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The second St. Martin’s conference about the diaconate is being held at the Oosterpoort conference centre today and I have been tasked with making sure that the two work groups which will use the parish house are supplied with a steady stream of coffee and tea. That’ll take the better part of the afternoon, and it’s going to be followed by the English Mass where I may or may not be asked to do the intercessions.
Still debating about tomorrow: Den Bosch or not?
The diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch has made a decision about next Sunday’s Mass:
“The church council of the cathedral of St. John in ‘s-Hertogenbosch has, in cooperation with the diocese of Den Bosch, decided not to distribute Communion at next Sunday’s 10 o’clock Mass, because various groups have announced to use the Mass as a protest action. The diocese mourns the fact that the celebration of the Eucharist is used for this purpose and asks for respect for holding Catholic services. Media will be placed in a separate press area, in the northern transept. Seen from the entrance in the tower that is front left near the altar. They are requested to not walk through the church or in front of the altar during the Mass. No one will be excluded from participating in the celebration, but they are being asked to participate respectfully.”
It’s a necessity because of the sad fact that even some Catholics are willing to put their own grievances above the service of God.
Bishop Hurkmans emphasised that denying Communion to practicing homosexuals does not exclude from the Church’s life. But since the Communion is also a confirmation of faith, the receiver expresses his agreement with that. That means that the person who receives Communion lives in accordance with the faith and the Church’s teachings.
The bishop also said he shares the pain of those who can’t receive Communion. He emphasised the importance of a person’s own responsibility to receive and so confirm their faith in the Church’s teachings. That is counter to the prevalent attitude that Communion is a right and even a custom – that receiving should be part of every Mass one attends.
Fr. van Rossem acknowledges that things have grown somewhat lax in respect to handing out Communion, and he expects that the faithful will receive more education on the meaning of the Eucharist in the future. Let’s hope that will indeed happen.
There have been no statements yet about how the diocese plans to respond to protests on Sunday at the cathedral. The diocese is still considering that, but Fr. van Rossem did say that there is concern about a possible disruption of the Mass.
I am seriously considering travelling down to ‘s-Hertogenbosch on Sunday, to attend Mass there and offer a counter-balance to the protesters. Mass is not the place or time for protest, and in this case we should perhaps try to maintain the sacrality of the Mass, a sacrality that transcends any protest greatly.
On 12 February, Pope Benedict XVI visited the major seminary in Rome. Among others, he led the seminarians and staff in the lectio divina, the spiritual readings of a Bible passage. The pope chose chapter 15 of the Gospel of John, and went on to focus on various aspects of the text.
It’s an interesting read, certainly in this season of Lent.
I have been asked to share with my small international audience some thoughts about a public initiative in the Netherlands, which aims to give the elderly the right to choose their moment of death. In the proposal, this is a right to be given to everyone over the age of 70. In the Trouw newspaper, philosopher Paul van Tongeren goes over some of the objections against this proposal, in an article titled Self-chosen death is impossible.
Outright discussion of the affairs of society and politics is something which I have general avoided. Not because I consider it unimportant, but mainly because I fear my knowledge is lacking. Not that I have an extensive knowledge of Church and theology, but those topics are this blogs objective. Society is not, although the two obviously and rightly influence each other.
Euthanasia, like abortion and any other practice involving the murder of humans, is a grave sin. That much is clear. It is directly stated in the Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill. As far as historians can trace it, the wilful murder of people has always been considered intrinsically evil, although there have been societies which allowed it (and continue to do so) in certain circumstances. But what a society chooses to do has no effect on the objectivity morality of an action.
This as an introduction. Now let’s take some of Mr. van Tongeren’s arguments against the ‘free choice of death’ initiative.
His first point, a relative argument, is the question how we can know what the death wish means. Is it a result of bad living conditions and can it therefore be remedied by improving those conditions?
He then questions the arbitrary age limit of 70. It is said that that age has been chosen because a death wish occurs more often in people over 70. But there is a risk in establishing that age as a boundary. Once implemented, we’ll see that the death wish occurs more often in people over 60. It is a boundary that demands adjustment downward. And there is another risk: people will have to explain themselves once they’re 70 and don’t want to die just yet.
