Jean Vanier literally wrote the book on community: Community and Growth. As the founder of the L’Arche communities, where the handicapped and their assistants live together as brothers and sisters, he’s learned a thing or two along the way. Here’s what he has to say about forgiveness:
Community is the place of forgiveness. In spite of all the trust we may have in each other, there are always words that wound, self-promoting attitudes, situations where susceptibilities clash. That is why living together implies a cross, a constant effort, an acceptance which is daily, and mutual forgiveness. Too many people come into community to find something, to belong to a dynamic group, to discover a life which approaches the ideal. If we come into community without knowing that the reason we come is to learn to forgive and be forgiven seven times seventy-seven times, we will soon be disappointed.
But forgiveness is not simply saying to someone who has had a fit of anger, slammed the doors and behaved in an anti-social or ‘anti-community’ way; ‘I forgive you’. When people have power and are well settled in community, it is easy to ‘wield’ forgiveness. To forgive is also to understand the cry behind the behaviour….To forgive is also to look into oneself and to see where one should change, where one should also ask for forgiveness and make amends. To forgive is to recognise once again – after separation – the covenant which binds us together with those we do not get along with well; it is to be open and listening to them once again. It is to give them space in our hearts. That is why it is never easy to forgive. We too must change. We must learn to forgive and forgive and forgive every day, day after day. We need the power of the Holy Spirit in order to open up like that.