Spirit.

Tensions in a community should neither be hidden nor be brought prematurely to a head. They should be taken on with a great deal of sensitivity, trust and hope. They should be approached with deep understanding and patience, with neither panic nor naive optimism, but with a realism born of a willingness to listen and a desire for truth.

An individual’s growth towards love and wisdom is slow. A community’s growth is even slower. Members of a community need to be great friends of time. They have to learn that many things will resolve themselves if they are given enough time. It can be a great mistake to want, in the name of clarity and truth, to push things too quickly to a resolution.

Each member of a community who grows in love and wisdom helps the growth of the whole community. Each person who refuses to grow, or is afraid to go forward, inhibits the community’s growth. All the members of a community are responsible for their own growth and that of the community as a whole.

Perhaps the most essential quality for anyone who lives in community is patience: a recognition that we, others and the whole community, take time to grow. If we are to live in community, we have to be friends of time.


We all carry our own deep wound, which is the wound of our loneliness. Some people think their wound of loneliness will be healed if they come into community. But they will be disappointed.

We have to realize that this wound of loneliness is inherent in the human condition and that what we have to do is walk with it instead of fleeing from it. We cannot accept it until we discover that we are loved by God just as we are, and that the Holy Spirit, in a mysterious way, is living at the center of the wound.

One of the signs of life in a community is the creation of links with others. An inward-looking community will die of suffocation. Living communities are linked to others, making up a huge web of inter-relationships for the world.

Some people cannot see what nourishment they are and refuse to become bread for others. They have no confidence that their word, their smile, their being or their prayer could nourish others.

There is external growth in community which is nearly always in expansion. But there is also internal and secret growth. In monasteries and houses of prayer, this growth is a deeper rooting in prayer in Jesus. This is invisible, but it creates a tangible atmosphere wherever this growth is present: a lighter joy, a denser silence, a peace which touches hearts and leads people to a true experience of God.

Through the experience of providence communities, in time, discover how God has watched over them in times of trial which could have destroyed them. Serious tensions have been resolved, people have arrived exactly when they were needed, there has been unexpected financial or material help, someone has found inner freedom and healing. This growing awareness enables the community to accept difficulties, times of trial, need or weakness with a new serenity because it knows from experience that God is present and creative within them.

The first sin of a community is to turn its eyes from the One who called it to life, to look at itself instead. The second sin is to find itself beautiful and to believe itself to be a source of life.

Some communities should stay small, poor and prophetic, signs of the presence of God is a world which is become more and more materialistic. But other communities are called to grow in order to show the world that it is possible to create structures which are sensitive to people and to exercise authority in a way that is both humane and Christian.


We are nourished in community by everything that stirs the essential in us and brings it to consciousness. This may be a word, a reading, a meeting or a suffering: all these can reawaken our deepest heart and give hope.

Solitude and community belong together; each requires the other as do the center and circumference of a circle. Solitude without community leads us to loneliness and despair, but community without solitude hurls us into a void of words and feelings.

If we do not pray, if we do not evaluate our activities and find rest in the secret part of our heart, it will be hard to live in community. We will not be open to others. We will live only from the stimuli of the present moment and we will lose sight of our priorities and of the essential.

A community which prays together, which enters into silence and adoration, is bound together by the action of the Holy Spirit. God listens in a special way to the cry which rises from a community.

The Eucharist links communal and personal nourishment because it is itself both at the same time. The Eucharist is celebration, the epitome of the communal feast, because in it we relive the mystery of Jesus’ gift of his own life for us. It is the time of thanksgiving for the whole community. There we touch the heart of the mystery of community. But the Eucharist is also an intimate moment when each of us is transformed through a personal meeting with Jesus.


Contemplative prayer is a conversation in which God’s word has the initiative and we, for the moment, can be nothing more than listeners.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

The contemplative has to be clay in the hand of the potter, a clay which is molded through prayer itself, content not to know in advance where it is going, only sensing it, as the process is actually taking place, from the disposition of the potter’s shaping hands, confident that it is a good and loving work taking place.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

Great simplicity of heart sustains contemplative prayer.
Brother Roger

In the silence of contemplation we begin to observe the process whereby we actively choose and create what we pay attention to. That is why the first twenty minutes are usually so tedious. For the first twenty minutes only the primary agenda shows itself.
Richard Rohr

We don’t know just how ephemeral our thoughts and feelings are until we take the time to sit and observe. That’s the early stages of contemplation; where you begin to notice how this feeling grabs you, how that identity grabs you, how that hurt grabs you, and even so, you want to identify with it because in some way it gives you some ground to stand on.
Richard Rohr

