The authority of compassion in the words of Henri Nouwen

No doubt the nuns, the cardinal, and the archbishop meeting in Rome on June 12, 2012 attempting to reach some mutual understanding about how to go forward in the storm caused by recent Vatican actions have read one or more of the powerful, beautiful and often poetic writings of Henri J.M. Nouwen. Perhaps they have even read this one:

We usually think of people with great authority as higher up, far away, hard to reach. But spiritual authority comes from compassion and emerges from deep inner solidarity with those who are “subject” to authority. The one who is fully like us, who deeply understands our joys and pains or hopes and desires, and who is willing and able to walk with us, that is the one to whom we gladly give authority and whose “subjects” we are willing to be. It is compassionate authority that empowers, encourages, calls forth hidden gifts, and enables great things to happen. True spiritual authority is located in the point of an upside-down triangle, supporting and holding into the light everyone they offer their leadership to.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2009-03-17). Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (p. 107). Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.

This wisdom appealed to me the first time I read it and it came to mind as I encountered these two articles (among others) today (6/11/12). Actually, Nouwen’s words have have been a constant companion as this conflict unfolds.

On Tuesday, June 12, 2012 nuns from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCRW) will meet with Cardinal William Levada of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and Archbishop Peter Sartain (selected to oversee reform of the LCRW by the Vatican). The Vatican spokesperson, Fr. Federico Lombardi said the hope is to reach a “mutual understanding” in conversation. From the National Catholic ReporterVatican spokesperson hopes for ‘understanding’ in meeting with nuns

Over the weekend the Bishop of Toledo, OH, Leonard Blair, spoke out. Bishop Blair “issued a column and YouTube video blasting the LCWR again this weekend. It is Blair’s research that prompted a stinging report of the LCWR as dissenters who fail to live holy lives and promote true doctrine.” As observed in the article, Blair “is tired of bishops being blamed for beating up on saintly sisters.”  From USA TodayBishop takes another swing at the sisters, nuns (Note: includes the YouTube video)

Who speaks with “spiritual authority” to you? Is authority of compassion enough? Do words speak louder than actions as you work out your relationship with God and neighbor? (Yes, I reversed the usual order there; the nuns are being chastised for not speaking the right words, though the bishops have praised their work.)


One thought on “The authority of compassion in the words of Henri Nouwen

  1. Dear Dan,
    You are an awesome example of a compassionate leader, as everyone who has even met you will testify. I’ve been honored to know you since the 70’s and experience your compassionate leadership at various times throughout the last 3 decades plus. You truly are one people choose to follow as a follower of Jesus as you so exemplify Him.
    I had the blessing last night of compassionate words from my compassionate pastor that gave me at the same time healing of many wounds of the past many years.

    The Bishop from Toledo, the town of my birth, in my humble opinion is the probllem with the world. I read no humility within his statements. Our world is playing the blame game and it is and has been to me most of my life been very sad to see it in the church. Yes, we are human, but we as followers of Christ have Jesus and it is obvious to me that some ask “What Would Jesus do?” and other don’t even entertain that thought.

    Much love


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