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March 23, 2015

It is fitting that Jean Vanier's doctoral dissertation focused on Happiness as the Principle and End of Aristotelian Ethics. (See story, Page 5.) One can only wonder what he thinks of that topic now that he has spent 50 years happily living with mentally handicapped people.

Happiness is the goal of human living, but how does one find it? For Aristotle, it is through a life of virtue. That view goes against the grain of our society, indeed of most non-traditional societies, which put their faith in pleasure, fame and personal liberty.

Vanier had the wisdom to walk a different path, a path that took him far from the halls of power in which he was raised by virtuous, faith-filled parents. Determined to follow Jesus, he chose to walk with those on the margins of what Pope Francis calls the throwaway society.

Encountering the "situation of horror" in which two handicapped men lived, he took them into his home and shared their lives. His own life came to echo Jesus' words in the parable of the great dinner: "Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame" (Luke 14.21).

To the vast majority of us, this would be a frightening prospect. For Vanier, having studied Aristotle's ethics, it came time to live it out. By taking one large step into the unknown, he did find happiness. Happiness came not through pleasure and personal freedom, but by making a gift of himself to those on society's margins. In that, he went beyond Aristotle and walked the way of the Gospel, the true path to happiness.