Dr. Michael Higgins | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henri Nouwen, Now and Then. Our goal at the society is to extend the rich spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. We invite you to share these podcasts with your friends and family.
I’m delighted to have with me today a very good friend of the Henri Nouwen Society, Dr. Michael Higgins. Michael Higgins is a Canadian academic and writer who has authored more than 20 books. Michael is also an award-winning CBC documentarian. In addition to all of this, Michael has been a past president of three Canadian Catholic universities and has been awarded two honorary doctorates. Recently, Michael joined the University of St. Michael’s College as the inaugural Basilian Distinguished Fellow of Contemporary Catholic Thought.
What I appreciate most about Michael Higgins is that he’s a great fan of Henri Nouwen, and he has contributed so richly to the study of Henri through some very important books and lectures, lectures that he’s given right around the world.
Michael Higgins, welcome to Henri Nouwen, Now and Then.
Michael Higgins: Thank you, Karen. Always a pleasure to be here.
Karen Pascal: Ah, it’s a delight to have you with me. I have loved this book. You’ve written the book, Impressively Free: Henri Nouwen as a Model for Reformed Priesthood. What have you gained in your study of Henri that caused you to choose him as a model for reformed priesthood?
Michael Higgins: First of all, let me say, Karen, that this book was co-authored with Kevin Burns, and he was instrumental in helping to define the design of the book, the chapters. We worked at it collaboratively, and I think we shared the common vision that Henri was providing in his life and in his pastoral ministry, a model of exercising the presbyteral ministry that we need in the Roman Catholic churches at this time in our history. And so, I’ve been making the case, and Kevin agreed with me, to our publishers, Paulist in the United States and Novalis in Canada, that we should do a study of Henri that is biographical in part, but also sociological, also theological and, we hope, to some degree visionary – by which I mean, we’re making the case that Nouwen, through his life and how he witnessed Christianity in his life, provides a template for the reformed priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.
And I think that’s what’s so startlingly radical about this, and one of the reasons why the reviews we have received have been quite contentious, as they wrestle with the thesis of the book. I also know one doctoral dissertation relied very heavily on this book for its argumentation. So, I think it’s a provocative book. It’s more provocative than Genius Born of Anguish. It is a provocative book because it’s making the case that is not a prima facie case. I mean, Henri never undertook to reform the Roman Catholic priesthood. He didn’t say, “The Roman Catholic priesthood is in disarray, we need to get rid of the curricula, we need to change the way we do things.” He lived an alternative version of priestly life. So, his life becomes the model, it becomes a template for a renewed ministry. He didn’t work out a complicated theology of priesthood. What he did work out was a spirituality of priesthood. And out of that, we have really strong hints about how we can reform the priesthood. Because quite frankly, this, in the history of the Catholic church, is one of the most critical times in terms of the priesthood since the Reformation of the 16th century. And here we have in Henri, a model for an alternative way of exercising priestly ministry in a credible manner in our time.
Karen Pascal: In your introduction, you state boldly that Catholicism’s hemorrhaging of its clerical personnel continues to have a substantive impact on its capacity to deliver its mission.
Michael Higgins: That’s correct.
Karen Pascal: “Catholicism is hemorrhaging its clerical personnel. And if there’s not the capacity to continue to deliver mission, unless this is solved.” What do you envision? Because I’ve heard you talk a great deal about a new vision for clerical formation.
Michael Higgins: Yes. It is an important question. You’re right, quite right, Karen. I have talked about it before and it’s quite comprehensive, so let me see if I can put it in, re-delineate this in reasonable, practical terms. What we face in the Catholic church right now, particularly in the Western Catholic church, is a significant depletion in numbers. The average age of many priests in many dioceses throughout North America and Europe, hovers between 60 and 75. The number of younger priests coming in to replace the priests who are retiring or ill or dying, barely… is just simply not a replacement strategy. It’s not working. In addition, the quality of candidate that they’re getting is significantly less than what we know from the past.
And it’s not me just making this judgment without any kind of empirical evidence. Many rectors of seminaries will say that the quality of student that they get now is not comparable to the quality of student that they would’ve received in the 1960s, for instance, or even in the early 1970s. So, we have a quantitative crisis. We have a qualitative crisis. In addition, the sexual abuse crisis. I keep using the word crisis. It’s almost if we’re in a perpetual state of crisis. But the clerical abuse problem has had a huge impact on the reputational integrity of Catholic clergy. Many of the Catholic priests, of course, were never involved in any kind of sexual impropriety. They weren’t involved in harassment. They’re certainly not predators, and very few in their number are in any way clinically pedophiles. But having said that, we do know that there were significant numbers, maybe not disproportionate in relation to other professions, but certainly significant numbers, and that their crimes were compounded by the fact that they were ministers, sacred ministers of the Word and sacraments, so that makes them rather different from ordinary teachers, say, or other professionals.
