I picked this one up at the local Salvation Army thrift shop for a buck fifty. I could not get past a few chapters. Jean Vanier is well know for his great work founding L’Arche communities across the globe and a series of spiritual books. He is also posthumously also know for his sexual abuse of six different woman who came to him at vulnerable moments in the their lives. This book review is not meant to cast a negative light on the good that Jean Vanier did, just the book.
Even though Thomas Merton also had a troubled love relationship with a much younger woman at the end of his life, we do at least know there was some form of repentance and rejection of this wayward lifestyle by his choice to stay in the monastery (or at least we can surmise hopefully). In my short research I have not been able to find if Jean Vanier had a glimmer of repentance for his lifestyle.
Regardless of potential repentance, how each of these spiritual authors chose to live their lives in sexual matters casts a shadow of doubt upon their literary and spiritual works as a whole.
Personally, I have benefited greatly rom the works of Thomas Merton. I have read some of his works 4 times over, and listened to 10’s of hours of audio talks given by Merton. When I read his earlier works, I get a sense of wisdom and deep insight into the faith. The words of Jesus come to my mind, “All things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not.” (NAB) On the other hand, I have not found Thomas Merton’s latter works and talks on eastern spirituality to be well founded.
The same type of logic for Merton just did not cut it for me when reading Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John by Jean Vanier for 3 reasons.
- Thomas Merton had his lapse near the end of his life for only a few years, so the majority of his spiritual works are not hypocritical. On the other hand Jean Vanier, was sexually abusing woman over a course of years. It is hard to read Jean Vanier expound the wedding feast of Cana and talk about sexual ethics when he himself did not practice them.
- In the introduction he says that his spiritual father Pere Thomas Philippe O.P. encouraged him to let himself “be drawn into the mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John.” Thomas Philippe and latter Jean Vanier himself were know to commit sexual abuse through spiritual mystery magic type stuff. The fact that Vanier, we can presume but not prove lied about not knowing that Thomas Philippe was committing sexual abuse during his life when it was uncovered what Philippe was doing. I have no interest learning mystery from someone who use mystery in an evil and false way.
- Jean Vanier practiced a false mystery. His false sexually abusing mystery was about a secret deeper knowledge type stuff that only him and his few inner circle would know about. True mystery does not require secret knowledge. True mystery is simple. It removes secrets, it is accessible to the simple, not the initiated elite.
Point three is the real lesson for me in this book. There are real classes and false classes. Angles are not Human, nor are Human beings animals. On the other hand, knowledge only puffs up. There is no class in Christianity for secret knowledge or “deep” mystery.
I am sure the book contains a great many insights into the Gospel of John. There could even be great fruit in it. But, in a world full of great expositions on the Gospel of John, including those of Saint Augustin available free online, I don’t have much desire to read Jean Vanier. It is also something to look out for in all things.
In a similar vein for topics recently in the media, those who dived people into moral classes are not also to be listened too. There is no such things as a class of people who can follow the gospel moral message, and those who cannot and need concessions made.