The ideals of humanity, to say nothing of humanity itself, have been made better by Jean Vanier.
The 86-year-old Canadian, son of the 19th Governor-General, disenchanted naval officer, restless philosopher and unbounded explorer of the soul, was awarded the $2.1-million Templeton Prize last week for his exceptional contribution "to affirming life's spiritual dimension."
Spirituality is too often defined within sectarian limits. But the values expressed by Jean Vanier, as he's lived a humble life of compassion for wounded humanity, transcend the Biblical message and Catholic theology that inspired him.
In 1964, troubled by the grim state of psychiatric institutions he'd visited after finishing a doctoral dissertation on Aristotle's principle of happiness, Mr. Vanier invited two mentally disabled men to leave their hospital and come to live with him in a French village.
This was the beginning of a now-global community called L'Arche, named for Noah's Ark – a refuge. Drawing on his own transformative experience, Mr. Vanier saw how doing good was mutually beneficial – people without egos or an inflated idea of success brought their so-called normal counterparts down to size. By doing so, they awakened a sense of humanity lost in the combative world of ego, ambition, and economic winners and losers.
In this challenging vision, it's not until we share our lives with people who've been rejected by society that we come to recognize our own flaws and deeper needs. Mr. Vanier had the courage and the humanity to turn his spirituality into action. As his Templeton nomination eloquently states, he "exposed his ideas to the most challenging test of all – real people, real problems, real life."