But more importantly, the manner in which it was handled was shocking. And everyone, from the popes down, now recognize that clericalism is a sin; it’s a curse. In fact, Bishop De Smedt of Bruges, in what was to be the first formal address given in the [inaudible] of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, talked about the curse of clericalism. So, it’s not as if clericalism is something new. But it’s now reared its ugly head in the most ferocious way. And as a consequence, we have all of these problems coming together, constituting a perfect storm. Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t find our way out of this. We can; the Catholic church has, over the centuries, reformed itself regularly. I mean, the old Latin phrase, ecclesia semper reformanda, the church ever reforming itself, is as true now as it has been in times past. It’s just we need the leadership and the vision. So, what we wanted to do in our small way with Impressively Free was to say, here is a model of an individual who was spiritual, who was pastorally sensitive, who modeled a way of being priest that can go some way to restore confidence among Catholics in Catholic church leadership, but also go a significant way in helping meet the needs of people at the ordinary, practical, pastoral level.
Karen Pascal: Now, you use the word “clericalism.” That isn’t something that’s familiar to everybody. Do you want to just give me a little bit of an understanding of what exactly you mean when you use that?
Michael Higgins: The term now is almost entirely pejorative. Nobody ever uses it in any way that is benevolent or neutral, even. What it means, essentially, is an attitude of entitlement, a sense of being immune to the ordinary courts of justice and expectations, the sense that somehow or other, as a cleric, you are superior in your religious knowledge and in your integrity to the people you serve. Now, in many ways, of course, these are caricatures. And in many ways, many priests would say to you, that’s simply not true. The holiest person I’ve ever met in my life was my grandmother. And she’d never had religious orders. So, I mean, at the practical level, most Catholics knew this.
But in terms of cultural expectations and attitudes, the priests were put on a pedestal. They were, if not revered, certainly respected. Their word was carried without dispute or contestation. As a consequence, when you end up in a situation of such pathology as sexual predation, the situation is even greater, because of the deep respect accorded the priest. So, nobody would believe the victim, the survivor. They said, “Oh, Father would never do this.”
And very often, parents would entrust their child to the priest for weekends in the rectory, or on a trip or something like that, simply because they could not, or wouldn’t be expected to comprehend, that a priest was capable of such personal evil. So, as a consequence, what we face now is the realization that cultivating a sense of exceptionality, a sense of being somehow entitled, a sense of being somehow centered out, just runs counter to the gospel, and is corrosive of the real meaning of priestly ministry. So, clericalism, to give it a kind of succinct phrasing, and I haven’t been all that succinct, but nonetheless, that’s what, really, we’re talking about when we talk about the sin of clericalism.
Karen Pascal: Thank you. I find that really helpful. One of the things I have loved about this book is you and Kevin have done your homework. It is rich, biographically. I learned so much about Henri Nouwen. I also learned about the church. I mean, you bring – just for example, what we’ve just listened to now – you bring a depth of understanding that I found so helpful. But also, something I loved – and this is a compliment to you in terms of your creativity and your, just your brilliance – and it’s just very much this ability to bring distant associations. You pull together in this book literature, the arts, music, theater, film. And I love that, because it comes in and helps me. It gives me a richer palette that you’re speaking from. And the book is full of that. People will enjoy it. It is a thick book. And I don’t mean thick in the sense of long, I mean thick in the sense of wonderful, wonderful colorations and additions, and it’s broad and deep. Thank you.
Michael Higgins: Well, thank you for that very sharp perception. Our intention from the outset was not to deal with Henri as if he were somehow living in a bubble. We knew that he was a product of the Dutch church. We knew that he came to maturity in the Americas, both in the United States and in Canada. We knew that he was a man who loved the arts. We knew that he was in his own way, as our friend Ron Rolheiser has talked about, that he possessed an artistic sensibility. So, to not talk about all these things would be to evacuate meaning from Henri’s ministry and to make him just kind of an interesting but mildly banal worker in the field. Well, he wasn’t. He was engaged with the culture of his time. He loved, particularly, the visual arts, as you would know, because that’s very close to your own heart, Karen.
