A Biographical Sketch of HENRI J. M. NOUWEN,
1932 – 1996
by Sue Mosteller, CSJ
Literary Executrix of the Henri Nouwen Literary Centre
HIS FAMILY BACKGROUND
Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen was born in the Netherlands in Nijkerk on January 24, 1932. Henri’s father was one of eleven children and Henri’s grandfather, was the town clerk of Venlo at the beginning of the century. His grandmother, on that side of the family, occupied herself with raising the children. They were “salt-of-the-earth” people and they were pious Catholics.
Henri’s mother, Maria Huberta Helena Ramselaar (1906- 1978), was one of eight children. They lived in Amersfoort, in the centre of the Netherlands. Henri’s grandfather on this side of the family died young, and his grandmother took over the family store and built a prosperous ‘family’ business. She was interested in the arts. They were also Catholic and their eldest son, Antoon (Toon), was a priest and later a prominent monsignor, who influenced his nephew Henri’s vocation.
Henri’s father, Laurent Jean Marie Nouwen (1903-1997), became known for his expertise in tax law. He worked for the Government as ‘Inspector of Registration and Public Property’ for sixteen years carrying the title of “Notarial Candidate”. During the second World War he gave up this position for private practice as an advocate at The Hague. He was later named professor of Notarial and Fiscal Law at the Roman Catholic University of Nijmegen. The family lived in Nijkerk, Venlo, Bussum, The Hague, and Nijmegen. Henri’s father retired in Geysteren, outlived Henri by one and one half years, and died in 1997 at the age of 94.
Henri’s mother, on her own, studied English, Italian, Norwegian, French, Latin, and Greek. She was often called upon to interpret from Italian to Dutch. For many years she was the Supervisor of the Bookkeeping Department in the family business, run first by her mother and later by her brother. Her first child, Henri, was delivered after three days of pain and hardship, and perhaps because of this, a strong bond developed between Henri and his mother. She had three more children. She is fondly remembered as being warm, welcoming, and religious. In 1978 she came to the United States with Henri’s father to visit Henri, but she was not feeling well. While there she was diagnosed with cancer. She returned home immediately and died three weeks later. Her sudden death had a big impact on Henri’s life.
Two years after Henri’s birth, his brother, Paul, was born. Paul studied law and worked in the Insurance Business. He later became prominent in The Netherlands as the President of ANWB, a three million member association for tourism, touring, water sport, and recreation . He married Marina San Giorgi in 1972 who was a teacher. She began to write poetry after being diagnosed with cancer in 1989. She died in 1993. After her death her poetry was published in a book titled, “Een Glimlach Kwam Voorbij” for which Henri wrote the Introduction. Paul and Marina had no children.
Ten years after Paul’s birth, another son, (Willem) Laurent (1944), was born into the Nouwen family. Laurent is a lawyer and was partner in the firm Nauta Dutilh at Rotterdam. He married Heiltjen Kronenberg in 1975, a private practitioner and later a judge. They have three children, Sarah, Laura, and Raphael. After Henri’s death, Laurent founded the Henri Nouwen Stichting, a foundation to further Henri’s works particularly in the Netherlands, to support the Henri Nouwen Literary Centre in Canada, to assist L’Arche, and to promote and support those who are developing a living and viable Christian spirituality for today.
Two years following Laurent’s birth a daughter, Laurien was born (1945). Laurien also studied law but graduated in Italian. Laurien married a lawyer, Marc Van Campen, and they had three children, Frederique, Marc and Rainier. Later, she was divorced. Today she is Managing Director of a law firm in Arnhem.
Henri often spoke of his beginnings by describing how he perceived himself as a youngster. He would say, “I grew up in a very protected and safe environment and I learned to know that I was Dutch and I was Catholic. It took me quite a long time to discover that there were people, many people, who were neither!” Living through the Second World War as a child was not to comprehend the depth and the significance of it, but rather to see it as dangerous and exciting. There were times when he, with his father and brother Paul, had to ride on bicycles into the country in search of food for the family. At other times, he helped to hide his father from those who came in search of him for compulsory labor in Germany.
Henri was a good student, energetic and pious. He expressed his desire to become a priest at age 6. At that time his maternal grandmother had a miniature altar built for him, and small-size vestments made for him, so he could ‘celebrate’ the Eucharist with his siblings and playmates in the attic of their home. Henri liked to be the leader!
