Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 73(1) February 2023

Book Review

Weeds Among Wheat: L'Arche and the Tainted Legacy of Jean Vanier

By Dennis J Billy En Route Books and Media

Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan

Book CoverI was planning to write about Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche, the organisation that has done an amazing job looking after the intellectually disabled. Then came the news that he had abused adult women. How will L'Arche survive? As the author of this really helpful work has said, L'Arche needs to distance itself from its founder. It has a splendid spirituality and that is what is examined in this book.

Vanier's legacy may be tainted but what he did was remarkable when in 1964 he invited two men with severe disabilities to live with him. This was a time when many of the disabled were being looked after in large institutions or hospitals. What Vanier discovered was that he was receiving much more from the disabled than what he was giving them. All human beings, able and disabled, are fundamentally the same. All human life is sacred. We are all wounded one way or another. The L'Arche spirituality maintains that the disabled have a unique way of penetrating our defences and touching us at the level of our deepest vulnerabilities. They have no pretensions. They our our healers.

The author uses Bread as a metaphor in order to reflect on the spirituality of L’Arche. The "Bread of Humanity" examines our collective woundedness. The "Bread of Meaning" examines why L'Arche is named after the Biblical Ark. The "Bread of Presence" looks at how we are present to each other. The "Bread of Healing" examines the ways in which we are healed. The "Bread of Forgiveness" looks at the vital role of forgiveness in our relationships. The "Bread of Prayer" looks at the way our relationships lead to communion with God. The "Bread of Service" shows us that we find meaning when we serve others. The "Bread of Friendship" looks at the role of friendship in the L"Arche communities. The "Bread of Community" looks at the necessity of forming strong and vibrant communities. The "Bread of the Eucharist" shows how the Eucharist is at the heart of L'Arche communities. This book shows us how the L'Arche communities can move on. And how we too can live its spirituality in our own way