So, people like Rembrandt and Georgia O’Keeffe, and very importantly, and most important of all, van Gogh – all of these artists mattered enormously to him, because they were a lens, a portal to experience the divine, to have access to the transcendent. They weren’t frippery or decorative accoutrement or something; they were ways of experiencing God. And you can see this in his diaries, too, when he’s writing in either Genesee or elsewhere, that he’s drawn to the arts, the local tapestry, the canvasses, the poets, what are the poets saying, and whatnot.
It’s very interesting. In the last diary that he has, he begins to discover something that is rather missing earlier on, but with classic Nouwen enthusiasm and energy, he picks it up very quickly. And that is the music side. And it’s when he hears Bizet’s Carmen for the first time, or he goes and he experiences Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, right? All of these things just lift him up. And, you know, I’ve been an opera fan all my life. And so, when somebody who is in his late fifties, early sixties, just discovers Carmen, you think, “Well, where the hell have you been all your life?” Right? But clearly, that wasn’t part of his experience yet. But when it did become a part of his experience, it filled in the rest. So, you have the literature and you have the visual arts, and now you have the music. So, if you don’t pay attention to how Henri lived in the world, then you miss the whole point of his story, the whole point of the narrative.
And I remember, you have made the point yourself, and so has Sue Mosteller on several occasions, as well as Gabrielle Earnshaw, that in the end, Henri Nouwen is the pastor. That’s what he is. And that’s right. He is the pastor. So, what we wanted to show in the book was there are ways forward to help to repair the damage inflicted on the Catholic church, mostly by itself, in relation to its clergy. And here’s a wonderful model. Here’s a man who loved his priesthood. Here was a man who faced dysfunction, who faced crises, individual personal crises, trauma, anxiety, depression. He went through all of this. He never lost his faith in God. He never lost his sense of the joy of witnessing the gospel.
And as we all know, anyone who’s ever read Henri Nouwen, or anyone who’s ever met Henri Nouwen, he was always present for those who needed him. He always attended on their suffering and their need. He never abandoned them. He’d come away from a sabbatical. If he was doing something else and he heard of a particular clinical crisis, he would be there for them, because friendship mattered, so much. Well, what is effective pastorship if it isn’t friendship? Right? And so, it seems to me that if you look at the life of Henri Nouwen, you can say, well, here’s a man who modeled priestly ministry in a way that is an ideal for us all. Because if we can move in that direction, we can go a long way to correct many of the problems facing the Catholic church, including the fact of the dearth of priests, the quality of priests, the exhaustion of many of our clergy.
Karen Pascal: You take us back into his training. I learned an awful lot from the beginning, from the influences, and I think this will be helpful to others, for example, Anton Boisen and the impact that he had on Henri. And we kind of forget that time and moment when he came to America in the 60s to study psychology, in a way the church still kind of had its arms up defending itself against psychology. But Henri was willing to leap in there, and it leads us towards understanding him as the wounded healer. I was very impressed with how you and Kevin explored this and gave us so much understanding of the influences.
Michael Higgins: Well, you’re right. I mean, when he came to the United States, of course he was already a priest who had been formed in a traditional seminary in the Netherlands. And you’re absolutely right when you say that he was a pioneer in the area of psychology. By going to Cardinal Alfrink, his ordinary, his bishop, and asking him for permission to study the social sciences rather than the sacred sciences, which was not Alfrink’s original intention, and then eventually being given permission to accept this fellowship in Topeka, Kansas, where off he goes, he is really doing pioneer work as a psychologist, because although the Catholic church didn’t have a huge difficulty with psychiatry – it’s very interesting; I don’t know the reason for this – but there are a lot of priest-psychiatrists and there were many in France, and there were many elsewhere.
But psychiatry is a medical discipline. Psychology is a late-19th century development, really. And the churches had much more difficulty, at least at that time, appreciating psychology – not seeing it as an enemy or Johnny-come-lately to the academic life, or a parvenu in the intellectual life, but as a legitimate discipline in its own right. And it has matured over the years. So, but Nouwen was there at the cusp; there were priest-psychiatrists, as I say, but there weren’t an awful lot of priest-psychologists around. And when he made this request, the cardinal could have said “no.” He did not say “no.” And he freed Nouwen up to explore the relationship between psychology and religion.
