Monday, June 09, 2014

Nouwen, mission, and self-emptying

A Facebook friend, after reading my previous blog entry, wrote to ask me if I had read Henri Nouwen’s ¡Gracias! A Latin American Journey, and pointed me to a passage where Nouwen reflects on the lack of silence. At the time this was written, in the early 1980s, Nouwen was looking at the possibility of moving to Latin America and working with Maryknoll.

Here is an edited version of the passage.
                                                          Wednesday, January 20 [1982]
Can we truly live with the poor? Although I live with them and share their life to some extent, I am far from poor.…
So my living with the poor hardly makes me poor. Should it be different? Some say yes, some say no. …
I have been here only one week, … but I know one thing: right now I would be physically, mentally, and spiritually unable to survive without the opportunity to break away from it all once in awhile…. there is seldom a moment of privacy, with kids walking in and out all the time, and the thousands of loud sounds make silence a faraway dream.... Living here not only makes me aware that I have never been poor, but also that my whole way of being, thinking, feeling, and acting is molded by a culture radically different from the one I live in now. I am surrounded by so many safety systems that I would not be allowed to become truly poor. …
At this moment, I feel that a certain realism is necessary. I am not poor as my neighbors are.… I have to accept my own history and live out my vocation, without denying that history. On the other hand, I realize that the way of Christ is a self-emptying way. What that precisely means in my own concrete life will probably remain a lifelong question.  
The realism of Nouwen’s reflections strikes home.

I am not poor. I can leave when I want. But, as he writes, “I have to accept my own history and live out my vocation, without denying that history.”

But the challenge is there – how to live in self-emptying way of Jesus, accompanying the poor.

I think moving out to the countryside and living in a village is a first step, a step I am really looking forward to. But even then I will not be living as a poor person. The house will be simple, but far from poor.

But what more might God be asking me?

This past Friday, talking with Padre German about some of the pastoral work in the parish, he asked me about becoming a deacon. It would really help him in the parish, he said.

Permanent deacons are rare here in Honduras – there may be two or three. But our new bishop is open to ordaining permanent deacons.

I told Padre German I had my doubts. He then asked me if it was the commitment that this would entail. That struck home since in many ways I have a lot of freedom in what I do here. A deacon would have less freedom.

I told him my concerns, besides my unworthiness. Because of the clerical culture here, this would possibly be a way of “separating” even more from the people I minister with.  As a lay person I at least share this with the people.

But who knows?

Would this be a “raising up” of myself – or a self-emptying?

I have to keep myself open to wherever God calls – even though I’d rather stay where I am.


Charles said...

Self-emptying comes in evaluating whether the community is better off with you as a deacon or not.

A change in social status, whether upwards or downwards, challenges us to see ourselves as more than our comfortable self-image of ourselves permits. The admonition not to go to the head of the table lest the host send us to the other end should be paired with an admonition that if we are called to the head of the table, we should not refuse... although we should also seek genuine humility within ourselves. Positions of leadership are always a temptation. To be spared of them is more comfortable. To take them on, in true humility, can strengthen one against temptation. And so in the calculation of whether the parish would be better off, one must not exempt you as a member.

If the parish--including you-- would be benefited by taking on the position, that should decide the matter. And, likewise, if not, then the matter is also decided.

Perhaps an important question is whether your freedom is something that you use to withhold yourself, or is it a means for you to give a little extra, in ways that the church might not officially sanction, even if it is grateful.

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

I cannot say how many times your remarks go straight to the point - al grano as we say here.
Thanks. I'll keep your thoughts in mind as I consider discernment,