When Henri was older he could speak about the two voices that he heard as a child. The voice of his mother praised and affirmed him as he was, and called him to always love Jesus. The voice of his father, proud of his accomplishments, encouraged him and challenged him to do more and become a better and more successful person. Henri commented that he lived the first part of his life listening more to the voice of his father, and the second part of his life listening more to the voice of his mother.
PRIESTHOOD AND FURTHER FORMATION
Henri was educated by the Jesuits at the Aloysius Gymnasium at the Hague. He decided that he would not become a Jesuit priest because it required too much study. After secondary school he took one year in the minor seminary in Apeldoorn where his uncle, Toon, was president. He did six years in the major seminary in Rijsenburg/Driebergen, and was ordained priest for the diocese of Utrecht in 1957 by Archbishop B. Alfrink.
Henri was interested in Pastoral Ministry and he knew that the comparatively new discipline of Psychology was important despite the fact that it was frowned upon in Church circles because it was felt that Psychology undermined faith. Immediately after ordination, Henri requested of his Bishop and was granted further study at the University of Nijmegen in Psychology where he spent six years. While studying he worked as a pastor for a short time in the mines, became a chaplain in the army, and chaplain of the Holland-America Line accompanying immigrants to the United States. He graduated as a Psychologist in 1963.
Upon the advice of Gordon Alport, the famous Psychologist whom he met in New York, Henri took two more years of Psychology at the Menninger Institute in Topeka, Kansas. These years were formative years shaping his thinking and the direction of his life.
THE TEACHING YEARS
Henri accepted an invitation to teach Psychology at Notre Dame University in 1966 and spent two years there. He realized during this time that his deeper interests lay in the realm of Pastoral Theology. Thus he gradually began to develop courses in Pastoral Theology that reflected his knowledge of Psychology. His first two books came out of this period.
Intimacy: Pastoral Psychological Essays (Fides, 1969; Harper & Row, 1981).
Creative Ministry: Beyond Professionalism in Teaching, Preaching, Counseling, Organizing and Celebrating (Doubleday, 1971).
In 1968 Henri returned to The Netherlands to teach Psychology but once again recognized his preference for Theology. He engaged in studies for a Master’s Degree in Theology and graduated in 1971. These studies confirmed for Henri his passion for educating in the area of pastoral ministry.
When Yale Divinity School approached him with an invitation to teach in 1971, it is said that he laid down the following conditions:
There would be no expectation from Yale that he would write a dissertation, or would that be matter of future discussion.
Within three years he would receive a permanent appointment (tenure).
Within five years he would become a full professor.
His writings would be not be required to adhere to any outside criteria.
Yale accepted. Henri began teaching in the fall of 1971 and taught there for ten years. He was a popular teacher and he loved his students. He also made many good friends. This period was very fruitful as the material from his classes began to be published. The books during the Yale years were:
With Open Hands(available now in a newly revised edition, Ave Maria, 1995)
Thomas Merton: Contemplative Critic (Fides, 1972; Harper & Row, 1981).
The Wounded Healer: Ministry In Contemporary Society (Doubleday, 1972).
Aging: The Fulfilment of Life Co-authored with Walter Gaffney. (Doubleday, 1974).
Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life (Ave Maria, 1974) .
Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Doubleday, 1975).
Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery (Doubleday, 1976,).
The Living Reminder: Service and Prayer in Memory of Jesus Christ (Seabury, 1977, Harper Collins, 1983).
Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer and Contemplation (Doubleday Image, 1979). Clowning in Rome has been updated by Sue Mosteller and is being reissued by Doubleday – expected date, June, 2000.
In Memoriam (Ave Maria, 1980).
The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry (Seabury, 1981, Harper Collins, 1983)
Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life (Harper & Row, 1981).
A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee (Doubleday, 1981)
During this time certain experiences impacted his life and work at Yale and beyond:
a) He discovered solitude by twice choosing to spend about seven months, living as a monk, in the Trappist Monastery of the Genesee. He wrote about his experience in “The Genesee Diary”.
b) He also did further study and became a fellow at the Ecumenical Institute at Collegeville, Minnesota. This study opened him to men and women of other faiths. He also took five months in Rome as a scholar at the North American College where he published “Clowning in Rome”. The solitude and the study profoundly affected his thinking and his future ministry.
c) Henri’s mother died during this tenure at Yale. Her loving, caring, concerned, affirming, and challenging voice was silenced. Henri wrote feelingly about this moment, expressing his experience in “In Memoriam” and “A Letter of Consolation”.
