Henri Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest from Holland whose bishop assigned him the parish of the whole world. While living in the U.S. and Canada for most of his adult life, Henri served as a pastoral counselor, a spiritual director, a university professor, and a chaplain to communities for the handicapped. A sought-after preacher and speaker, he also wrote about thirty-five widely read books on the spiritual life.

Henri’s spirituality centered on the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus of Nazareth. He was continuously drawn to that dimension of God that is embodied in Jesus and that continues to abide in and around us as the I-Thou Presence of God. Although Henri focused on Jesus, he also invited his readers to see through Jesus to the ultimate Source of Jesus’ identity, the Father (the First Person). And yet, Henri never felt completely at rest and fulfilled in contemplative silence, or in Merton’s le point vierge. For him, Jesus was the ultimate personal and interpersonal archetype and presence of God. And he was likewise eager for us to understand that Jesus’ story is our story. In his book, Our Greatest Gift, he encouraged us to see ourselves in Jesus’ compassionate way of living, but also in his way of dying:

Some people might protest, saying, “Jesus, the only Son of the Father, did send his Holy Spirit to us… but we are not Jesus, and we have no Holy Spirit to send!” But when we listen deeply to Jesus’ words, we realize that we are called to live like him, to die like him, and to rise like him, because the Spirit-the Divine Love, which makes Jesus one with his Father-has been given to us. Not only the death of Jesus, but our death, too, is destined to be good for others. Not only the death of Jesus, but our death, too, is meant to bear fruit in other people’s lives. Not only the death of Jesus, but our death, too, will bring the Spirit of God to those we leave behind. The great mystery is that all people who have lived with and in the Spirit of God participate through their deaths in the sending of the Spirit. Thus God’s Spirit of love continues to be sent to us, and Jesus’ death continues to bear fruit through all whose death is like his death, a death for others.1

1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift, (NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 1985), 37-39.

Pie Jesu by Fauré, performed by Robert A. Jonas on shakuhachi, with Jacynth Hamill’s voice.