Apr 5th to Apr 12th: Holy Week – From Prologue to Epilogue

Reading: None. Review the book and our discussion.

As I look at my own aging hands, I know that they have been given to me
to stretch out toward all who suffer, to rest upon the shoulders
of all who come, and to offer the blessing that emerges
from the immensity of God’s love. (p. 139)

As we enter Holy Week, we come to the end of another Henri Nouwen Society book discussion made fruitful through your participation and the thoughtful, inspiring and meaningful comments shared by many of you.

For me personally, our time together led me to reflect on my own journey over the past sixteen years: from when I first read The Return of the Prodigal Son in 2004 primarily from the perspective of the younger son to today as I seek to become the compassionate father to my children and grandchildren and to all of God’s children that my wife Dawn and I meet along the way. As is the case for many, Henri’s writing seems to apply directly to my own experience, and that is certainly true here. Shown below are excerpts from the Prologue and the Epilogue that help me to better understand my journey and my calling.

From the Prologue: I came to Daybreak in August 1986 with the conviction I had made the right choice . . . I became more and more aware of how long I have played the role of observer. . . had I, myself, really ever dared to step into the center, kneel down, and let myself be held by a forgiving God? . . . . I have been led to an inner place where I had not been before. It is the place within me where God has chosen to dwell. . . . and says, “You are my beloved son”. . . To make my home where God has made his, this is the great spiritual challenge. . . When I first saw Rembrandt’s painting, I was not as familiar with the home of God within me as I am now. . . I have a new vocation now. It is the vocation to speak and write from that place back into the many places of my own and other people’s restless lives. . . . The only way to that place is prayer, unceasing prayer.

From the Epilogue: (T)he greatest gift from L’Arche is the challenge of becoming the Father. . . the true call is to become a father who only blesses in endless compassion, asking no questions, always giving and forgiving, never expecting anything in return. . . . My people, whether handicapped or not. . . seek a father who can bless and forgive without needing them in the the way they need him. . . (and) to convince them that. . . there is a safe place to return to and receive an embrace. . . . True fatherhood is sharing the poverty of God’s non-demanding love. (Note: Henri concludes the Epilogue with the quote at the top of this post.)

You are encouraged to look back on your own spiritual journey with the insights you have gained from this book. Are you the younger son, the elder son, or the father today and why? Are there other times in the past when you were living as a different character from the parable? Do you feel called to become the compassionate father? How do you feel about your responses? Are there things you might do differently or disciplines you may adopt in the future? Please share what you discover to the extent you are comfortable.

Announcing a Special Summer 2020 Book Discussion. It gives me great pleasure to announce that the Henri Nouwen Society will be holding a special summer 2020 book discussion that is the ideal follow on to our Lenten one. We will read and discuss the new book Henri Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son: The Making of a Spiritual Classic by Nouwen scholar Gabrielle Earnshaw, the founding archivist for the Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives and Chief Archivist for the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust. The book will be published by Paraclete Press on May 12, 2020. For more information:

Drawing from extensive research in Nouwen’s archives, this book provides a detailed account of how the The Return… came to be written, shedding light on Nouwen’s writing process and aspects of his life experience that influenced his insights and ideas. Finally, Gabrielle explores how Nouwen himself was changed by the book and why twenty-eight years later this spiritual classic continues to touch the hearts and minds of 21st century readers.

Plan to join us on Wednesday, June 10th for Welcome and Introductions. The discussion begins on Sunday, June 14th and will run until mid-July.

A Concluding Thought. One final time, heartfelt thanks for joining us on our Lenten journey. It is a privilege and a blessing to share this time with each of you as we walk together with Henri as our guide. Gathering in this virtual community several times a year to read and share Henri’s work is an important spiritual discipline for me and it would not be possible without you. I’m deeply grateful for your presence.

May the Lord give you peace and may he keep you and your loved ones safe.