Another point is if and how outsiders can decide if someone is ready to die. Would outsiders be so keen to decide in favour of death? Mr. van Tongeren says yes. One of the people behind the initiative, Hedy d’Ancona, said twice in an interview on Radio 1, that she know a few people of whom she thought that they were ready to die. There is then an outside pressure on the elderly to choose in favour of death.
The discussion that goes into more philosophical principles, most notably the principle of autonomy, related to the opinion that we are autonomous people who decide over our own life and death. Kant, one of the staunchest defenders of autonomy, said that when you do what you want because that seems attractive, you are not autonomous, because you don’t decide what you want, but are being led by your desires. Then you are heteronomous. You are only autonomous when you fully act according to reason. That means, among other things, that we have no automatic right to do whatever we please when, at the same time, we claim to act according to the principle of autonomy.
Self-determination does work ‘horizontally’. Someone who wants to order me about, has to justify himself, not the other way around.
In the history of philosophy we encounter a problematic but intriguing argument against self-chosen death: suicide is impossible. Of course, it happens and it that sense it is possible, but it can be countered logically, so it is a logical impossibility. Someone who wants to commit suicide chooses death, but that is not a choice between one thing and another (as when we normally want something). It is a choice between something (life) and nothing (death). And philosophy says: you can’t want nothing.
Van Tongeren explains to two forms of wanting: the object wanted, and wanting to be the wanter. We choose to want. Someone who wants to die, wants to stop being the wanter, which is a denial of wanting anything.
All that will not change the mind of someone who wants to die, but it indicates a problem. It’s not something we can want like we want other things. denying that problem is denying that there is any difference between wanting to die and wanting to go on a holiday. That is ultimately a denial of the very nature and identity of the death wish.
Van Tongeren closes with emphasising the importance of taboos in western civilisation. Taboos indicate boundaries that can’t be defended or defeated by logical arguments, but which society possible. Crossing them has destructive consequences.
Does it make sense to want to decide to die? We don’t decide we want to live. If we have no self-determination at the start, would it not be fitting to not have it at the end?
It’s a difficult social and ethical problem, this question of whether or not we should allow the free choice of death. I do think, like Mr. van Tongeren, that such a choice is the top of a downward slope. Not only is it a choice based in nothing more than gut-feeling, and as such it fails to acknowledge the differences between this choice and the choice of what you want for lunch today, it also tackles a taboo.
Taboos are not popular. Many people in our postmodern society consider them limits to our freedom. But are they? Are they not guidelines that lead to freedom? After all, any society without rules will quickly descend into chaos. Is that the freedom we want? Does that not limit us even more? I would say it does.
A life is sacred, in the religious and the social sense. We have neither the ability nor the right to give or take that life. There is not self-determination involved in the beginning and end of life. That does not make it easy. But do we measure our existence by the amount of pain we have? No. A person’s life is measured by his or her achievements, by the positive influence it has on us and on society.
We have a duty, an obligation to always choose life. The other choice is nothing but the easy solution and anyone knows of situations in their own lives where nothing is gained by the easy way out.
In a totally unrelated conversation, the following quote, from The Dark Knight of all things, came up: “It was always going to get worse before it got better.” The value of our goals can often be measured by the difficulties we have in achieving them. Difficulties are not inherently evil, although we rarely recognise them as such while we suffer them.
PvdA Chairperson Lilianne Ploumen has called people of all sexual orientations to come to Mass at the cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in ‘s-Hertogenbosch on Sunday. A laudable invitation. Or is it?
Sadly, it is not. She does so in order to protest the Catholic teachings about homosexual practices, which she claims are discriminatory. She will attend Mass – great! – wearing a pink triangle with the text “Jesus excludes no one”, and tells others to do the same.
When people write about similar situations, especially in America, they often note the strange ideas of freedom that such people have. That is what I see increasingly here as well. Freedom is great, and everyone should be free to live according to their own conscience, but not if that goes against the popular opinion and political correctness. Then that freedom becomes a crime and its proponents subject of ridicule and violence (verbal or otherwise). The anti-religious lobby in general is oppressive, what Pope Benedict XVI calls ‘the dictatorship of relativism’. Disagreement is not an option.
