Feast of Henri Nouwen (September 20)   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Henri Nouwen

Image in the Public Domain



Dutch Roman Catholic Priest and Spiritual Writer


We have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.

–Henri Nouwen


Robert Ellsberg lists Henri Nouwen as the saint for September 20 in All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (1997).  The date of September 20 works well for Nouwen on this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, for I reserve September 21 for St. Matthew the Apostle.

Much of contemporary spiritual writing has a reputation for shallowness.  This is fair because it is frequently accurate.  This generalization does not apply to the 39 books by Henri Nouwen, however.  I think in particular of The Way of the Heart, with its interpretation of the temptations of Jesus and application of those temptations to contemporary ministry.

Nouwen, born in Nijkerk, The Netherlands, on January 24, 1932, became one of the most influential and popular spiritual writers of the twentieth century.  He discerned his priestly vocation at an early age.  Our saint, ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Utrecht in 1957, studied psychology at the Catholic University of Nijmegan from 1957 to 1964.  Next he studied at the Menninger Clinic, in the United States, in 1964-1966, and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Nouwen was an academic.  He taught at the University of Notre Dame (1966-1968), the Catholic Theological University of Utrecht (1968-1970), and Yale University School (1971-1981).  After spending six months in Bolivia and Peru in 1982-1983, our saint taught at Harvard Divinity School (1983-1985).  Nouwen was spiritually restless, seeking his proper place.  His moves from one teaching position to another indicated this restlessness.

Nouwen also experienced great stress.  He was, by all accounts, a priest who lived according to his wows, including celibacy.  He also had the needs for physical and emotional intimacy all people have.  Our saint struggled with those issues as well as his homosexuality, which he kept secret.  One biographer has suggested that Nouwen made peace with himself toward the end of his life.

Nouwen made a truly disturbing discovery about himself:  In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (perhaps not the best name for the parable, but the traditional one), he was most like the resentful older brother.  This was a spiritual condition he could change, and did address.

Nouwen spent 1986-1996 as the pastor at the Daybreak Community in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  The community specialized in serving severely handicapped people.  In addition to his pastoral duties Nouwen was caregiver to Adam, a young man who could do nothing for himself–not even speak or feed himself.  In taking care of Adam our saint learned the meaning of being beloved by God.

Nouwen died of a heart attack on September 21, 1996, when he was in Hilversum, The Netherlands.  He was 64 years old.  He left a fine published legacy, which continues to benefit many people spiritually.





Almighty God, you gave to your servant Henri Nouwen

special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus:

Grant that by this teaching we may know you,

the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:1-7

Psalm 119:89-96

1 Corinthians 3:5-11

Matthew 13:47-52

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 721


One response to “Feast of Henri Nouwen (September 20)

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  1. Pingback: Passing or Failing Spiritual Tests | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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