The Wounded Healer

September 1, 2012

The Wounded Healer by the late Catholic priest Henri Nouwen is a class work in pastoral theology.  The 2010 edition of the book has two subtitles: Ministry in Contemporary Society and In our own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others. The text was one of many required readings at my Seminary and had a profound influence upon my priesthood and continues to influence my personal life. I would encourage any priest, seminarian or anyone involved in ministry of any kind to pick up a copy of the work.


One of Father Henri’s main points in the text is that the Christian, and certainly the minister, must first recognize that they are wounded themselves before helping others in need of healing. In this fallen world full of isolation, cynicism, fear, danger, and despair people are in pain, suffering and in need of healing. Priests are frequently called upon to help heal the wounds of those who are afflicted.  While in the Orthodox Church the priest can offer the mysteries (sacraments) of Christ, to make the person whole, he is also called upon to just listen to the person in pain and offer compassion. The parable of the Good Samaritan is offered to us by Christ as an example of how we are to “bandage the wounds”, and “show mercy” (Luke 10:34, 37). 

However, one of the dangers, Father Nouwen believes, in this often repeated scenario of the priest offering compassion and healing to those who are wounded, is for the priest to believe or let others believe that he himself is “perfectly well” and without a need to be healed.  However, as many priests will tell you, if they are being honest, frequently they are peculiarly wounded by the cynicism, isolation, fear, and despair that emanates from the earthly Church in particular and society in general. Perhaps it is for this reason that many priests and ministers find solace and comfort in alcohol, prescription medications, overeating, pornography and other vices. These help to numb the wounds.

There can be no question that gay people have been and continue to be wounded in this world.  Some of us have endured insults and hateful physical acts from family members and friends when we “come out”. Indeed many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) young people have been thrown out of their homes, cut off financially and even pronounced dead by their family. Governments around the world continue to ignore the natural rights, civil liberties and basic human needs of gay people and gay couples. We are wounded as we are delegated to second class citizen status by our own governments. In many areas of the world verbally and physically abusing gay people is seen as acceptable and indeed is encouraged.  At times it is even encouraged by those wearing cassocks and big golden crosses around their necks. (See the reflection entitled “Orthodox Pharisee of the Year Award” about the priest who encouraged people to throw stones at people participating in a gay parade in Sofia, Bulgaria.) We are wounded as our brothers and sisters suffer daily from speech and actions that not only kill our dignity and our souls, but in many cases have taken the lives of gays and lesbians.  

There can be no question that as gay people we have also been wounded by our own Orthodox Church. From Patriarchal and Synodal proclamations against the “evils of homosexuality” to the sermons by priests condemning gay people from the pulpit, to the cold shoulders we receive at coffee hour, we continue to be abused and suffer wounds in the Church that we love. We frequently remain silent while the stones of hatred, often containing the insipid message of “hate the sin, love the sinner”, are thrown at us. We are denied the mysteries of the Church unless we deny our own nature and in that way wound ourselves.

Because gay people have and continue to suffer we recognize that we need the healing power of Christ and the loving support of others to be healed. Because we acknowledge our own wounds, we can serve as healers in a world and in the Orthodox Church, and in church communities that suffer from isolation, cynicism, fear, and despair. However, in order for this to happen, in order for gay people to help heal the wounds, they must be let in as full and honest members of the Church. Because we intimately know the wounds, we can bring the medicine, but Church has to open the door, and not be the priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who looked upon the man in need and “passed on the other side.”


**(Personally, I prefer the writing style of the original 1972 Nouwen work in spite of its “dated gender language”. The 2010 edition has been edited. )

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Julie Anon

    Nouwen’s writing has so much to teach us. Life of the Beloved saved my sanity one year.

    1. andre

      That is indeed an excellent work by Nouwen. I would have loved to have met him in person.
      We need a few Orthodox Nouwen’s

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