As Archbishop, I receive on a fairly regular basis reports from various works, ministries, organisations and agencies of Church life. Often enough, the larger organisations provide multi-page annual reports. But small reports also come across my desk, ones that might come to me as a brief email, just ‘bringing me up to speed’ on what’s been happening.
One such report came to me during the week from a community called L’Arche. It was a short email – three paragraphs in total – from the volunteer leader of the community in Australia, which said very little by way of ‘achievements and challenges’ yet spoke humbly of the life of the community. It was the kind of report that moves the heart.
For those who have not heard of L’Arche (French for ‘Ark’), it is an international federation of small communities where people with and without an intellectual disability share life together in a home. L’Arche seeks to create communities where people live a simple life of work, care, prayer and celebration. L’Arche is a living sign of reconciliation, hope and peace; a presence of God’s love among us. There are a number of L’Arche homes in Australia, including one here in Melbourne.
In L’Arche communities, those who are disabled are called the core members. It is the gifts of the core members that are placed at the heart of each community. These are not the gifts we usually celebrate: gifts of skill, or talent, or ability, or prowess. Rather, the gifts of the core members are ones of presence, simplicity, trust, gentleness, smallness. These are the gifts which characterise those whom Jesus identified as the blessed in the Beatitudes.
We might be inclined to think of the talents that Jesus spoke of in today’s parable in terms of a prestigious list of gifts, like authority, skill, professionalism, entrepreneurialism, and so on. There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence in our lives, using the natural talents we have. But this list would not fit well with the way of Jesus.
His way was the way of smallness, humility, gentleness, compassion, sacrifice, service, closeness, tenderness. Such talents are notably signs of weakness and vulnerability in our world where success is measured in material procession and personal status.
Yet, to invest in these ‘weak’ talents was, for our Lord, an investment in the true signs of growth. These are the talents which can allow us each to grow in inner confidence and freedom from violence; they are the graces which open us up to enjoy life with others, rather than learning how to climb over others.
Jesus calls us to a different way – the way of simplicity, the way of the heart. This is the path that will allow us to recognise the grace of God in the very ordinary features of our own lives. We don’t need to achieve greatness to be great in God’s eyes.
Instead, God waits for us to discover the unforced rhythms of grace already present in each of us, and invites us to then make these present in other people’s lives. While our strengths might lead us to be productive, it is our graced weaknesses that will lead us to fruitfulness.
L’Arche is a place where the disabled are always given a standing ovation, for their talents of simplicity and smallness are such precious gifts to those who are open to experiencing them. May all of us learn to discover the small gifts of grace present in every person, that witness to the presence of God among us.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli27 January 2021