Arie Slob, chairman of the Christian Union in parliament, has commented on Ploumen’s action: “With all due respect for Ms Ploumen and with happiness at her call to go to church: this is a very inappropriate, provocative interference in church matters.” He continues, “I would like to assume that it is not the PvdA chair but the Roman Catholic expressing herself here [Well, Mr. Slob, trust me: it is not]. But let me be even clearer. I for one can’t imagine using my political brand name to influence the church of which I am a member.”
In the mean time, Robèrt Cooijmans, the man who charged Father Luc Buyens and Bishop Antoon Hurkmans with discrimination, will try to speak during the same Mass. He was prevented from doing so in his own parish church last Sunday, when a plain clothes police officer stopped and arrested him for disturbing the peace.
Father Manfred Hauke, he of the Medjugorje criticism, has given an interview to answer criticism against his person and his statements about Medjugorje and the so-called apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary there. The original text of the interview is on Kath.net, and Catholic Light offers an English translation. Following my previous post about this, I offer Fr. Hauke’s comments in Dutch.
In my parish, Medjugorje leaflets are luckily rare. In the past there used to be adverts for pilgrimages to Medjugorje in the parish bulletin, but that seems to be suppressed by either the cathedral administrator or the diocese. In what I can only assume was a freak coincidence, a lady handing out leaflets of Medjugorje appeared in the same week that Fr. Hauke’s interview was published. I politely declined when she wanted to give one to me.
The homily that Father Luc Buyens gave last Sunday is online. It is, of course, the homily in which he explained to his parishioners (and the protesters who were also present) why he couldn’t give Communion to an openly homosexual man. What with all the media commotion surrounding that, I think it is interesting to see what Fr. Buyens actually said. Below is the homily in English (emphases mine).
Dear parishioners of Reusel, dear people from elsewhere,
After the feast of carnival last week, on Ash Wednesday we have entered our holy Lent, the Christian time of fasting. For us this is a time of more focus on prayer, the practice of confession and being solidary with our neighbour. A time which Jesus has entered before us in His mortal life. I believe that we, as postmodern people of the 21st century, can still learn from that. When a person chooses for such a time of purification, according to Luke the evangelist, there are three points which become clear.
1. The temptation to turn stones into loaves… apparently, a lot is possible from the world of spirits. But Jesus replies: “Man lives not by bread alone”, and everyone who knows the Bible, knows what actually follows next: “but by every word of God”. It is sublime to know that Jesus will eventually feed His own with the bread of heaven, which makes us people grow into the ‘living rock’, into the spiritual building that He establishes and of which He is the cornerstone that holds everything together. But apparently the devil isn’t caught that easily. He comes with a second challenge: “If you therefore will adore before me, all shall be yours”, and Jesus replies, “You shall adore the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve”: the God for Whom every knee must bend. How can we, dear people, adore and honour Him here on Earth? The only right answer is: there where Jesus shows Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, especially in Adoration. ‘God with us’ in the form of consecrated bread. That is how He shall be with us until the end of days. And how can we serve Him? In our neighbour, by serving him or her as we would want to be helped ourselves. Jesus lives in the first place in the poor, the small, the abandoned and fragile, the least of all. If we apply God’s word to what is called temptation, the enemy or tempter is sent back from the very start, and so follows the third temptation: Cast yourself down and you will be carried, in other words: the challenge to cross boundaries, to tempt fate as happens so often these days. What does Jesus say then? “You shall not the tempt the Lord you God”. Creature: know your place. Know what you are doing if you want to tempt the Lord your God. Woe that man…
At that point Satan leaves until the designated time to take his revenge, which will cost him dearly, because Jesus’ death has given eternal life to people of good will and the restoration of all things. This is what God’s Church stands for. He who beliefs and is baptised will be saved from a death that will last forever. From now on man can consider his life from the principle of eternity and let this dictate his values. Jesus entrusted this faith to the Church and, by spreading the Word and administering the sacraments to the people, the Church sanctifies the world.