In the late seventies Henri became interested in all that was happening in Central and South America. He educated himself around the political and theological developments that were causing so much change and suffering for the Poor. He decided to leave Yale in 1981 choosing to go to live in Peru with a view to staying there permanently to live and do ministry with the people there. Although this proved not to be his direction, his visits to the south changed his worldview and his convictions about his own life and vocation. He wrote during this time the book, “Gracias” and “Love in a Fearful Land”. This was a time of further evolution and growth.
Harvard invited him to come and teach and again, with conditions, he accepted a part time role to teach three semesters. Meanwhile, he criss-crossed North America on speaking tours about conditions in South America, as a sort of reverse mission with the Poor there. This was a painful time because his energies were scattered and he was unable to find himself either as professor at Harvard or as ‘missionary’ to the South.
THE LAST DECADE: A HOME IN L’ARCHE
A chance meeting with Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, an international movement of communities that welcome people with disabilities, inspired Henri to resign from Harvard and spend a sabbatical year, writing, in Trosly-Breuil, France, in the original community of L’Arche where Jean Vanier lived. He felt at home there and in 1986 accepted an invitation to become pastor for the L’Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada. This year of transition is the subject of his book, “The Road to Daybreak”.
Daybreak was his home-coming. He was welcomed into one of the homes to live with the men and women with a disability and he was asked to help Adam Arnett, a severely disabled man, with his morning routine. In Henri’s book “Adam, God’s Beloved”, written shortly before he died, he describes how Adam became his friend, his teacher, and his guide.
A year after arriving in Daybreak Henri suffered a severe depression. He left the community for seven months of solitude, guidance, and recovery. During this time he wrote his classic book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. He later published “The Inner Voice of Love” which were spiritual imperatives that he wrote to himself during this dark and suffering time away.
His return marked perhaps, the beginning of his deepest fulfillment as priest, friend, author, lecturer, and mentor. He gave countless lectures, welcomed hundreds of people for counsel, and wrote many books during this period. Whenever he traveled or lectured, he invited one of the core members (persons with a disability) to accompany him and to speak with him. His contribution to the spirituality of L’Arche was profound as he was able to creatively interpret the Beatitudes, and especially, “Blessed are the Poor”, in a way that touched the hearts of those within and beyond the boundaries of L’Arche.
In 1995 Henri was sent by the people of Daybreak on a year’s sabbatical for writing. During this time he wrote five books and the last of these to be published is his “Sabbatical Journey” which describes the year.
Three weeks after his return from his sabbatical, enroute to Russia to do a TV documentary about Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, Henri suffered a heart attack in The Netherlands, his homeland. His ninety-three year old father and his siblings visited him and cared for him in the hospital in Hilversum. He began to recover and the whole thing did not seem so serious. Unfortunately, still in the hospital and after less than a week he suddenly suffered a second, fatal, heart attack in the early morning of Saturday the 21st of September 1996.
There were two funeral services, one in Utrecht, The Netherlands, where Cardinal Simonis presided, and the other in Toronto, Canada, with the participation of the community of Daybreak. Henri is buried in King City, close to Daybreak, in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
Below is an article, written by a Daybreak Community member, Dr. Carolyn Whitney-Brown, and published in a major Canadian national newspaper the Globe and Mail shortly after Henri’s death. It, more than anything written so far, captures the personality and the spirit of a beloved son and brother, a faithful colleague and friend, and a pastor par excellence.
Sue Mosteller, csj, was a close friend of Henri throughout his time at Daybreak.
Lives Lived: HENRI J. M. NOUWEN
by Carolyn Whitney-Brown, Ph.D.
printed in the Globe and Mail, Oct. 2, 1996
Author, Catholic priest and member of L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto. Born Jan. 24, 1932, in Nijkerk, the Netherlands; died of a heart attack Sept. 21, in Hilversum, the Netherlands, age 64.
When Henri Nouwen was newly ordained in 1957, his fellow psychology students at the University of Nijmegen thought initially that he wanted to cultivate important people. “We misunderstood,” recalls one. “We didn’t notice that he was as interested in the janitor or groundskeeper as he was in the important people we were watching.”
Nearly 40 years later, this was still Henri Nouwen: eager to cultivate people of all kinds – to help them take root and grow. The celebrated and much translated author of more than 30 books, including The Wounded Healer and Our Greatest Gift, he taught at Harvard, Notre Dame and Yale, and was in demand around the world as a speaker and teacher.