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30 Responses to Apr 5th to Apr 12th: Holy Week – From Prologue to Epilogue

  1. Ray Glennon says:

    A blessed Easter to you all. He is Risen! Rejoice and be glad! One final time, thank you to all who gathered here to share your Lenten journey. It has been a privilege and a blessing to walk with you.

    In the Epilogue, Henri writes, “I know that the true call is to become a father who only blesses in endless compassion, asking no questions, always giving and forgiving, never expecting anything in return.” (p. 138) However, and this is crucial and Henri’s core insight, the only way we can become the compassionate father is to know and live from the reality that, like Jesus, we are the beloved sons and daughters of God. The foundation of Henri’s entire approach to the spiritual life is that we are the beloved; our challenge is to accept and live out that truth. And how do we live as the Beloved? By following Jesus, the Beloved Son of God.

    The Return of the Prodigal Son was published in 1992. That same year Henri published Life of the Beloved and he gave a series of sermons on being the beloved at the Crystal Cathedral that were broadcast on Robert Schuller’s Hour of Power. Here are links to the first of those sermons where Henri powerfully presents Becoming the Beloved.
    Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFWfYpd0F18
    Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AAHT4l3jVY

    Join us on Wednesday, June 10th as we continue our explanation of this spiritual masterpiece through the eyes and words of Nouwen scholar and Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust archivist Gabrielle Earnshaw.

    May you and yours be blessed and stay safe during the Easter season and in the weeks and months ahead.


    • Marta Edwards says:

      He is Risen, Alleluia! Thank you Ray for moderating this book study. I have enjoyed this Lenten discussion and soaked up all the nuggets of perspective that each one has offered. May you and all the participants be blessed today and always. Looking forward to the next study in June.

  2. Phil says:

    Having read this book about three or four times now, I think I’m on the verge of “getting it”.
    My life lived in rebellion and rejection leads me to the place where I must accept the Father’s love, despite myself.
    Accepting the Father’s love, that suffuses me completely, I am now called to act upon the my life story to take that next step, recognising how “we all participate to a greater or lesser degree in all forms o f human brokenness”, to share in the grief of others, to walk with them on a journey to their own forgiveness (reclaiming their son-ship) and being generous in sharing this with people.
    Having gone through a number of experiences in recent years that have made me turn from secular ascendancy to seeing what really matters I now hope, that for friends and colleagues who face similar difficult journeys, I can be those outstretched hands.

    Many thanks to all on here that I have learnt from. Thank you Ray for moderating.
    God bless and keep us in this time of tribulation; but let us remember the cry of the Greeks that will come tonight at the Vigil:
    Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!!

  3. Barry Sullivan says:

    Since the hyperlinks I left in the last message to NCR’s Easter Triduum, I will leave below the actual URLs in hoping these will open for you. If not, you may be able to copy and paste them in your browser to open each one.
    From National Catholic Reporter’s Easter Triduum Liturgy.
    Easter Triduum Holy Thursday link: https://www.ncronline.org/news/spirituality/easter-triduum-holy-thursday?clickSource=email Scroll down to YouTube videos for Holy Thursday.
    Good Friday Link: https://www.ncronline.org/news/spirituality/easter-triduum-good-friday
    Easter Vigil link: https://www.ncronline.org/news/spirituality/easter-triduum-easter-vigil


  4. Barry Sullivan says:

    Greetings to all on this Holy Thursday!
    Here are highly recommended brief readings and videos. I hope these links work for you! I listened and viewed the Holy Thursday services today and I found them quite impressive, a moving liturgy while at home. Also, see the links below to their YouTube videos for Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. Scroll down to the various videos for Holy Thursday after opening this link:
    The Easter Triduum: Holy Thursday, from National Catholic Reporter (April 2020). Also, this includes links to their
    The Easter Triduum: Good Friday and
    The Easter Triduum: Easter Vigil

    NCR editor note: “NCR is sharing with our readers a liturgy resource put together by board member and composer Dan Schutte. During this time of global crisis, Schutte said he was feeling the loss of being able to celebrate the liturgy of the Easter Triduum with his home parish. This sadness inspired him to create a virtual celebration to help us be in communion, even though we are physically separated. You can find the entire Easter Triduum virtual celebration here.”

