Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Henri Nouwen eloquently articulates one of the most blessed spiritual gifts we can ever receive

WHO HELPS WHOM?  The late Catholic priest, activist, teacher and writer Henri Nouwen speaks of  “reverse mission” in these excerpts from one of his last books, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (Crossroad, 1995).  I first reflected on Nouwen's words when I fostered the redevelopment of Horizon House, a day center that extends hospitality and critical services to homeless neighbors.  I think of "reverse mission" often now, grateful for the graces and gifts I have received from many whom I first set out to relieve, help or serve.

SOUTH TO NORTH.  “While living for a few months in…Peru, I first heard the term ‘reverse mission.’  I had come from the North to the South to help the poor, but the longer I was among the poor the more I became aware that there was another mission, the mission from the South to the North.  When I returned to the North, I was deeply convinced that my main task would be to help the poor of Latin America convert their wealthy brothers and sisters in the United States and Canada.

CALL TO CONVERSION.  “Ever since that time, I have become aware that wherever God’s Spirit is present there is a reverse mission.  When I marched with thousands of black and white Americans from Selma to Montgomery in the summer of 1965 to support the blacks in their struggle for equal rights, Martin Luther King already said that the deeper spiritual meaning of the civil rights movement was that the blacks were calling the whites to conversion.

HANDICAPPED GIFTS.  “When, years later, I joined L’Arche to live and work with mentally handicapped people, I soon learned that my real task would be to let those whom I wanted to help offer me—and through me many others—their unique spiritual gifts.

VICTIMS AS BEARERS OF GOOD NEWS.  “This ‘reversal’ is the sign of God’s Spirit.  The poor have a mission to the rich, the blacks have a mission to the whites, the handicapped have a mission to the ‘normal,’ the gay people have a mission to the straight, the dying have a mission to the living.  Those whom the world has made into victims, God has chosen to be bearers of good news.

KEEP BEING SURPRISED.  “When Jesus heard that eighteen people had been killed when a tower at Siloam had fallen down, he was asked whether these men and women were worse sinners than others.  ‘They were not.  I tell you,’ he said. ‘No, but unless you repent you will perish as they did.’  Jesus shows that the victims become our evangelists, calling us to conversion.  That’s the reverse mission that keeps surprising us.”

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