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The spiritual roots of vulnerability

The second session on Marriage: a symbol of real love- a journey with the book, The Wounded Healer on October 13 was facilitated by Fr Dexter Brereton CSSp.

This session was entitled ‘The Spiritual Roots of Vulnerability’ and was intended to lead spouses into a deeper reflection of what it means to be ministers today.

Building upon the previous week’s session (see CN October 18, page 20), Fr Brereton said that a life that is made free by “naming the shame” is also a life that is rooted in a free and total relationship with God. Authentic prayer involves vulnerability with God.

Fr Brereton referenced Ronald Rolheiser, who said that we often think of God as a parent who wants to see us on our best behaviour so we go into God’s presence only when we have nothing to hide, when we are joy filled, and can give God proper attention in a loving and reverent way.

However, every feeling and thought is a valid and apt entry into prayer no matter how irreverent, unholy, selfish, angry, or sexual it may seem. Fr Brereton stated that it is important that we pray what is inside of us or we are not praying. He identified lectio divina as a method of Bible reading and theological reflection that can help us to be vulnerable with God.

Through lectio divina we learn to fully enter into the stories and see ourselves in all the characters (good and bad); and also learn to welcome every memory as God’s word or message in our lives.

Fr Brereton emphasised that if we cannot be vulnerable before God, then we cannot be vulnerable with human beings. He reminded spouses that we are only the earthenware vessels and that lay ministers, deacons and priests who inspire and preach are also filled with the same confusion, disorder, and brokenness that we experience.

Spouses were encouraged to put to death any idea that entry into ministry means freedom from the burdens of life. They were then invited to reflect and share about the times when they cared for others in the midst of personal, family, and marital crisis and what helped them.

After discussion, some couples shared that they recognised that they experienced the same struggles and that it was good to hear testimonies of how others overcame their trials by God’s graces.

Henri Nouwen’s model for ministry was based on “the fundamental woundedness of human nature”. Fr Brereton stated that our woundedness is a source of strength when counselling others.

He also explained that ministry involves being present to persons (so that they know that they have support during their challenges) as against trying to intervene in or fix their situations.

Spouses were encouraged to suspend judgements and presuppositions of what it means to be Christian and look into the eyes of those to whom they minister and see the messiah who lies within them. There is always some nugget of genuine goodness and wisdom to be found in their story because those to whom we minister have great value.

Fr Brereton further explained that Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well and unveiled the truth of her existence (that she had five husbands) without giving a negative commentary, which led to her healing (Jn 4:4–26).

One participant stated that “if we spend more time assessing our vulnerability, we would probably have less time to be judgemental and therefore can be wounded healers to others”.

Fr Brereton said that as ministers we are called to be in solidarity with the people to whom we minister. He further stated that the kind of ministers that we want to be is dependent on our understanding of Nouwen’s three characteristics of people today:

  • The inward generation: who give priority to their inner issues (personal happiness and comfort)
  • The fatherless generation: who lack mentorship and are ruled by peer pressure (that is, the image that they think others have of them)
  • The convulsive generation: who have a sense that there is much wrong with the world; are not prepared to be quiet; may see the Church as complicit to the wrong things in society; and are resistant to our ministry.

This was a very insightful session that challenged our notions about vulnerability and its role in building strong relationships with God and others. An underlying message was that God is the Healer and we, broken vessels, help others to encounter God by the extent to which we engage in open, honest, and respectful interaction with them. In other words, by allowing ourselves to be loved by God, we are able to love others.

At the close of the session, a couple led the group in praying 2 Corinthians 4:7–10, which highlighted the paradox of ministry.