And again, what Henri does is, he does it through the personal lens, right? And so, you get his reading of the scriptures, which is not your classic, conventional, exegetical reading of the scriptures, but the reading of a pastor trying to take the scriptures and put them, concretize them in the life of the ordinary parishioner, right? So, the advantage of learning psychology, knowing ways of reading human personality, at the same time being able to draw on the richness of the scriptural tradition, they come together in a wonderful symbiosis in Henri’s ministry.
Karen Pascal: Your book does have this sociological aspect to it, the sociology of the times that we have lived through. I found it so helpful to understand Vatican II and its impact and how that worked its way into Henri’s life, and how it worked its way into the church around him as well. Thank you; I appreciated that aspect. And anybody who’s looking for a little bit of a look backwards into how that has shaped us, I think Impressively Free gives us that.
Michael Higgins: Yes, I think so, too. And that was our intention. You can’t read and understand Henri in a vacuum. You have to see him in the context of how he was shaped by post-war European Christianity, but then how he became a major shaper of North American Christianity. And again, and again, what you see is Henri’s comfort level in being able to work interdenominationally. It’s very interesting, Karen. He goes after this fellowship in Topeka. It’s not a Catholic institution. He has a limited exposure to Catholic institutional life after he leaves Nijmegen. I mean, he has a short stint at Notre Dame, of course, and he is involved briefly at Boston College, and he’s very briefly involved at Regis College in Toronto. But the majority of his academic life is lived in Harvard, and most especially, at Yale.
And these were ecumenical institutions; they weren’t Catholic institutions. They weren’t under the control of a bishop-chancellor. He wasn’t reporting to a rector of a seminary. He was living the academic life and the pastoral life in a context of rich ecumenism. And so, that’s one of the reasons why Henri is a wonderful model for the post-Vatican II Catholic priest. I use this example because it’s always impressed me. Many years ago, I was invited to come to give a series of lectures on Henri in Grand Rapids at Calvin College. And as you know, Grand Rapids is the mecca of Christian Reform, right? So, off I went. And it was a big hotel and they divided up the sessions. So, one session had all these Christian Reformed ministers, Christian Reformed parishioners, other people. And then the other one had two Catholic bishops, a number of clergy, and a smaller number of Catholics.
Well, you know, talking to the Catholics was like pulling teeth. It was extremely difficult. There was a lot of residual reservations about Henri: how good a priest was he, how Catholic was he, and whatnot. Now, some of the priests there were certainly keen on him, and some of the lay people, very especially, but there were others that had real qualms. Holy mackerel! And they only knew limited things about Henri. I went into the other room, which was absolutely packed, big ballroom, absolutely packed with all these Christian Reformed people. Not only had they read the books and they had them annotated, they asked really intelligent questions. They were drawn to the richness of his ecumenical life and felt very comfortable. They had no difficulty relating to him as a Catholic priest. They had no desire to turn him into a Christian Reformed minister. They were coming to him as a Catholic priest with the richness of his insights. And then to top it off, when it came to putting me up before I could get my plane back – at that point I was in Hartford, Connecticut – before I went back to Connecticut, they said, “Well, you’re going to be staying with two of his very closest friends: the local rabbi and his wife.”
I said, “What??!!”
Karen Pascal: That’s Henri for sure!
Michael Higgins:I come here as a Catholic to talk about another Catholic. I am received very warmly by the Protestants, and I’m put up by the Jewish community. I mean, that is just a delicious story about Henri Nouwen, because people came to him and they didn’t say, “Well, I’m a rabbi. I don’t need to pay any attention to Henri Nouwen.” It didn’t matter, you know? I mean, they were drawn to Henri, they were drawn to his writing, drawn to his authenticity, and he accepted them for who and what they are and what they could contribute to his growth as a human being and as a pastor. So, it was lovely to see. It was a great experience.
Karen Pascal: That is a beautiful description of Henri. You would see that in many, many, many different places. That’s lovely. How did you first come across Henri? Did you meet him ever, personally?
Michael Higgins: Yes, I did. It was quite a number of years ago. It was 1982, and I had left St. Michael’s College School and St. Michael’s College at the university to take up a position as the founding director for the Center for Catholic Experience at Saint Jerome’s University in Waterloo. And we were looking to launch the center with a real keynote speaker with high visibility. And the dean, who was part of my hiring committee, was Peter Naus. Well, of course, Peter and Anke Naus were old friends of Henri’s from going back to Nijmegen. And they were Dutch, of course, and they knew him and they knew his culture and they were his age and all that kind of thing. So, rather than having to work through a network of contacts or an agent and whatnot, Peter just got on the phone and phoned his friend Henri.