Henri was never a cloistered academic. Even so, his move in 1986 to the L’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto was remarkably courageous. L’Arche is an international network of communities founded by a Canadian, Jean Vanier, where people with developmental disabilities and their friends live together.
Many members of L’Arche do not read, and Henri’s restless spirit wanted a home where his reputation would mean nothing. He found it: Everyone at Daybreak was interested in a brilliant 55-year-old priest who was unable to make a sandwich; who totalled a new car driving it away from the dealership; who spoke with his giant hands flailing and his whole gangly body quivering with his desire to communicate; whose Dutch accent could offer a whole meditation on “face” and only halfway in would we realize that he was speaking of faith; who might in a single week be giving talks on three continents; whose friends came hitch-hiking and in private planes; who willingly shared details of his life in his 30-some books that most of us would cringe to admit, much less publish!
Just as Daybreak loved Henri, he grew to love Daybreak. He developed a deep friendship with Adam Arnett (1961-1996), a man who never spoke a word, who taught Henri to slow down (briefly!), to be physically present, and to trust love that could grow without words. Henri rarely accepted a speaking engagement without taking a member of the community to speak with him. “People won’t remember of a word I said,” he reflected, “but they’ll remember that Bill van Buren and I stood here as friends and equals and spoke together.”
A few years ago, bishops and representatives from various churches were invited to L’Arche for a formal affirmation of Henri. Observing that Henri brought much mirth to the community, Jean Vanier suddenly decided that we would do Henri-skits. For this distinguished audience, we imitated his frenzied work habits, his vast correspondence and his passion to communicate God’s unconditional love and acceptance of every person. We laughed uproariously over all the eccentricities that made Henri so hard to live with, and all the generosity of spirit that made him such a delight to know. At the end of the evening Henri said with great emotion: “I didn’t know you knew me so well!”
Henri believed that we are each totally beloved by God – and yet he couldn’t quite trust totally that he was beloved, truly at home. So the gift and struggle of his life remained intertwined – the struggle of his own chaotic emotional life, his insecurity and fear generating the gift of an enormous understanding and compassion for every other human being. We joked that Henri wrote the same book over and over, and that’s true, because he wanted so deeply to communicate a message of love and home that he both could and couldn’t believe. So he wrote it again and again as he ongoingly glimpsed it and lost it, always finding new images – bread broken and shared, an empty church, open hands, clowning, circuses, mirrors, dancing, homecoming.
One of Henri’s deepest achievements, and the spur behind his writing and teaching, was to trust that the truth of his often difficult life would help others. In 1993 he wrote, “Our death may be the end of our success, our productivity, our fame or our importance among people, but it is not the end of our fruitfulness. In fact, the opposite it true…..”
His funeral in Canada gathered over a thousand people of many races, faiths, economic levels, some leading intellectuals and some labelled mentally handicapped, his family from Holland and the children of L’Arche Daybreak, peace activists, military chaplains, dancers in wheelchairs, all people grateful to celebrate and continue Henri’s life.
The Deepest Questions of Life and Death Jim Wallis
I especially remember one visit among many to Sojourners by Henri Nouwen. On this weekend, Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camara was also in town to speak to a large church convention in a downtown hotel. Dom Helder’s aides called to say that he felt “uncomfortable” in the big, fancy hotel and wanted to spend the afternoon in a “base community” like Sojourners. We were thrilled, and I hurried across the invisible racial and class boundaries of D.C. to pick him up.
The community quickly gathered, and the next several hours were some of the most memorable in our history-highlighted by the dialogue between Henri and Dom Helder. The Dutch priest from the First World was relentless with questions for the Third World liberation priest.
Henri’s hunger and thirst for spiritual truth were never satisfied. For a contemplative writer, Henri was not placid. His mind and heart were always probing, pushing further and further. That afternoon he seemed to sense that there were truths he would never find in the affluent First World, that his search would have to continue among the despised and rejected of the Third World. Later Henri would leave the academic cocoon of Yale to make a pilgrimage to Latin America.
The intensity of his spiritual search is what I will always most remember about Henri. He could spend hours with you-talking, walking, and very often anguishing about the deepest questions of life and faith. He was not a Christian who had it all figured out. On the contrary, Henri wrestled like Jacob with the God he so dearly loved. And that made him wrestle with all of us too.