Pure contemplation lies in receiving.
St. John of the Cross

Contemplative prayer deepens in us the knowledge that we are already free, that we have already found a place to dwell, that we already belong to God, even though everything and everyone around us keeps suggesting the opposite.
Thomas Keating

Contemplative prayer is a process of interior transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists.
Thomas Keating

Contemplative prayer is the world in which God can do anything. To move into that realm is the greatest adventure.
Thomas Keating

Contemplative prayer is not so much the absence of thoughts as detachment from them. It is the opening of mind and heart, body and emotions ‘our whole being’ to God.
Thomas Keating

Receiving is one of the most difficult kinds of activity there is. To receive God is the chief work in contemplative prayer.
Thomas Keating

Contemplative prayer is not on the level of thinking. It is consenting with your will to God’s Presence in pure faith.
Thomas Keating

The principal discipline of contemplative prayer is letting go.
Thomas Keating


In looking for spiritual direction, I wanted someone who would take my life of prayer and my pilgrimage with Christ as seriously (or more seriously) than I did, who was able to hear the distinct uniqueness of my spirituality, and who had enough disciplined restraint not to impose an outside form on me.

The first thing that I noticed after I began meeting with my spiritual director was a marked increase in spontaneity. Since this person has agreed to pay attention to my spiritual condition with me, I no longer feel solely responsible for watching over it.

The problem in the past was that I was always the disciplinarian of my inner life, the one being disciplined, and the supervisor of my disciplinarian; a lot of roles to be shifting in and out of through the day. I was immediately able to give up being the supervisor, and was soon able to share the role of being the ‘disciplinarian’ with my director.

I found I trusted my intuitions more, confident that my self-deceit would be called to account sooner or later by my director.

Another thing that I became aware of is that there are subject matters that I rarely, if ever, talk about with other people in my life that I regularly bring to my director.
The line that divided my structured times of prayer and meditation from the rest of my life also became more blurred. I no longer had the entire responsibility for deciding how to shape and monitor the disciplines in my life. I found myself more spontaneous, more free to innovate, more at ease in being nonproductive and playful.

By expressing interest in who I am (not what I do) and directing attention to what is (not what ought to be), my director makes reflection possible in any conversation.

Another thing that struck me was that I was now much more in touch with an oral tradition as compared to a written one. There is a radical difference between a book and a person. A book that tells me about the soul, and a person who comments on my soul, even though the words are the same, are different.

I can read with detachment but I cannot listen as easily with detachment. And it is this immediacy and intimacy of conversation that turns knowledge into wisdom

Spiritual direction is not a subject that you learn about, it is an organic life that you enter into.

In meeting with my spiritual director I am drawn into a living, oral tradition. I am in touch with a pool of historical and experienced wisdom and insight into the life of faith and the practice of prayer in a way that is very different than when I am alone in my study.

Out of the scores of writers on prayer, the hundreds of truths about faith and the spiritual life, which one is true for me, right now? Searching through indexes to find the page where a certain subject is presented is not the same as having a person notice and name the truth that I am grappling with right now in my life.

In spiritual direction I am guided to attend to my uniqueness in the large context of spirituality, and to discern more precisely where my faith development fits into it.

Our primary task is to be a pilgrim. Only a life committed to spiritual adventure, personal integrity, honest and alert searching prayer is adequate for the task of spiritual direction. Our best preparation for the work of spiritual direction is an honest life.

Prayer and the developing capacity for adoration and joy authenticate our growing Christian experience.

To proceed in spiritual direction I must cultivate an attitude of awe. I must be prepared to marvel.

The primary orientation of spiritual direction is towards God, looking for grace. As we cultivate the practice of spiritual direction we find ourselves working in a field where the Spirit is inventive and the endless forms of grace are never repeated.

Spiritual direction is conducted in a growing awareness that it takes place in God’s active presence, that our conversation with our director is therefore always conditioned by God’s own speaking and listening, His being there.

A Christian’s need for personal spiritual direction cannot be delegated to books or tapes or videos. The very nature of the life of faith requires the personal and the immediate. If we are going to mature we need not only the wisdom of truth, but someone to understand us in relation to this truth.

In the first century St. Paul observed, “Though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers” (1Cor. 4:15). It is easier to find guides, someone to tell you what to do, than someone to be with you in a discerning, prayerful companionship as you work it out yourself. This is what spiritual direction is.