Richards, Reverend, former member of the senior staff of the Episcopal Bishop, also expressed concerns regarding Nouwen. Richards questioned whether Nouwen as the "wounded healer" encouraged "a kind of displayed vulnerability and a disincentive to growth that does not serve the priest or the church well."
In the final years of his life, Nouwen, admitted publically that he was a homosexual and "ministered" to others, not out of his strengths, but out of his own wounds.
In the essay, he co-authored with Donald P. McNeill and Douglas a. Morrison, Compassion: A Reflection on Christian Life, Nouwen wrote that compassionate people go directly to those who are suffering most and lives with them there. Compassion, Nouwen stressed, does not comprise a "bending toward the under privileged from a privileged position; & #8230;not a reaching out from on high to those… less fortunate below; & #8230; not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull."
Compassion builds a home, as noted in the quote introducing this paper, to serve where it can best help those who are hurting.
In his book the Return of the Prodigal Son, a Story of Homecoming, Nouwen recorded his personal reflections on the Rembrandt painting of: "The Return of: The Prodigal Son," and his personal life. Nouwen's reflections on the painting include "the characters, the painter and the scriptures. Nouwen observed that Rembrandt's painting strays from what we have all imagined the scene to be from the scripture reading."
Nouwen proposed that those who read the biblical account of the prodigal son likely picture a large estate or farm; with the father running down the road to meet his returning prodigal son as he approaches home.
Later, according the understanding most have of the account of the prodigal son, the father also greets the older son outside the home, as he came in from working in the fields. Rembrandt painted each person depicted in this story inside the father's house. He portrays the two sons in the same scene simultaneously. Nouwen encouraged his readers to study of the people portrayed in this poignant scene. Faithful to the scriptural account in a spiritual sense: "The father, while not running down the road, is certainly full of a very tender love for his younger son. And the younger son is very much heartbroken at his circumstances and humbles himself kneeling."
Although the older son is not presented outside in Rembrandt's painting, Rembrandt portrayed this son scarcely entering into the circle of light. Although present, the older son remains aloof; choosing not to participate in welcoming his once wayward, now repentant brother home.
Nouwen wrote that the prodigal son began his journey leading to his downfall by rejecting his father's values. Eventually, this younger son experiences rejection by those around him after he spent all his money. The prodigal son experienced total rejection when "employed" to feed hogs and no one even offered him any of the food the pigs had to eat. Those all around the prodigal son did not acknowledge that he, like them, had a real human need for sustenance. They failed to recognize him as being, like them, a real person. When the son became so hungry that he saw the pig's food as desirable, he came to the realization that he, like the people who did not recognize his needs as a human, was not a pig, but a human. He remembered that he was a son; that he had a father who loved him. When the son decided he would return home, he did not expect his father to totally forgive him. He had, like others who may not recognize they, as the prodigal son, have also thrown away their Heavenly Father's values; insulting Him; choosing to go astray. In his book about the prodigal son, Nouwen translated Matthew 18:3: "Unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Nouwen reminds readers that: "The younger son turned toward home only hoping to participate outside his father's home as a laborer, but found himself restored to complete sonship, a picture of being "re-born" into the Kingdom."
Nouwen encourages readers to study Rembrandt's painting; to meditate on it and then imagine themselves as the one returning to the Father.
The younger son made a change and the older son was asked to do so. Nouwen wrote: "People who have come to know God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself…." They move into the light of the Father.
The painting questioned…[Nouwen]. Who are you? Which of the figures do you identify with? His first thoughts were that he did not know what it was like to be the prodigal son, to be held and loved, to rest his head on the Father. He was one of the onlookers. Nouwen wrote, "For years I had instructed students on the different aspects of the spiritual life.…but had I, myself, really ever dared to step into the center, kneel down, and let myself be held by a forgiving God?"
The Return of the Prodigal Son, a Story of Homecoming, as well as numerous other of Nouwen's books, reportedly inspire others with Nouwen's inclusions of his personal confessions. His self-questioning lead others to question themselves.
Nouwen projected himself as a model of the priest as a person, who although "wounded" ministered to other hurting individuals out of his personal wounds. In the book, the wounded healer: Ministry in contemporary society, Nouwen wrote about Peter, a man who entered into his life who, by his outward appearance and behavior as well as his words, dramatically intimated the condition of modern man. Although Peter approached him for help, Nouwen wrote, at the same time Peter offered him a fresh understanding of his own world.
Peter, at twenty-six years old, with a frail, fragile body, lived a life with a fast-shifting value system. At one time, he had been a strict and obedient seminarian who attended daily Mass and participated in hours of community prayers. Peter had been active in the church, Neouwen wrote. He was enthusiastic theological matters. After he decided to leave the seminary, however, and started to study at a secular university, he quickly forsook the values and practices of his former way of life. Instead of attending church services, Peter spent many nights drinking with other student. He moved in with a girl friend and started to study subjects foreign to his former theological interests. Peter appeared to have forgotten his faith as he seldom spoke about God or religion.
Whether or not tomorrow will be different for Peter, Nouwen wrote, would depend on the people he would meet; what he might experience; the desires and ideas which would make sense to him at that particular time. "Nuclear man, like Peter, is not live with an ideology."
He instead is confronted with a myriad of complicated, challenging two years and concerns. In his book that recounts the story of Peter, Nouwen, wrote that when nuclear man does not feel he can relate to the Christian message, he, like Peter, may be prone to be skeptical about the message of Christianity for his life.
The following list depicts the titles of the top ten books Nouwen wrote.
1. The Return of the Prodigal Son
2. Here and Now
3. In the Name of Jesus
4. The Wounded Healer
5. Life of the Beloved
6. The Inner Voice of Love
7. With Burning Hearts
8. Reaching Out
9. Can You Drink the Cup?
10. Bread for the Journey.
Time will determine whether the name of Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen will remain synonymous with the title of the Wounded Healer, or perhaps another title of one of the books he wrote, or as a universalist who espoused the path of mysticism.
Whatever the determination, perhaps those who remember him will also remember that now as then, whether one agrees with Nouwen or not, what is needed even more today in the world, as Nouwen noted are people who do love God and others; people not afraid to build a home amidst acute suffering; people with compassion.
Morse, Kathryn. "Henri J.M. Nouwen and the Return of the Prodigal Son." Newsletter of the National Catholic Ministry to the Bereaved. Volume 17, No. 4, 2008. Available at, ?