"Clowning in Rome," by the late Dutch Catholic priest Henri Nouwen, has been brought back into print; readers interested in contemplation and prayer will rejoice. The book comprises four essays: on solitude, celibacy, prayer, and contemplation. They merit reading not for their prose, which is ordinary, nor for their thematic unity, which is questionable, but for their occasional moments of uncommon insight.

Explaining celibacy, the aspect of the priesthood that most vexes lay people, Nouwen compares that vocation to another one, marriage, demonstrating that they are more similar than different and that each needs the example of the other. Nouwen makes certain aspects of the priesthood accessible: we could all use more solitude, or contemplation, and it helps to know how these disciplines function for their most dedicated practitioners.

There is, however, a distinctly 1970s sensibility at play, and time has not been kind to all of Father Nouwen's footnotes. The references to social science and human potential movements dates the otherwise simple power of Nouwen's thoughtful message.

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