And Henri came and he gave a talk called The Spirituality of Peacemaking. And he gave it in the hall, which had only been recently inaugurated. It was called the Siegfried Hall. It’s a large hall – it’s now basically a chapel – but then it was used as a large lecture hall as well as a chapel. And it was packed. We had over 500 people at the time, and the fire personnel told us we could not exceed 375. We had people in the hallways and everything else. Now, what is really interesting is, I didn’t really know very much about Henri Nouwen at that point. I knew of his book on Thomas Merton and I wasn’t particularly impressed, because I’m a Merton scholar, and I didn’t find that it was terribly insightful. It’s more reflective of him than it is of Merton.
But anyway, I’d had very limited exposure to him. So, I just thought, I knew that he had a very good reputation and I thought this would be very good for the college. And of course, we had the Nauses. So, we had the evening. Many of the faculty were very skeptical. They said, “Oh, this is going to be, you know, he’s a lightweight. Why would we provide this platform?” All that kind of thing. And here I am, I’ve just been hired, right? So, for me, it was very awkward. Well, he came in and he blew out their expectations. They were quite taken with him. They were taken by the fact that he didn’t read a single word from a lectern, that he performed his talk, that he started in a context of prayer, and of course, opened with a Taizé hymn, and then, during the question-and-answer period, responded so warmly to the people that were there, that the cynics and the critics, they just withdrew. And they said, “Okay. This was a great moment.”
So, that was my first exposure to him. And then a couple of years later, it was the celebration of the 25th wedding anniversary of the Nauses. And of course, Henri came back to St. Jerome’s and celebrated mass for them. And it was a big occasion, very festive occasion. And they put Henri beside me at the table. And Henri was – I didn’t know how to read him at that point – very intense. And so, he kept looking at me deeply and asking questions. I thought I was in therapy or something, and I said, “You know, this is a festive occasion, Father Nouwen.” But he couldn’t, he just was so intense, right? So, I thought, oh, this is very unpleasant. But anyway, the night went off well and all that kind of thing.
And then, Henri died. And then I was approached to do a series on him, to do the biography, first of all, and you were a part of that. But then, of course, the CBC series. And then I had conversations about access to the Dutch primary sources and all this kind of thing. And what happened during those years of doing research on Henri was to develop real affection for him. So, it’s ironic, in a way, that my affection for him developed after he had died. It wasn’t when we were… and I think maybe part of it is my training in literature. I have a really, I think, fairly polished sense of irony. And Henri has none. Henri had none. So, irony wasn’t his big thing. So, we would collide at various points. And so, I thought, “Okay, well this is just a personality difference,” right?
But afterwards, of course, because I began to see the members of the family and went to the Netherlands and did the research for A Genius Born of Anguish, which of course won a major international award, and because of all the people who cooperated and worked on it and made it happen, and then began to develop this, by meeting all these people, this remarkable capacity he had for friendship and this limitless ability to be compassionate. And so, my own personal view of him changed, which is a wonderful story. It’s a conversion story, right? But that’s how it happened. It wasn’t a natural coming-together, thinking, “Oh yeah, this is going to be a great friendship.”
There were only the two instances. The first one was pretty professional, limited, you know, covering this class, introducing him, but basically just making sure that the speaker was there. And it was 1982. I was only a young academic of 33 myself at the time, so I was just beginning. And then, later on, coming to the wedding anniversary and then finding myself in this rather awkward situation, which I think was awkward for him, because I think he felt, “Oh, I’ve misread this.” And then to come to the deeper realization of the man’s remarkable capacity, as I say, for both friendship and compassion, as you see it lived out in the lives of others: family, friends, colleagues, disciples, students. That’s how your life is carried on. And Nouwen does say that at one point. He says, you know – it’s an observation where he’s feeling down on himself and he’s feeling a little depressed and everything else. And he says something about the true value of your life will be in the fertility of your death, the fecundity of your death, right? Like, where is the fruitfulness of your life and its meaning? It will be discovered after you die, in the people you’ve touched, in the things that have really mattered, right? That you aren’t conscious of when you’re living them in the present. And I think that that’s right. The fertility or the fecundity of Henri’s life is abundant in his death. And so, that was quite the experience for me.
