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.

11 Replies to “April 3rd to 9th: Fifth Week of Lent”

  1. The Marthe Robin story illustrated for me the understanding of redemptive suffering.The suffering of one member , lovingly offered up in Christ , can be a source of great grace to others.Our union with Christ (covenant relationship) produces a unity with one another and grace overflows from one to another.A peace that the world cannot give.A joy that does not conflict suffering.I think all of this is driven by intimacy. Giving of yourself entirely to God as you know he has done for you. This intimacy , covenant relationship, agape love is found in the Eucharist . Christ gives his body to us. As we receive this intimate gift we can give all of ourselves to others . These intimate interactions produce a peace that the world cannot give.A circle of hiddenness

  2. Henri writes:
    “In the seclusion of our hearts we learn to know the hidden presence of God; and with that spiritual knowledge we can lead a loving life.
    But all of this requires discipline. The spiritual life demands a discipline of the heart. Discipline is the mark of a disciple of Jesus. This doesn’t mean, however, that you must make things difficult for yourself, but only that you make available the inner space where God can touch you with an all-transforming love. We human beings are so faint-hearted that we have a lot of trouble leaving an empty space empty. We like to fill it all up with ideas, plans, duties, tasks, and activities.”

    I am trying to make that space where God can touch me…

  3. I believe that joy and suffering are fleeting and the realization that God is on the other side of whatever I am experiencing in any given moment brings me peace, which is what I truly long for. If only my humanness did not get in the way!

    I’ve always found comfort in the Eucharist. I welcome Jesus as He comes to me.

  4. How do we, as Christians, not just suffer, but suffer well? That is a very difficult concept, especially in a world so dominated by receiving what we want or need immediately. However, I have found that if we accept our individual Crosses and sufferings and inevitable, and as part of bettering the world or in service to God, then it becomes more bearable. I pray that God gives us all the presence of mind to realize this when are going through struggles. Amen.

  5. Where are the places/spaces in your life where you experience “a peace which the world cannot give, a joy which doesn’t conflict suffering”? For me, it’s in Eucharistic Adoration. The Priest has preached at the noon Mass, the church is kept open for the rest of the day, when I go in to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, there may be only one or two or three other people praying with me, and at the end of the day we gather again for Benediction. I don’t understand fully why I am drawn to this and why it brings me such peace and feeling of belonging and being loved by Jesus, such confidence that He is solving all problems, especially divisions in the Church so that the world will be helped more to have genuine peace, but I am remembering God’s faithfulness, that His love is everlasting, that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste, and I, remaining silent, leave the whys, where’s, hows and when’s behind, and simply trust in Jesus leadership and guidance and listen. The biography of Marthe Robin was so interesting. I think maybe, if I had read it years ago when reading The Wounded Healer, it would have colored my reception of that book because Marthe Robin’s story can seem so outlandish. But now, having a lot more experiences of God, I can find her life believable and accept this testimony of the power of Jesus’ call on her to be so closely identified with Him to the extent of not needing any nourishment except Him. The doctors couldn’t diagnose her, Henri Nouwen tells us, and she evidently didn’t know why she was chosen either, but just became aware that she was becoming more and more linked to the suffering of Jesus. Most of us won’t have such a dramatic and demanding call on our lives but somehow I believe we are each personally called to some aspect of the suffering of Jesus and through His Meal with us, He provides the spiritual, mental, emotional and bodily strengthening we need to carry out our own unique parts of God’s Plan for all of us bonded together in communion in this world. Really though, by necessity I think too, there has to be a hiddenness because it can seem so fantastical and not aligned with the world’s understanding of reality. Am continuing to enjoy reading this book and appreciative it was brought to our attention. Thank you, Ray.

    1. For me, it’s in prayer and in truly engaging and positive experiences with my fellow man, be that a conversation, a kind word, or simply buying someone a coffee. All is conceptually adherent to God’s work.

      1. Thank you for your reply, Christopher. I appreciate your sharing and also believe with you all is conceptually adherent to God’s work. Amen to your comment.

  6. How do you respond to Henri’s understanding of our heart as our center. What changes would you need to make to discipline your heart and live a spiritual life? What would that mean for your relationship to Jesus and to others?

    Henri responds to this question with the “Great Commandment;” On page 75, “love the Lord your God all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

    I tend to agree with Henri that I fear that hiddenness and so I go about my life not thinking or knowing about my hidden center or secret place. But without knowing and living in this secret place, I lose out on knowing Jesus and knowing who I really am. It is in that hidden center of my heart that Jesus wishes to meet me there. To make his love known to me. It is in the privacy of my heart that I can learn to love Jesus and through this love of Jesus to love myself. If I cannot love Jesus, how can I love myself? If I cannot love myself, how can I love my neighbor? We human beings make this so difficult I know from my own experiences. I know this but I struggle.

    I need to open up that hidden center to God who will help me with this difficult challenge. But I tend to instead fill that space with other things and activities pushing God out. Therefore, I follow a weak hearted spiritual life instead. Because I like being the master of my own space. I do not know what else to do but pray. So, I keep praying that Jesus will give me the strengthen to open that hidden center to him. If I would just allow God in, he could help me by freeing me from these fears, filling me with his love and help me to become a complete human being. But I fall back into that old pattern and fail to let Jesus in.

    I am learning to depend more on Jesus and less on me. Through pray I have hope that someday I will find the way with Jesus’ help to open up to him. Then in that seclusion of my hidden center he can fill me with his love so I can love him more, love myself more, and love my neighbor.

    1. After writing this yesterday, I had this as a scripture reading today. Psalm 31:6-16. “My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies.” This devotion says, “Do you ever find yourself wavering in faith like a seesaw, one moment riding high on God’s promises and the next plunging downward in dread?” That is what I was feeling yesterday but this scripture has helped me calm my fears and doubts. It assured me that when I falter in faith, the Holy One receives my lament graciously, and with loving hands reshapes it into thanksgiving. So I pray this prayer, Hold my fears and anxieties in your hands, God, and reshape them into praise to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

  7. No, I had not heard of Marthe Robin before reading this. Very interesting. I wouldn’t doubt that there is someone out there now experiencing this same phenomenon. But we may not hear it till after the person’s death (the seed dying, the fruit arising).
    The full letter of the Hiddenness of Jesus was a concept I have never thought of, similar to the letter on His Descending arc. But it all makes perfect sense, and I can accept it completely. I can’t think of any one person in particular in my life who I can point to as following Jesus in a hidden manner. But I can see the Hiddenness of Jesus every time someone accomplishes a work of mercy. Also, it gives me hope that as I, as well as many others who are past the point of actively witnessing for Jesus and who live a more passive life, can still become hidden witnesses through prayer.
    As a side comment, what I have learned through the Descending and the Hidden letters, is that I have a long way to go in my spiritual journey, and that I have been rather spiritually prideful (stepping through the weeds).
    I loved Henri’s paragraph about the actions and prayers of less prominent humans being the reason God does not terminate the violent and sinful world. So true. My own twist on this is that maybe the millions of babies who have been aborted are God’s army of little angels praying for our salvation. (just a nice thought)
    Lastly, to answer the third and fourth reflections, yes, the most remarkable proof of His hiddenness is the coming of Jesus in the Eucharist. Straight from His heart to ours. As Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, “The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host”.

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