Archive for the ‘Henri Nouwen’ Tag

Thoughts and Questions About the Temptations of Jesus   4 comments

Above:  The Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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For St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia

Lent 2019

Texts:  Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

Reading the Bible for spiritual formation is an ancient Benedictine practice.  My primary purpose in writing this short piece is to ask, how do the accounts (mainly the Lukan and Matthean ones) of the temptations of Jesus challenge us, both as individuals and a parish, to follow Jesus better than we do.

The Temptation to Turn Stones into Bread

Bread was especially precious in ancient Palestine, with relatively little arable land.

We are blessed to be able to purchase our bread inexpensively at stores.  Bread is abundant in our context, so we probably take it for granted more often than not.  We can, however, think of some tangible needs related to scarcity.

One challenge is not to permit tangible needs to overtake intangible necessities.  We all depend entirely on God and dwell within a web of mutual responsibility and dependence.  According to the late Henri Nouwen, this temptation is the temptation to be relevant.  Relevance is not necessarily bad; in fact, it is frequently positive.  However, maintaining the proper balance of tangible and intangible needs is essential.  Furthermore, Christ’s refusal to cave into the temptation to use his power to make bread—to cease to depend on God—ought to remind us never to imagine that we do not depend entirely on God.

Questions

  1. Do we permit tangible needs to distract us from intangible necessities?  If so, how?
  2. Do we manifest the vain idea that we do not depend entirely on God?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple

Many scholars of the New Testament have proposed what the pinnacle of the Temple was.

That matter aside, this temptation is, according to Nouwen, the temptation to be spectacular.  It is also the temptation to attempt to manipulate God by trying to force God to intervene in a miraculous way.  That effort, like turning stones into bread, would indicate a lack of faith.

We humans frequently like the spectacular, do we not?  We tell ourselves and others that, if only God would do something spectacular, we will believe.  We are like those who, in the Gospels, only wanted Jesus to do something for them, and not to learn from him.

Questions

  1. Does our attraction to the spectacular distract us from the still, small voice of God?  If so, how?
  2. Does our attraction to the spectacular reveal our lack of faith?  If so, how?
  3. Does our attraction to the spectacular unmask our selfishness?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Worship Satan in Exchange for Earthly Authority

Many Palestinian Jews at the time of Christ thought of Satan as the power behind the Roman Empire and of the Roman pantheon as a collection of demons.  Jesus affirmed God the Father as the only source of his identity.

This temptation is about idolatry, power, and morally untenable compromises.

Many well-intentioned people—ministers, politicians, and appointed office holders, for example—have, in the name of doing good, become corrupt and sacrificed their suitability to do good.  They have sacrificed their moral integrity on the altar of amoral realism.

Some compromises are necessary, of course.  As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, we cannot help but commit some evil while trying to do good, for human depravity has corrupted social systems and institutions.

Questions

  1. Have we established our identity apart from God?  If so, how?
  2. How have we, with good intentions, committed or condoned evil?
  3. Have we made morally untenable compromises?  If so, how?

The Good News

The good news is both collective and individual.

I discover the principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Jesus has modeled the way to resist temptation—to trust God and to understand scripture.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

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Feast of Henri Nouwen (September 20)   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Henri Nouwen

Image in the Public Domain

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HENRI JOSZEF MACHIEL NOUWEN (JANUARY 24, 1932-SEPTEMBER 21, 1996)

Dutch Roman Catholic Priest and Spiritual Writer

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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

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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.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 20, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZACCHAEUS, PENITENT TAX COLLECTOR AND ROMAN COLLABORATOR

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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

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