    Blessings to all in this Holy Week.

  5. Linda MacDonald says:

    It is Wednesday already and the mid-point of Holy Week. It feels like this book discussion and the Lenten season itself have swept by at some kind of incredible speed even as we’ve all been social distancing and feeling very slow. Talk about the relativity of time! Reading this book with all of you has truly offered a sheltering place in the midst of the planetary storm we are all experiencing now. The Epilogue seemed especially to speak to my heart as this book study concludes so here are some sentences/ideas which you may also have noticed:
    p.136: Life in community does not keep the darkness away. ….. Community life has opened me up to the real spiritual combat: the struggle to keep moving toward the light precisely when the darkness is so real.
    (The handicaps of people at L’Arche) unveil my own.
    For me the key word in that sentence is “unveil” which is somehow more powerful than the word I might have chosen “reveal”.

    p. 137: the discussion about the how a community composed of wayward and angry children give a solidarity . . . .but it is a solidarity as a way station on the road to a more lonely destination: the loneliness of the Father, the ultimate loneliness of compassion.
    Such a thought had never crossed my mind – the loneliness of the Father in the compassion that is always being given without any expectation of return.
    It kind of puts all that language about “return on investment” related to our social policies into the harsh light of judgment they actually deserve.

    p.138 – The joy of fatherhood is vastly different from the joy of the wayward children.

    The entire discussion of joy and what it is as well as what is cannot be, that there is a difference between this whole matter of happiness at all costs, and the joy that Christ says is complete in his love.
    The Epilogue seems especially significant during this Lent and the Holy Week we have entered. The odd quality of virtual services, of being a community connected over waves I cannot understand at all, marveling we can actually hear one another’s breathing and see one another’s faces through particular apps – short for applications.
    I feel deeply grateful that the Spirit called me to click on the book study this season so that I might be part of this journey. Thank you for all you have offered of insight, inspiration, and hope. Blessings be upon all of you. I am looking forward now to the summer book study and will watch for more information.

    • marge says:

      Linda, thank you for lifting out “unveil”….I will continue to think about that as I continue to ponder, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory.” Luke 24:26

      It was so important for me to follow along in this Lent offering, mostly silently. Nouwen, along with Ray and all of you remind me of another of Nouwen’s quotes, “In true community we are windows constantly offering each other new views on the mystery of God’s Presence in our lives.” ( I might add, God’s Loving presence, and patience so “unveiled” through this book study and discussion).

      Thank you each one…Peace to you…….

  6. Katy-Anne says:

    This book has been incredible for me, and it seems like I was one of the few who hadn’t read it before. This Lent has turned out to be something I never saw coming. I wasn’t really prepared to do spiritual work of this magnitude, but as I’ve found out, God usually has other ideas. I think we were probably all blindsided. My daughter said earlier that “Jesus saw his shadow so we have another six weeks of Lent” (she’s eight).

    But this Lenten season I decided, well, was convinced into it by a friend, to learn kindness towards myself and live the fact that I am beloved, and so this book just fit within that. I’m definitely the younger son right now, and feel like I may be there for a while still. I am learning that these things cannot be rushed, as long as the lessons are being learned.

    Many of you have talked about becoming the father, and that seems such a long way off for me and to be honest I don’t know if I ever want to be the father, because fathers abuse their little girls (I mean I know that’s not reality across the board but it was my experience and the experience of many others I knew). I’m still struggling with the whole God as father concept, although I have become more open to that. So while the book talks about a wonderful and compassionate father, I still can’t fully see it. If the goal is to be the father, I don’t know if I can do that (and the image of God as mother isn’t any better as far as abuse goes). So where does that leave me? I don’t know.

    • Ray Glennon says:

      Thanks again for your thoughtful and personal sharing throughout this discussion. Your comments have touched and challenged me and, I’m sure, others.