The shock of his sudden death will linger for some time. But his remarkable legacy will last much longer. Plucked from us too soon, like another contemplative named Merton, Henri Nouwen leaves us with a rich library of spiritual struggle. Through his stream of books, the countless students he touched, the L’Arche members who touched him, and the thousands of people who attended the intimate Eucharists he insisted upon having wherever he was, Henri’s spiritual intensity will live on.
We can only give thanks for Henri Nouwen’s life and witness, and be grateful that Henri is finally at rest in the arms of the loving God who always pursued him like the hound of heaven.
MEDITATIONS FROM HENRI
The autumn of Life
The autumn leaves can dazzle us with their magnificent colors: deep red, purple, and yellow, gold, bronze, in countless variations and combinations. Then, shortly after having shown their unspeakable beauty, they fall to the ground and die. The barren trees remind us that winter is near. Likewise, the autumn of life has the potential to be very colorful: wisdom, humor, care, patience, and joy may bloom splendidly just before we fall to the ground and die.
As we look at the barren trees and remember our dead, let us be grateful for the beauty we saw in them and wait hopefully for a new spring.
Where mourning and dancing touch Each Other
“[There is] a time for mourning, a time for dancing” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). But mourning and dancing are never fully separated. Their “times” do not necessarily follow each other. In fact, their “times” may become one “time.” Mourning may turn into dancing and dancing into mourning without showing a clear point where one ends and the other starts.
Often our grief allows us to choreograph our dance while our dance creates the space for our grief. We lose a beloved friend, and in the midst of our tears we discover an unknown joy. We celebrate a success, and in the midst of the party we feel deep sadness. Mourning and dancing, grief and laughter, sadness and gladness – they belong together as the sad-faced clown and the happy-faced clown, who make us both cry and laugh. Let’s trust that the beauty of our lives becomes visible where mourning and dancing touch each other.
Living faithfully in an Ambiguous World
Our hearts and minds desire clarity. We like to have a clear picture of a situation, a clear view of how things fit together, and clear insight into our own and the world’s problems. But just as in nature colors and shapes mingle without clear-cut distinctions, human life doesn’t offer the clarity we are looking for. The borders between love and hate, evil and good, beauty and ugliness, heroism and cowardice, care and neglect, guilt and blamelessness are mostly vague, ambiguous, and hard to discern.
It is not easy to live faithfully in a world full of ambiguities. We have to learn to make wise choices without needing to be entirely sure.
Becoming Friends of Our Children
Can fathers and mothers become friends of their children? Many children leave their parents to find freedom and independence and return to them only occasionally. When they return they often feel like children again and therefore do not want to stay long. Many parents worry about children’s well being after they have left home. When their children visit they want to be caring parents again.
But a mother can also become the daughter of her daughter and a father the son of his son. A mother can become the daughter of her son and a father the son of his daughter. Father and mother become brother and sister of their own children, and they all can become friends. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does happen it is as beautiful to watch as the dawn of a new day.
The Healing Touch
Touch, yes, touch, speaks the wordless words of love. We receive so much touch when we are babies and so little when we are adults. Still, in friendship touch often gives more life than words. A friend’s hand stroking our back, a friend’s arms resting on our shoulder, a friend’s fingers wiping our tears away, a friend’s lips kissing our forehead — these are true consolation. These moments of touch are truly sacred. They restore, they reconcile, they reassure, they forgive, they heal.
Everyone who touched Jesus and everyone whom Jesus touched were healed. God’s love and power went out from him (see Luke 6:19). When a friend touches us with free, non-possessive love, it is God’s incarnate love that touches us and God’s power that heals us.
Friendship in the Twilight Zones of Our Heart
There is a twilight zone in our own hearts that we ourselves cannot see. Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves – our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and drives – large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness.
This is a very good thing. We always will remain partially hidden to ourselves. Other people, especially those, who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can. The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That’s a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility but also to a deep trust in those who love us. It is in the twilight zones of our hearts where true friendships are born.
Sharing Our Solitude
A friend is more than a therapist or a confessor, even though a friend can sometimes heal us and offer us God’s forgiveness.
A friend is that other person with whom we can share our solitude, our silence, and our prayer. A friend is that other person with whom we can look at a tree and say, “Isn’t that beautiful,” or sit on the beach and silently watch
the sun disappear under the horizon. With a friend we don’t have to say or do something special. With a friend we can be still and know that God is there with both of us.
