March 28th to April 3rd: Holy Week — The End of the Journey

Reading: August 1 to 30th entries and Afterword, page 208 to 226

Henri died at peace with himself, his family, his own faith community
of L’Arche, his friends, his vocation as a priest, and the God whose
everlasting love had been Henri’s beacon for sixty-four years.
–Nathan Ball, p 226

We come to the end of another Henri Nouwen book discussion. And before we gather again in November for our Advent book discussion, we will have marked the 25th anniversary of Henri’s untimely death on September 21, 1996. Nathan Ball’s concluding words could be Henri’s epitaph for a vibrant life well lived. I’m confident that when Henri met his Lord, he was greeted with the words, “Welcome, my good and faithful servant.”

Many of you have observed and commented on the busy, almost frantic, pace of Henri’s life and his sabbatical year. Sandra went so far as to call it Henri’s not-Sabbatical Journey. There is a great deal of truth in that. I believe, with the benefit of hindsight, it was also a great gift to us all. As Sr. Sue notes in the Foreword,

“Henri meets, celebrates, consoles, counsels, and connects with over a thousand people, and in friendship he mentions six hundred of them by name.” (p. vii)

It is in describing these many encounters that Henri is able to share his life’s wisdom–and to do so in a way that is meaningful to believers and seekers, God’s people, everywhere. Lest we forget, it was also during this year that Henri wrote Bread for the Journey (daily meditations), Can You Drink the Cup (a powerful reflection on living a spiritual life), prepared the Inner Voice of Love (his private journal containing “spiritual imperatives”) for publication, completed a near-final draft of Adam – God’s Beloved, and wrote the reflections that became Sabbatical Journey. Each of these books was informed by Henri’s relationship with his many friends.

Sr. Sue also points out that, unbeknownst to Henri, in his final year he was living out words he himself had written in his book Our Greatest Gift,

“I believe that this lonely task of befriending my death is not simply a task that serves me, but also a task that may serve others. I have lived my whole life with the desire to help others in their journey, but I have always realized that I had little to offer than my own, the journey I am making myself.” (p. xi)

Turning to our reading for this week, I will offer three items for your consideration. The first is the contrast between Henri’s reaction to the Olympic games (August 1st) and the emphasis our world places on competition and winning compared to Jesus saying “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (August 9th). The second is Henri’s question to himself, “Is this my vocation (pastoral care and ministry) or is it better to stay home and write more? (August 26th). And, finally, Henri’s reflections on courage and its relationship to our heart–the center of our being (August 28th). I will also point out that Nathan’s Afterword contains the best description that I have read of Henri’s final days.

As many of you have been doing throughout Lent, please share whatever touched your heart in the readings or your reflections. Once again, I want to thank you for joining to share Henri’s Sabbatical Journey during our Lenten journey. It has been a privilege and a blessing to travel along with each of you–those posting comments and those walking with us silently. We are all on the road to God’s heavenly kingdom and it’s comforting to know we are not alone.

On behalf of the Henri Nouwen Society, may you and yours have a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter season.

Peace and all good,

P.S. Please join us on Wednesday, November 24th when we will begin our Advent book discussion with welcome and introductions. Our Advent book selection will be announced in early-fall.