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Mons' Musings Vol. 6: Signs of the Times

By Mons. Peter Jeffrey:

It caught my eye. The heading was “From exclusion to Encounter”. It is a chapter in Jean Vanier’s reflections on “Seven Paths of Hope in a Troubled World”.

Intrigued by that heading, I found myself musing on the meaning of the words. To encounter another we need to be truly present to the other person. We need to meet on an equal footing. It is not a superior talking down to an inferior. It requires that we genuinely listen to one another. This leads to a mutual bonding.

People with physical, mental or emotional difficulties are yearning for true and deep encounters. They often feel excluded. How do we view such people? Vanier suggests we do well to reflect on our ways of thinking – do we see such people as ‘problems’ or do we thinking of them as people who are, sometimes in spite of their brave exterior, weeping within.

A genuine meeting with another person may often expose us to our own vulnerabilities. This can be a very lonely experience. At such times, we need the support of others. Jean Vanier has been instrumental in setting up small communities in many countries where people genuinely ‘encounter’ one another and find support.

However, we live in a world that demands ‘normality’ and achievement. So often people struggle in this area and so they seek superficial pleasures and joys in which they will find recognition or satisfaction. However often these pursuits fail to fulfil their promise.

Vanier remarks: “Saints who experienced this anguish in which they felt lost to themselves sometimes called it the ‘dark night of the soul’. They endured it by clinging to their faith in the God of love”.

The Gospel tells us “The Word became flesh”. (Jn.1,14) Jesus entered fully into our human condition while always remaining faithful to His Father and our Father. He says to us “As the Father loves me so I have loved you.”(Jn.17-23)

What is it that we need most in the world? Is it to think of ourselves as ‘normal’? Is it to know that we are loved ‘warts and all’? We need to know there is someone who believes in us with all our weaknesses. Such a graced experience brings a genuine communion - an ‘encounter’!

The deepest joy comes when I feel recognised just as I am – with all my history, my gifts, my fears and with all my weaknesses - and even my sins. This is the way God loves me. Jesus reveals this to me through His life, death and Resurrection.

Despite what may be ‘wounded’ within me, in my heart of hearts, I remain in communion with God. True JOY comes with communion. To live the ‘sacrament of encounter’ in humility enables me to reach out to others in ways that reflect that joy of genuine ‘encounter’ with another.

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