“Know yourself” is good advice. But to know ourselves doesn’t mean to analyze ourselves. Sometimes we want to know ourselves as if we were machines that could be taken apart and put back together at will. At certain critical times in our lives it might be helpful to explore in some detail the events that led us to our crises, but we make a mistake when we think that we can ever completely understand ourselves and explain the full meaning of our lives to others.
Solitude, silence, and prayer are often the best ways to self-knowledge. Not because they offer solutions for the complexity of our lives but because they bring us in touch with our sacred center, where God dwells. That sacred center may not be analyzed. It is the place of adoration, thanksgiving, and praise
Claiming the Sacredness of Our Being
Are we friends with ourselves? Do we love who we are? These are important questions because we cannot develop good friendships with others unless we have befriended ourselves.
How then do we befriend ourselves? We have to start by acknowledging the truth of ourselves. We are beautiful but also limited, rich but also poor, generous but also worried about our security. Yet beyond all that we are people with souls, sparks of the divine. To acknowledge the truth of ourselves is to claim the sacredness of our being, without fully understanding it. Our deepest being escapes our own mental or emotional grasp. But when we trust that a loving God embraces our souls, we can befriend ourselves and reach out to others in loving relationships.
A Still Place in the Market
“Be still and acknowledge that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). These are words to take with us in our busy lives. We may think about stillness in contrast to our noisy world. But perhaps we can go further and keep an inner stillness even while we carry on business, teach, work in construction, make music, or organize meetings.
It is important to keep a still place in the “marketplace.” This still place is where God can dwell and speak to us. It also is the place from where we can speak in a healing way to all the people we meet in our busy days. Without that still space we start spinning. We become driven people, running all over the place without much direction. But with that stillness God can be our gentle guide in everything we think, say, or do.
Reading Spiritually About Spiritual Things
Reading often means gathering information, acquiring new insight and knowledge, and mastering a new field. It can lead us to degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Spiritual reading, however, is different. It means not simply reading about spiritual things but also reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires a willingness not just to read but to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words. As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual lives. We can become very knowledgeable about spiritual matters without becoming truly spiritual people.
As we read spiritually about spiritual things, we open our hearts to God’s voice. Sometimes we must be willing to put down the book we are reading and just listen to what God is saying to us through its words.
Growing Into Our True Freedom
True freedom is the freedom of the children of God. To reach that freedom requires a lifelong discipline since so much in our world militates against it. The political, economic, social, and even religious powers surrounding us all want to keep us in bondage so that we will obey their commands and be dependent on their rewards.
But the spiritual truth that leads to freedom is the truth that we belong not to the world but to God, whose beloved children we are. By living lives in which we keep returning to that truth in word and deed, we will gradually grow into our true freedom.
To Let the Word Become Flesh
Spiritual reading is food for our souls. As we slowly let the words of the Bible or any spiritual book enter into our minds and descend into our hearts, we become different people. The Word gradually becomes flesh in us and thus transforms our whole beings. Thus spiritual reading is a continuing incarnation of the divine Word within us. In and through Jesus, the Christ, God became flesh long ago. In and through our reading of God’s Word and our reflection on it, God becomes flesh in us now and thus makes us into living Christs for today.
Let’s keep reading God’s Word with love and great reverence.
Laying Down Your Life for Your Friends
Good Shepherds are willing to lay down their lives for their sheep (see John 10:11). As spiritual leaders walking in the footsteps of Jesus, we are called to lay down our lives for our people. This laying down might in special circumstances mean dying for others. But it means first of all making our own lives – our sorrows and joys, our despair and hope, our loneliness and experience of intimacy – available to others as sources of new life.
One of the greatest gifts we can give others is ourselves. We offer consolation and comfort, especially in moments of crisis, when we say: “Do not be afraid, I know what you are living and I am living it with you. You are not alone.” Thus we become Christ-like shepherds.
Creating Beautiful Memories
What happens during meals shapes a large part of our memories. As we grow older we forget many things, but we mostly remember the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners in our families. We remember them with joy and gratitude or with sadness and anger. They remind us of the peace that existed in our homes or the conflicts that never seemed to get resolved. These special moments around the table stand out as vivid reminders of the quality of our lives together.
Today fast-food services and TV dinners have made common meals less and less central. But what will there be to remember when we no longer come together around the table to share a meal? Maybe we will have fewer painful memories, but will we have any joyful ones? Can we make the table a hospitable place, inviting us to kindness, gentleness, joy, and peace and creating beautiful memories?