      As a long-time Nouwen reader, but not a Nouwen scholar, I have a few thoughts in response to your honest comment and questions about the goal of “becoming a wonderful and compassionate father.” As I understand Henri’s writing, he believes that Gospel parable and Rembrandt’s depiction of it show us how Jesus understands and describes his heavenly Father to his disciples, and to us. And in a word, the heavenly or compassionate Father, or God, is love. (1 John 4:16). Henri also recognizes that, as you have shared, for you and many others, earthly fathers have fallen far short of being the compassionate father in the parable, and that is a tragedy.

      So what does it mean to become the compassionate Father? As I see it (and I think Henri would agree), it is to welcome our children and our neighbors with unconditional love as the compassionate Father would, recognizing that we are imperfect and will fall short at times (and God understands that too and will forgive us.)

      How do we become the compassionate Father? I’m confident that Henri would answer, “By following Jesus.” In Letters to Marc About Jesus Henri wrote, “If you were to ask me point-blank, ‘What does it mean to you to live spiritually?’ I would have to reply, ‘Living with Jesus at the center.’” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) and “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:11). If we choose to follow Jesus and, as Mary said at the wedding of Cana, “Do whatever he tells you,” (John 2:5), then we will become (imperfectly) the compassionate Father to those we encounter on our journey. At least that is how I understand it. It gives me hope and challenges me to trust in Jesus and respond when he says, “Come after me.”

      May you and yours be richly blessed as we approach Easter.

    • marge says:

      Katy-Anne, I enter into celebration with you, right now in your personal, particular journey……when you wrote of your 8 year old daughter’s wonderful insight, I remembered a little poem I can across a long time ago (author unknown).

      “Lord, I want to celebrate what I see and what I ate,
      what it means to run or wait, to turn fifty or turn eight.

      Lord, I want to celebrate when a story is turned straight,
      when forgiveness is not late, when a wall becomes a gate.”

      Lord, I want to celebrate, Lord I want to celebrate,
      Lord, I want to celebrate, all the life You generate.

      …..today I celebrate you, Katy-Anne and all the life God has and is, and will continue to generate…you are a beloved daughter of God….may God’s loving hand continue to rest upon you!

      • Katy-Anne says:

        Hi Marge,

        Thanks for your comment. This has been a weird Lent and Holy Week but it has been filled with much learning and insight for me. I have enjoyed this book study. I didn’t even know about it until a friend asked me if I wanted to join her in it.

        • marge says:

          Perhaps you and your friend will experience something similar as the 2 on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13 +) following Jesus’ resurrection?

          Perhaps Jesus’ question “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” will help to “unveil” (note Linda’s reference to that word in her April 8 post)………

          At any rate….Peace to you and your blessed friend, your blessed household, Katy-Anne…….

  7. Barry Sullivan says:

    Inspired by the links provided by Christine and Patricia, I have a song and video to share. Posted recently by James Martin, SJ, on Facebook this link is to a tune composed by Bill McGarvey for a memorial mass for college classmates. However, he recently added a timely video relating to the COVID 19 pandemic. I found it that, as Father Martin says, “it speaks to our times.”


    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Forgot to mention that Bill McGarvey’s song title is inspired by Isaiah 43:1—
      “…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
      I have called you by name, you are mine.”

      • Linda MacDonald says:

        So fabulous! Thank you so much for posting the link to FB, Barry. In times such as these how important it becomes to remember whose we are as well as who we are called to be/become.

  8. Christine says:

    In the Epilogue Henri wrote, “Rembrandt’s father is a father who is emptied out by suffering. Through the many ‘deaths’ he suffered, he became completely free to receive and to give.” It occurs, to me that we may be experiencing a time of emptying out in this particular time and place. In this time of socal distancing and sheltering in place, I find myself rethinking my priorities. I have been placing myself in the image Henri decribed in the prologue: “I have to kneel before the Father, put my ear against his chest and listen to the heartbeat of God.” In my mind’s eye, Rembrandt’s image of the Father’s loving embrace is extended to include our entire planet.

