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Hidden Greatness by Henri Nouwen
There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society. Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired, whether you are a writer, an actor, a musician, or a politician.
Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It is not easy to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility. Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call, and they did it with great patience, perseverance, and love.
I know which kind of art I wish to create. What about you?
Discerning God’s Presence by Henri Nouwen
The Gospels are filled with examples of God’s presence in the word. Personally, I am always touched by the story of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth. There he read from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
for he has anointed me
to bring good news to the afflicted.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to
captives, sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord.
After having read these words, Jesus said, “This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.” Suddenly, it becomes clear that the afflicted, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed are not people somewhere outside of the synagogue who, someday, will be liberated; they are the people who are listening. And it is in the listening that God becomes present and heals.
The Word of God is not a word to apply in our daily lives at some later date; it is a word to heal us through, and in, our listening here and now.
The questions therefore are: How does God come to me as I listen to the word? Where do I discern the healing hand of God touching me through the word? How are my sadness, my grief, and my mourning being transformed at this very moment? Do I sense the fire of God’s love purifying my heart and giving me new life? These questions lead me to the sacrament of the word, the sacred place of God’s real presence.
During Lent I am am reading The Way to Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony De Mello, a chapter a day. Today’s chapter, “The Bind See,” talks about giving up one’s filters of attachments, beliefs, and fears (that create the way we see the world rather than the way the world really is) as a means of seeing (so that we can truly love).
The following devotion from Henri Nouwen continues in the same vein–that of giving up one’s attachments (possessions).
The Nonpossessive Life by Henri Nouwen
To be able to enjoy fully the many good things the world has to offer, we must be detached from them. To be detached does not mean to be indifferent or uninterested. It means to be nonpossessive. Life is a gift to be grateful for and not a property to cling to.
A nonpossessive life is a free life. But such freedom is only possible when we have a deep sense of belonging. To whom then do we belong? We belong to God, and the God to whom we belong has sent us into the world to proclaim in his Name that all of creation is created in and by love and calls us to gratitude and joy. That is what the “detached” life is all about. It is a life in which we are free to offer praise and thanksgiving.
Mediation for First Week in Lent by Henri Nouwen
[Jesus said,] “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” – Mark 1:15
Living Lent Attentively and Gently
Lent is the most important time of the year to nurture our inner life. It is the time during which we not only prepare ourselves to celebrate the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also the death and resurrection that constantly takes place within us. Life is a continuing process of the death of the old and the familiar, and being reborn again into a new hope, a new trust, and a new love. The death and resurrection of Jesus therefore is not just an historical event that took place a long time ago, but an inner event that takes place in our heart when we are willing to be attentive to it….
Lent offers a beautiful opportunity to discover the mystery of Christ within us. It is a gentle but also demanding time. It is a time of solitude but also community, it is a time of listening to the voice within, but also a time of paying attention to other people’s needs. It is a time to continuously make the passage to new inner life as well as to life with those around us.
When we live Lent attentively and gently, then Easter can truly be a celebration during which the full proclamation of the risen Christ will reverberate into the deepest place of our being.
A Lenten Prayer by Henri Nouwen
The Lenten season begins. It is a time to be with you, Lord, in a special way, a time to pray, to fast, and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and to the final victory over death.
I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.
I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are not times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.
Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place. Give me the strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life that you have prepared for me. Amen.
Befriending Our Inner Enemies by Henri Nouwen
How do we befriend our inner enemies lust and anger? By listening to what they are saying. They say, “I have some unfulfilled needs” and “Who really loves me?” Instead of pushing our lust and anger away as unwelcome guests, we can recognize that our anxious, driven hearts need some healing. Our restlessness calls us to look for the true inner rest where lust and anger can be converted into a deeper way of loving.
There is a lot of unruly energy in lust and anger! When that energy can be directed toward loving well, we can transform not only ourselves but even those who might otherwise become the victims of our anger and lust. This takes patience, but it is possible.
Being Merciful with Ourselves by Henri Nouwen
We need silence in our lives. We even desire it. But when we enter into silence we encounter a lot of inner noises, often so disturbing that a busy and distracting life seems preferable to a time of silence. Two disturbing “noises” present themselves quickly in our silence: the noise of lust and the noise of anger. Lust reveals our many unsatisfied needs, anger or many unresolved relationships. But lust and anger are very hard to face.
What are we to do? Jesus says, “Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). Sacrifice here means “offering up,” “cutting out,” “burning away,” or “killing.” We shouldn’t do that with our lust and anger. It simply won’t work. But we can be merciful toward our own noisy selves and turn these enemies into friends.
Solidarity in Weakness by Henri Nouwen
Joy is hidden in compassion. The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy. Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty ... such experiences can bring us deep joy. Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family. Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the center of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others.
“Being with, suffering with…sharing our humanity” seems so foreign to those among us with unwavering confidence and absolute knowledge of where they are supposed to be and when. After all, it’s on the schedule. Wiggle room allows us time for compassion and, therefore, time for unexpected joy. Beware. lest we mistake stubborn adherence to the “plan” with faith that God is sovereign over all.