Karen Pascal: It’s interesting that you say that, because I think Henri, himself, that discovery of how you give yourself through your death, was probably more clear after he almost died himself. And it’s interesting how that infused the last couple of years of his writing, and gave a kind of freedom to letting him go. But I would ask you: You’re a noted academic and you have been president of many universities. Where does Henri fit in that world? Obviously, he didn’t fit during the time he was there, although he was at Yale and he was at Harvard; it was a difficult fit for him, because he really had this pastor heart. He, if anything, was not trying to write upward, but write downward, to be accessible, which was really interesting. So, he really was more of a pastor than anything else.
But today, I find I can ask people, “Have you read Henri Nouwen?” And if they have any kind of a background as a minister or a priest, they have been exposed to Henri in their seminaries. They always had Nouwen books filter through. But where do you see Henri’s work today? And I think you’ve done a valuable thing in giving us this book. Where do you see it fitting today?
Michael Higgins: That’s a very telling question and a very good one. And it’s a question we carry with us, anyone who’s interested in Henri: how you move forward with the body of his thought. He’s an outlier. He’s been an outlier all his life. He’s an outlier in the academy, and he’s an outlier in the pastorate, as well. He doesn’t fit the standard model of the priest, and he doesn’t fit the standard model of the academic. So, what you do is, I think, is you appreciate the fact that the outliers in our culture can often be harbingers of new insights, new ways of moving forward, because they don’t work within the conventional set. So, you look at Henri and you say, “Well, we know how many books did he write with how many footnotes and with how many reviews and citations?” You don’t ask that question, and you don’t ask the question as well: “Well, how many parishes did he serve in?”
Because it’s not only an irrelevant question, he didn’t serve in parishes. So, what you do is, you look at him and say, “Well, what did he do? What was his ministry?” Well, his ministry was his life. And what he did was he chronicled his life, and he chronicled his life primarily in the diaries. That’s why I always emphasize how important it is to read the diaries.
And I am very impressed by the fact that the Nouwen Foundation has undertaken to, through Gabrielle Earnshaw, to chronicle the letters. So, the letters are very revelatory. They tell us a lot. I sometimes contrast his letter-writing with that of his mentor, the now-sadly disgraced Jean Vanier, in which Jean never disclosed anything of consequence in his letters. His letters are pale reflections of how he felt and what he thought. But Nouwen empties himself in his letters, largely by means of responding to the particular problem of the writer, the correspondent.
And you can see as he’s working this through, he’s drawing on the rich reserves of his own experience, right? So, I think that when we talk about how do we move forward in understanding Henri Nouwen, I think we have to first of all say, “All right, he existed outside the natural parameters of the disciplines.” And in a post-modern, deconstructionist age, when we go on and on about marginality and all the other specific terms that we use for social-critical analysis, in some ways, Henri is a wonderful model. He fits this better than most people do. He’s interdisciplinary by the very nature of his curiosity and personal interests. He crosses the borderlines between ministry and the academy, and neither camp accepts him completely. That’s not a judgment on his inadequacy as it is a judgment on the kind of narrow ways in which we work in the academy and in ministry to define what we do.
So, we have somebody who’s breaking those boundaries. So, I see him in that prophetic mode, actually. And I think that that’s the way to move forward in studying Henri. It’s not to say, okay, I mean, you look at the books he wrote. We have something like 40-plus books, numerous translations, millions of readers and whatnot, and some of these books will survive the test of time, and some of them will be more specific for the moment. So, you can look at that and you say, “How many of those books will survive the test of time? And what do they say outside of the particular context of maybe 1960s U.S. or 1990s Canada or Europe in the fifties,” or something like that, although he wasn’t really writing in the fifties. But you say, “Okay, so what is it in his work that is essential and how does this fit with him in his time?”
That’s why I think just simply an analysis of his work will not bear great fruit. It has to be done in conjunction with his life. It has to be. And although he’s no longer with us, his letters are, and his diaries are, and these are the perduring testament of his life. They keep us in contact with the real Henri Nouwen.
Karen Pascal: Michael, I am so glad that you and Kevin Burns, in your very brilliant way, have captured so much for us to think about and know about Henri. I want to recommend to everyone listening: Please, go out and get Impressively Free. It’s a great book, Henri Nouwen as a Model for a Reformed Priesthood, and you’ve just had a little taste of my friend Michael Higgins today. Isn’t he a treat?
Thank you for being with us, Michael.
Michael Higgins: Thank you, Karen.
Karen Pascal: Wasn’t that a rich discussion? Michael is so incredibly informed about the whole, broad spectrum of the Catholic church and where Henri Nouwen fits into that picture. I think it’s important to get his book, Impressively Free: Henri Nouwen as a Model for a Reformed Priesthood.
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