Lessons from Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen

Henri Nouwen was born in Holland in 1932 and was ordained into the Catholic priesthood aged 25. While he initially studied theology, he transitioned to studying psychology. He became a famous speaker, author, and academic, was a professor of Pastoral Theology at Yale and Notre Dame and lectured at Harvard.


As a person, he struggled with self-doubts and loneliness. Nouwen is perhaps best known not as an academic, but as a spiritual guide who spoke into people's lives through his speaking and books. Consider this quote: "Our life is full of brokenness - broken relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God's faithful presence in our lives."


At his most recognised, Nouwen stepped back from public life and began serving in a residential community for the intellectually disabled called LÁrche. Nouwen was paired with a man with severe developmental disabilities named Adam. Nouwen wrote a book about the experience: Adam: God's Beloved. Reflecting on that relationship, Nouwen reflected: "It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship".


Nouwen also struggled with same-sex attraction. Nouwen never went public about this, but he did confide in others, write about this in his private journals, and there are illusions in his writings. There is no evidence that Nouwen broke his vow of chastity.


Nouwen is a prophetic example of a man who lived and struggled with his psychological and sexual inclinations. He found the answers to his deepest needs in the presence of God, and in serving others. He expresses his 'self' as a child of God, and imitator of Christ.


But Nouwen is also an example of where the church encounters a great man with flaws. A person of homosexual orientation is neither shunned nor excluded. Rather, he is embraced into a community of religious orders, allowed to flourish, and granted authority, profile, and voice. This is the body of Christ loving and accepting one another.


Rev David Rietveld

Senior Minister




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