Tuesday 16 May 2006

With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life by Henri J.M. Nouwen

With Burning Hearts:
A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life

Henri J.M. Nouwen
Orbis Books
ISBN 1570755086

Recently I heard a priest from Opus Dei state that Henri Nouwen’s books are not spiritual writing, that all of Nouwen’s books are about Nouwen. After finishing this volume I would have to disagree lately, but not completely, this book like many of Nouwen’s draws from Henri’s personal experience, but all writers write from the lense that filters all we see and do. How could our life experience not affect how we see the world.

Nouwen states in the introduction: “Every day I celebrate the Eucharist. Sometimes in my parish church with hundreds of people present, sometimes in the Daybreak chapel with members of my community, sometimes in my father’s living room with just him and me. Very few days pass without my saying, ‘Lord, have Mercy,’ without the daily readings and a few reflections.” p.9 The rest of the book is a series of reflections on the Christian life through the filter of the Eucharist and through the eyes of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The five sections in the book are:
  1. Mourning Our Losses: “Lord Have Mercy”
  2. Discerning the Presence: “This is the Word of God”
  3. Inviting the Stranger: “I Believe”
  4. Entering into Communion: “Take and Eat”
  5. Going on a Mission: “Go and Tell”
Each section draws us into a deeper understanding of our life, and our life as a people of the word and of the Eucharist.

The first section focuses on loss, our loss of what we believe in, what we hope for and what we sometimes dream of. After loss the disciples questioned their following Jesus, and if we are honest sometimes we doubt as well. “We remember the time that Jesus was so real for us that we had no question about his presence in our lives. He was our most intimate friend our counselor and guide. He gave us comfort, courage, and confidence. We could feel him, yes, taste and touch him. And now? We no longer think of him very much, we no longer desire to spend long hours in his presence. We no longer have that special feeling about him.” p. 27,28. through the losses we have in our life we have come to have periods of doubt and struggle with our faith, we come bruised and broken by this world. “We come to the Eucharist with hearts broken by many losses, our own as well as those of the world.” p. 31 but Nouwen goes on to give us hope, our hearts are broken and we experience loss so that we can also be healed and restored, so that through the Eucharist we can receive the water of God’s grace.

After we have a renewed hope and have begun healing we must discern the presence of God in our lives. He declares “We cannot live without words that come from God, words to pull us out of our sadness and lift us up to a place from where we can discover what we are truly living.” p.51 In this section we are reminded that God’s words give life, we are nourished by them, challenged, encouraged and admonished. “Without the word, our life has little meaning.” p.60 As Catholics as Christians how could we not live immersed in the Word, in the guidebook God has given to us.

Inviting the Stranger, “Interesting, stimulating, and inspiring as all these strangers may be, when I do not invite them into my home, nothing truly happens.” p.69 Jesus stated that he stands at the door and knocks, the question is do we invite him in? Do we want him to permeate our whole life? Do we want to have Jesus be a part of our everyday life? This section asks many good questions that if we are honest will challenge us.

Communion is central to the Catholic faith. It is what unites Catholics around the world, we are a people who share a common table, and Nouwen focuses on what that means to us. “We can’t really live without bread that is taken, blessed and broken, and given. Without it there is no fellowship, no community, no bond of friendship, no peace, no love, no hope. Yet, with it, all can become new!” p.80,91 Later he states: “God desires communion; a unity that is vital and alive, an intimacy that comes from both sides, a bond that is truly mutual. Nothing forced or ‘willed,’ but a communion freely offered and received. God goes all the way to make communion possible.” p.87 Through the Eucharist we can have communion with God and through that communion with each other.

Finally our life as people of the word and of the table we are given a mission. Nouwen tells us “It is not just the Eucharist, but the Eucharistic life that makes the difference.” p.106 Through those two things we are prepared and called to mission, the mission to live as Catholics, as people who make a positive difference in the lives of those we impact and those who cross our path. “We have a mission to fulfill and it is good that we are excited about it, but first we have to listen to what others have to say. Then our stories can be told and bring joy.” p.109 Nouwen also sows us a vision of what that life would look like: “In the Eucharist we are asked to leave the table and go to our friends to discover with them that Jesus is truly alive and calls us together to become a new people – a people of the resurrection.” p.110

The meditations and reflections in this book, will draw you closer to the Lord’s supper, and through that to the people in your life. It is beautifully illustrated with artwork by Duccio Di Buoninsegna, the combination of words and pictures will feed your soul and challenge your mind.

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