Christian leaders must be “always willing to confess their own brokenness and ask for forgiveness from from those to whom they minister.”
In practice, however, the leader may hide his or her vulnerability. As Henri Nouwen observes: “There is so much fear, so much distance, so much generalization, and so little real listening, speaking, and absolving that not much true sacramentality can be expected.”
He then asks two questions that every Christian community must consider: First, “How can priests or ministers feel really loved and cared for when they have to hide their own sins and failings from the people to whom they minister . . . ?
We are called to nurture communities in which all are comfortable practicing both confession and forgiveness. As Nouwen observes, we must recognize that “ministers and priests are also called to be full members of their communities, are accountable to them and need their affection and support, and are called to minister with their whole being, including their wounded selves.”
Second, “How can people truly care for their shepherds and keep them faithful to their sacred task when they do not know them and so cannot deeply love them?” In practice, only a few wise and trusted friends can listen attentively and fully to a leader’s personal struggles. But every priest and minister needs a truly safe friend or group of trusted friends.
“They need a place where they can share their deep pain and struggles with people who do not need them, but who can guide them ever deeper into the mystery of God’s love.”
Nouwen found such a place in the community at L’Arche “with a group of friends who pay attention to my often-hidden pains and keep me faithful to my vocation by their gentle criticism and loving support.
“Would that all priests and ministers could have such a safe place for themselves”
(In the Name of Jesus, Crossroad, 1989, pages 64-70).
A year is a long time to go without a post . . . for me the past year has been a time of transition . . . the changes go on, and I plan to resume posting . . . and may try some other experiments . . . enjoy. Read on!