A Sudden Trip to Lourdes

September 1990By Henri J.M. Nouwen

The Rev. Henri J.M. Nouwen is a spiritual writer, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, and a priest-in-residence at Daybreak in Toronto (a Catholic/ecumenical l’Arche community serving disabled persons). Among his many books are The Way of the Heart and The Wounded Healer.

Today is January 7, 1990, and I am in Lourdes. A few weeks ago I felt convinced I should go to Berlin to experience the radical changes taking place in Europe at the begin­ning of a new decade. I didn’t go. When I gave careful attention to my inner voice I knew I had to stay away from large crowds, noisy debates, and great political movements. The next decade will likely change the face of our planet radically. The question for me was: How to live that decade? The answer came quietly: In deep communion with Jesus.

Jesus has to become ever more the center of my life. It is not enough that Jesus is my teacher and source of inspiration. It is not ev­en enough that he is my companion on the journey, my friend and brother. Jesus must become the heart of my heart, the fire of my life, the lover of my soul, the bridegroom of my spirit. He must become my only desire. The thousands of people, events, ideas, and plans that occupy my inner life must become one in the one and only name: Jesus. I know I have to move from speaking about Jesus to letting him speak through me, from thinking about Jesus to letting him think within me, from acting for and with Jesus to letting him act through me. I know the only way for me to see the world is to see it through his eyes. Everything has to become very simple, very unified, very focused. I have to go to the very center of being — where time touches eterni­ty, where earth and heaven meet, where God’s Word becomes human flesh, where death and immortality embrace. With an unmistakable clarity I have heard a voice saying, “Give me everything, and I will give you everything.”

And so, I didn’t go to Berlin. Instead I went, from my temporary base at l’Arche in Trosly (France), to Compiegne, from Compiegne to Paris, and from there to Lourdes. There are very few pilgrims at this time of the year. I am virtually alone here. After the long, tiring night on the train, I arrived at “the little convent” of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception at 7:30 a.m. I slept, went to the grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette, celebrated the Eucharist of the Epiphany in the basilica, and prayed. Why am I here? To give my life to Jesus. To make Jesus the very center of my existence.

But how is this to come about? Mary is here to show me. Mary is here to be my gentle counselor, to take me by the hand and let me enter into full communion with her son.

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