Orthodox Downward Mobility or Secularist Prosperity?
THE TRAGEDY OF DUTCH CATHOLICISM
Ed. Note: During the 1985-1986 academic year, Henri J.M. Nouwen was a priest-in-residence at the l’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France (a Catholic/ecumenical community serving disabled persons). This article is the third installment in a series of articles reflecting on that year, and this installment includes impressions of a return to his native Holland. The series is adapted from his diary.
Monday, December 2, 1985
Lots of little frustrations, interruptions, and distractions today. One of those days that passes without having felt like a real day. Many letters, telephone calls, short visits, little talks, but no real work, no sense of movement, no sense of direction. A day that is so fragmented that it does not seem to come together at all — except perhaps by writing about it!
One of the great gifts of the spiritual life is to know that even days like this are not a waste. There was still an hour of prayer. There was still the Eucharist, there were still moments of gratitude for the gifts of life. And there is the opportunity to realize that a day like this unites me with millions of people for whom many days are like this, yet who are in no position to do anything about it. So many men, women, and children dream about creative lives; yet, because they are not free to shape their own lives, they cannot realize their dreams. I had better pray for them tonight.
Tuesday, December 3, 1985
This morning I spoke with Père André about my restlessness. I told him I have the sense of being terribly busy without really feeling that I am moving down the right path. Père André responded by saying that I have to keep a careful eye on the difference between urgent things and important things. If I allow the urgent things to dominate my day, I will never do what is truly important and will always feel dissatisfied. He said, “You will always be surrounded by urgent things. That is part of your character and your way of living. You move from Harvard to Trosly to get away from the busy life, and soon Trosly is as busy for you as Harvard…. The issue is not where you are, but how you live wherever you are. For you that means a constant choosing of what is important, and a willingness to accept that the urgent things can wait or be left undone.”
I know both how right this advice is, and how difficult it is for me to put into practice. I responded: “How do I know what to let go of? Should I not answer my mail, not write that book, not visit or receive these persons, not pray, not spend so much time with handicapped people? What is urgent and what is important?” He said, “You have to decide to whom you want to be obedient.”
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