April 10th to 16th: Holy Week—Our Journey Ends

Reading: Letter VII—Listening to Jesus (p. 81 to p. 85)

I pray that you will venture on a life with Jesus. He asks everything
of you, but gives you more in return.
(p. 85)

As we come to the end of our Lenten journey, we read a letter written by Henri in late-August 1986 shortly after his arrival at L’Arche Daybreak to begin his ministry there. Moving to L’Arche was Henri’s answer to what he called the burning question, “How best am I to follow Jesus?” (p. 81) We know now what Henri couldn’t have known then—at L’Arche during the final ten years of his life Henri found the home he was seeking; he suffered a devastating breakdown and a life-threatening accident; through his suffering he discovered and believed in the depth of his heart that, like Jesus, he was the beloved; and he was inspired to write some of his most memorable books including Life of the Beloved, The Inner Voice of Love, his spiritual masterpiece The Return of the Prodigal Son, and his final book, Adam—God’s Beloved.

In this final letter to Marc, Henri reviews the spiritual journey that he and Marc shared, and that we have benefited from. Henri writes, “My greatest desire was to awaken in you a deep love of Jesus. I’ve told you about the Jesus who liberates, of the suffering Jesus and his compassion; of the Jesus who in humility chose the descending way; of the loving Jesus who challenges us to love even our enemies; and finally of the Jesus of Nazareth who reveals to us the mystery of God’s hiddenness.” (p. 82) (A personal note: As the discussion moderator, it’s wonderful when the author of the book we are reading provides the summary for the concluding post.)

Henri says to Marc, and through him to each of us, “You and I are called to be disciples of Jesus. The differences between us in age, circumstances, upbringing, and experience are small compared with the calling we have in common.” (p. 83) And he reminds us that it is essential to listen to the voice of God in a world that is constantly clamoring for our attention. Henri offers us three forms of listening that were meaningful to him: 1) Listen to the church; 2) Listen to the book (i.e., Bible and other spiritual reading); and 3) Listen to your heart.

Of the three forms of listening, the importance of listening to my heart is my Lenten takeaway and recurring challenge. Henri writes, “You need to set aside some time every day for his active listening to Jesus, if only for ten minutes. Ten minutes each day for Jesus alone can bring about a radical change in your life.” (p. 84). Henri’s words to Marc about the importance of daily prayer could have been directed at me. Deo Volente (God willing) this discussion will inspire me to step away from the hectic world and to spend quiet time every day listening to Jesus —especially on those days when I’m certain that I’m too busy to take the time to pray.

As many of you have been doing, please share whatever touched your heart in the readings or your reflections from this week or anytime throughout Lent. Once again, I want to thank you for joining to share Henri’s Letters to Marc About Jesus during our journey toward Easter. 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 23rd when we will begin our Advent book discussion with welcome and introductions. The book selection for our Advent discussion
will be announced in early-fall.

April 3rd to 9th: Fifth Week of Lent

Reading: Letter VI—Jesus: The Hidden God (p. 67 to p. 78)

Whereas the way of the world is to insist on publicity, celebrity, popularity, and getting maximum exposure. God prefers to work in secret. (p. 68) . . .
It is very important for you to realize that perhaps the greater
part of God’s work in this world may go unnoticed. (p. 72)

In an online Philosophy of Religion textbook we read, “In Western (Christian) thought, God is traditionally described as a being that possesses at least three necessary properties: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), and omnibenevolence (supremely good). In other words, God knows everything, has the power to do anything, and is perfectly good.” While this is true, for me, if this was the whole story we would be describing a distant and impersonal God. In his letters to Marc, Henri Nouwen has described God using more human terms: compassionate, descending, loving, and, this week, hidden. Why the difference? Henri is describing the characteristics of Jesus, the Son of God—the Divine person with two natures: fully human and fully divine. God entered into his creation in the person of Jesus, and it is through Jesus that we can enter into relationship with God. Henri write, “Jesus is the hidden God. He became a human being among a small, oppressed people, under very difficult circumstances. . . . There was nothing spectacular about Jesus’ life—far from it!” (p. 71)

This week we reflect on the hiddenness of God and how we can live that in our world today.

  1. Marthe Robin is one of the most impressive examples of God’s hidden presence in our world. . . . . As the years passed her suffering grew deeper. In the beginning she suffered with Jesus, but little by little she became the suffering Jesus. (p. 68-69)
    Were you aware of Marthe Robin before reading this chapter? (I was not.) What did you learn from her story? Where are the places / spaces in you life where experience “a peace which the world cannot give; a joy which doesn’t conflict suffering”? (p.70) Please share.
  2. I’m constantly struck by the fact that wherever the gospel of Jesus bears fruit, we come across this hiddenness. The great Christians throughout history have always been lowly people who sought to be hidden. (p. 72) Henri then cites St. Francis of Assisi and others as examples.
    Are there “lowly people who sought to be hidden” in your life or that have lived a fruitful gospel life? Share their story and why it touched you.
  3. The heart is at the center of our being human. . . . The mystery of the spiritual life is that Jesus desires to meet us in the seclusion of our own heart, to make his love known to us there, to free us from our fears, and to make our own deepest self known to us.” (p.74)
    How do you respond to Henri’s understanding of our heart as our center. What changes would you need to make to to discipline your heart and live a spiritual life? What would that mean for your relationship to Jesus and to others?
  4. (T)he Eucharist is preeminently the sacrament of God’s hiddenness. (p. 76)
    As he has in other letters, Henri writes to Marc based on his Catholic understanding of the Eucharist. How do Henri’s insights help you gain a better understanding of God’s hiddenness or the Eucharist. Please share.

We look forward to another week of excellent discussion. You are encouraged to share your reflections on one or more of the excerpts above or anything that touched your heart i the reading this week.

May the Lord give you peace.