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Reform Magazine | June 14, 2024

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Grow towards the light - Reform Magazine

Grow towards the light

Your conscience is not just a nagging voice, reflects Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche,
it is an impulse to grow towards the light

The nature of reality is shared, so we must learn to listen – to the people around us, to elders, to the Word of God, to our Church. In particular, we must listen to the little voice within us that orients us toward truth, toward love, toward justice, toward inner freedom, toward all these things that are complicit with life. This little voice is conscience.

Conscience is first of all an attraction, an attraction that is deep within us, guiding us to grow the way that a flower is attracted to the sun. It is a feeling that we cannot quite explain, but that seems like coming home.

One of my most significant experiences of conscience was in 1942 when I was 13 years old. I had a deep sense that I should join the British Royal Navy. I went to speak with my father. You can imagine his concern about his young son making such a dangerous journey. My family had had to leave my father’s diplomatic posting because the Germans had invaded France. We had come back to Canada in 1940. Here I was, only two years later, with an unshakable conviction that I must go back. He tried to offer different solutions. Perhaps I could wait a couple of years and go to the naval college in western Canada.

He could have forbidden me. He could have said that I was being foolish, that I did not know what was good for me. Instead, he said something that liberated me for my entire lifetime: “I trust you. If that is what you want to do, then you should do it.” He accepted that I needed to become free – free to follow my conscience, free to become myself….


Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche – a network of communities supporting disability. This article is an edited extract from Life’s Great Questions (SPCK, 2016, £9.99), printed with permission.


This is an extract from the May 2016 edition of Reform.

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