The late Father Henri Nouwen, one of my Christian faith heroes, was a Catholic priest, professor and theologian, writer of many fine spiritual books, and advocate for the poor and disabled. In fact, he lived with the poor and disabled when he wasn’t teaching at Yale and Harvard and Notre Dame, and, for a while, at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology where I attended seminary.
Here’s a few quotable quotes culled from this great peacemaker’s book The Road to Peace, with some parts highlighted in bold type by yours truly for emphasis:
“The coming again of Christ is his coming in judgment. The question that will sound through the heavens and earth will be that question that we always tend to remain deaf to . . . It is the question: ‘What have you done for the least of mine?’
“[the question] challenges us to look at our world agonized by wars and rumors of wars and to wonder if we have not fallen into the temptation to think that peace can be separated from justice. But why would there be wars if all the people had enough food, enough work, enough land?
“Why would there be so many guns, tanks, nuclear weapons, submarines, and other instruments of destruction if the world were not divided according to those who have the most, those who have more than enough, those who have just enough, those who have less than enough, and those who have the least?”
“We cling to our false self in the hope that maybe more success, more praise, more satisfaction will give us the experience of being loved, which we crave. That is the fertile ground of bitterness, greed, violence and war.
“In prayer, however, again and again we discover that the love we are looking for has already been given to us and that we can come to the experience of that love. Prayer is entering into communion with the One who molded our being in our mother’s womb with love and only love. There, in the first love, lies our true self, a self not made up of the rejections and acceptances of those with whom we live, but solidly rooted in the One who called us into existence. In the house of God we were created. To that house we are called to return. Prayer is the act of returning.”
“Constantly I find myself ‘making up my mind’ about somebody else: ‘He cannot be taken seriously. She is really just asking for attention. They are rabble-rousers who only want to cause trouble.’ These judgments are indeed a form of moral killing. I label my fellow human beings, categorize them, and put them at a safe distance from me. . . By my judgments I divide my world into those who are good and those who are evil, and thus I play God. But everyone who plays God ends up acting like the demon.
“Judging others implies that we somehow stand outside the place where weak, broken sinful human beings dwell. It is an arrogant and pretentious act that shows blindness not only toward others but also toward ourselves. Paul says it clearly: ‘ No matter who you are, if you pass judgment, you have no excuse. For in judging others you condemn yourself, since you behave no differently from those you judge. We know God judges that sort of behavior impartially.’ (Romans 2: 1-2)
So, brothers and sisters, peacemaking starts every time we move out of the house of fear toward the house of love. You and I will always be scared, somehow, somewhere. But if we keep our eyes fixed on the One who says ‘Do not be afraid, it is I,’ we might slowly be able to let go of that fear and become free enough to live in a world without borders, to see the suffering of others, and to bring good news and receive good news.
“The fruitful life is not the same as a successful life. Fruitfulness is the gift that is given us as a result of our trust in God’s presence. Fruitfulness is, in a way, the very opposite of success, of a life focused entirely on results and on our attempts to control the future according to our little views and our little survivals.”
“Every encounter in life involves the discipline of seeing God in others and making known to others what we have seen. Since our seeing is only partial, we also need other people who will help us to see. Through each encounter, we will come to see more clearly.
“Everyone is a different refraction of the same love of God, the same light of the world, coming to us. We need a contemplative discipline for seeing this light. We can’t see God in the world, only God can see God in the world. . .
“If I have discovered God as the center of my being, then the God in me recognizes God in the world. We also then recognize the demons at work in us and the world. The demons are always close, trying to conquer us. The spiritual life requires a constant and vigilant deepening and enlivening of the presence of God in our hearts.
“This process includes the real tension of discerning with which eye I see God: my own eye that wants to please and control, or God’s eye.”
“The mystical life is the life by which I grow toward what is real and away from illusion, the life that grows into true relationship. The future of Christianity in the West depends on our ability to live mystically, that is, in touch with what is at the core reality at the center of events. Without claiming this truth that everything is in God, Christianity loses its transforming power and becomes something like ‘behaving decently,’ a series of rights and wrongs.”
“The words of Jesus go right to the heart of our struggle [as peace activists]: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly’ (Luke 6:27-28). The more I reflect on these words, the more I consider them to be a test for peacemakers. What my enemies deserve is not my anger, rejection, resentment, or disdain, but my love. Spiritual guides throughout history have said that love for the enemy is the cornerstone of the message of Jesus and the core of holiness.”