    I am grateful for all the wisdom shared here over the past weeks. Thank you to all!

    In closing I wanted to share a song that has traveled with me through this journey. It expresses very poignantly the yearning of a parent for the return of her child.


    • Barry Sullivan says:

      I concur with your thoughts about this being a time of emptying and rethinking priorities. I pray that all in our nation, in particular, will be prompted to refocusing on truly important priorities, most importantly loving God and our neighbors as ourselves.

    • Elaine M says:

      Christine, I have been thinking more about the meaningful quote with which you began your post. For some reason, I am reminded of the time I brought my three-week-old first child to visit my aunt, a wise woman and the mother of seven children, a brood who at the time ranged in age from 19 to 2-1/2. She appropriately oohed and aahed over my newborn and then said, “Your children will be your greatest joy and your greatest sorrow.” She had great kids, none of whom took to reckless behavior or caused her special pain. None were like the prodigal of the parable, at not in major ways. But I came to understand over my 40+ years of mothering how much I vicariously experienced my children’s suffering, their disappointments, their illnesses, their quandaries about how to raise their own children and how much I wanted to enfold them in my love, even when they appeared to resist. I always hoped they knew how willing I was to forgive them (well, most of the time) and how much I hoped they would forgive me for my own failings as a parent and as a human being. Family life can be messy and complicated and sorrowful in small and big ways. We are hardly perfect. And so I really love that your post ends with the image of kneeling before the perfect Father, quiet and trusting enough to be able to hear “the heart beat of God.”

  9. Patricia Hesse says:

    We see so many things as random consequences. I believe the selection of “The Return of the Prodigal Son” that Ray made months ago, is no coincidence. The hands of the Loving Father are being discovered everywhere. Thankfully, much is being posted online now that is uplifting in this challenging time, however, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen –I will watch it daily until this is over:


    • Ray Glennon says:

      Thank you Patricia for sharing beautiful reflection and for your active participation in many of these discussions.

      I’m a candidate in the Secular Franciscan Order (OFS) and listening to the Praise Song for the Pandemic I hear echos of the Canticle of the Creatures written by St. Francis of Assisi, Henri Nouwen’s favorite saint. Another connection…

      May you and everyone reading this have a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter.

      • Barry Sullivan says:

        I hadn’t thought of St Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures, which I have on my wall at home, but I too now hear those echoes.
        Let me know if you need any endorsements for the Secular Franciscan Order candidacy. I will give you a sterling recommendation! Thanks for the fine work.

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Thanks very much for sharing this timely, incisive praise song for a pandemic. I am going to share this with our church’s small group.
      Also, I agree that Ray’s selection made months ago, long before COVID 19, may well be no coincidence. Henri’s reflections in this marvelous book (the best spiritual tome of our time?) are even more penetrating in these days.
      Blessings to you now and forever!

    • Linda MacDonald says:

      Patricia, thank you for this link. Remembering to praise and give thanks is such an act of hope in these times. And it offers a way to respond to the drumbeat of numbers as well as empty words from those who are supposed to have the well being of everyone at the center of their actions. A powerful antidote and perfect for Holy Week 2020 and the days of Resurrection to come.

  10. Nancy True says:

    I want to make a very simple response to all of the readings, dialogues, and deep spiritual growth I’ve lived these past weeks of Lent 2020 knowing others are also deeply moved by Henri’s words and teachings.
    I found my poster, tucked in between two bookcases I have in my room. I mentioned that when I first read the Return of the Prodigal Son, I identified with the young girl in the upper left corner of Rembrandt’s painting.
    This Lenten season was disrupted with the stay at home order here in Colorado.
    I’ve chosen to attend graduate school for my Doctorate in Education and was presented with a position to assist me in attending school full time. I’m hosting a young woman who lives with mental illness and intellectual disabilities. I knew this could be a way for me to be of service, earn my keep, and I learned from Henri, after he left Academia, that it would be hard word and very rewarding, if I was willing to be the student. She and I have struggled deeply with her conditions and I have my own.
    Thank you ALL for your words, they give me strength and comfort. Thank you for your deep dives into the spiritual life that has such a high cost for loving ourselves and others during this time of social distancing.
    I was not able to write as I thought I would each week or read as I had hoped.
    So now, during Holy Week, I will set aside time and ask if I can respond to the call I’m receiving; to come out of my young woman’s silence, to enter into the mother of a returning prodical daughter, and speak to the peoples of all faiths and traditions, along with those who have not been able to find spiritual home. This is a time for healing for all of God’s people.
    I hear mother earth and father sky, saying, “we are so upset with you, earth children, we are sending you to your rooms to think, ponder, contemplate…. Who are you and what do you want to bring forward into the world once it is time to restore, reconcile, heal, and forgive?” ( I don’t know about you but I know that mom voice!)
    I pray for guidance and the soft/strong arms of a mother embracing her child that has returned home, only to go out again and live in the love and spirit of G*D.
    Blessing to all,

    • Barry Sullivan says:

      Thank you for these lovely thoughts, including your words from “mother earth and father sky.” It is a time, indeed, to restore, reconcile, heal and forgive. We are in great need of those “soft/strong arms of a mother” at this time in our history.

      Good luck in graduate school as you work toward that Doctorate in Education. In retirement, I still do a little part time teaching in an education doctorate program in Minnesota.

      Blessings to you!

    • I just love that image of the children being sent to their room, but not as punishment, rather to think through just what it is that they want and need. We in the ‘developed’ world have the opportunity to make massive changes after the pandemic has eased, and to address the inequalities that will otherwise become even starker. I feel fearful that Christ’s body won’t be up to the task, but Jesus did tell us to be salt and light – and even a pinch of salt can make a meal come alive, and one candle can glimmer in the dark to guide another home. I wonder whether the Father had a lamp lit in his window to guide the younger son home – and to remind the elder son that there was always light at home for him too.

  11. Elaine M says:

    First of all, thanks, Ray, for the news that there will be a summer book discussion. Rereading and reflecting on THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON has been so valuable, especially in view of our current global situation, and having a summer book may very well serve a similar purpose. Even if summer brings some relief, and hopefully it does, I am always up for the discussions on this site.

    Now for my thoughts as we conclude this book discussion:
    What I have gleaned by rereading this book:
    –even more appreciation for Henri’s scholarship in researching Rembrandt, incorporating others’ research and analysis, and patiently studying every detail of the painting
    –his observation about the motherly and fatherly hands of the prodigal’s father, the emphasis on a God who embodies both qualities
    –his observation that the father’s robe appears as the sheltering wings of a mother bird, an image of divine comfort and solace needed in our troubled times
    –the image of a God who throws a big party—What’s not to love about this kind of God?
    –the resonance the book has for so many of us, regardless of our location, life experiences, age, or profession
    –the honesty and humility of those of you who have followed Henri’s lead in exposing your vulnerability, your questioning, your struggles and successes in attempting to live out the compassion, forgiveness, and generosity of the father (Father)
    –my gratitude that the timing of our reading and discussions couldn’t have been better; with the pandemic closing in on so many lives, with my own anxieties about loved ones, and with the added burden of caring for a husband afflicted by cancer, I so needed the consolation of Henri’s message and your insights as well

    Thank you, Henri, for providing such food for thought. Thank you, Ray, for facilitating another enriching discussion. And thank you, book discussion friends, for your wisdom and support. Peace be with you.

    • Linda MacDonald says:

      Elaine, I love all of what you have listed as significant for you in reading this book. You captured many of my own thoughts. Particularly significant is the image of the cloak as wings of a mother bird gathering into safety her small ones. I know I’ll never look at that cloak in this painting without seeing those wings which are spread for each and every person, both present and passed on.

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