Following the commotion after pastoral matters were leaked to the press, I would like to say the following. When we Catholics come together to celebrate the Eucharist we do this to consider God’s word and possibly to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, Communion or Holy Host. “Truly my Body and Blood”, as Christ teaches us. This ‘bread from heaven’ is one of the seven sacraments of the Church. In 2008 the Dutch bishops published a letter asking the ministers of the Eucharist to make the faithful aware of what communicating in God’s Church means. They gave four models to achieve a good formulation towards the faithful. All four of those models indicate that one can’t receive Communion under certain circumstances, and that, including the amendments in the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism, goes for everyone.
Dear people, why do I mention all this? To tell you that there is nothing wrong when something is lived orderly. There are boundaries for homosexuals and heterosexuals, and for everyone else possible.
There are rules which the Church must apply so that people approach and receive God in the right manner. The Church has the task to keep and protect the people. Especially when they threaten to make mistakes out of ignorance, the Church warns like a concerned mother. On the football field, the referee also engages with a player who acts inappropriately. It can’t be that in the Church, which is eternal, all rules which stem from the Ten Commandments, are cast aside just like that. When I participate in carnival festivities I know I have to respect their rules and the same goes for when I want to participate actively in the life of the Church. Faith reveals itself in acts and here too the Law is what everything is measured by, to the benefit of all. “One jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled”, the Lord of heaven and earth says.
I have said a lot and I could say more, but I know that I will feel like a useless help who only tried to do his work in good conscience. I did not want to single out anyone. Everything took place in private. I don’t want to discriminate or hurt anyone. I know that there is often a lot of pain and sorrow for the people concerned but also, despite all difficulties, the intention to do and be good. The Church is called to be specifically close to those concerned and to help them carry the sacrifices of such a disposition as a cross, together with the crucified Christ. I believe that bringing such a sacrifice can be a great blessing to the Church and the world who needs that so much. They who are willing to carry this cross are even invited and encouraged to frequently receive the sacraments and the blessings of the Church to be strengthened to persevere. After every fall or mistake every believer can and must reconcile himself with God through an honest confession, if he wants to sit at the table of the Lord. That goes for every grave sin of any nature.
To you, who have come here in such large numbers, I would like to say that I, as a priest, am willing to suffer for the sign I stand for. Just like I wish to be respectful to each and every one of you I would want to receive the same respect in return. Sadly, I must inform you, that things do not automatically point in that direction. I do not declare war on anyone, but I ask the Lord of heaven and earth that His peace may soon descend on Reusel once more. Our people here do no benefit from what is happening and do not work that way.
To the press I would like to say that I did not want this disturbance. This parish has been entrusted to my care by the bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. This is my workplace that has been given and nothing more. I think that I have given enough clarity and ask that you turn towards persons of the diocese of Den Bosch and specialists in these matters.
In our Church it is not usual that priests act autonomously. In the case that I have been blamed I have only acted after discussion with the bishop and my colleagues.
I wish to close with the word of the great apostle Paul with his words to the Christians of Philippi: “Be followers of me, brethren: and observe them who walk so as you have our model. For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping) that they are enemies of the cross of Christ”.
“Whose end is destruction: whose God is their belly: and whose glory is in their shame: who mind earthly things. But our conversation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of his glory, according to the operation whereby also he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”
I wish you all a blessed preparation for Easter.
Father Luc Buyens
The Volkskrant reports today that a homosexual Catholic, Mr. Robèrt Cooijmans is going to report Fr. Luc Buyens, the priest who denied Communion to an openly homosexual man last week, with discrimination. He states: “My church can’t exclude anyone. There is no ground for that in the Bible.” A statement that is evidently incorrect, and indicative of Cooijmans’ knowledge of his own faith. And I won’t even start about the ‘my church’ business.
Cooijmans bases his claim on the fact that he has always received Communion without problem and polls by pro-homosexual media are said to say that as many as 94% of priests make no issue out of it. Does that validate the claim of discrimination? Of course not. If anything, and if true, it indicts the priests in question for ignoring Church teachings. Sadly, that is all too common in this country. And it may be cause for problems for Fr. Buyens too. I highly doubt that any court will accept the case, but the fact that this has no become an exclusively gender- and sexuality-based affair is a bit problematic.
Denying Communion to practising homosexuals is simply an obligation for every priest. But the same goes for divorced person, or people who live together unmarried or anyone who lives in a state of grave sin. Making this an exclusively homosexual affair is therefore counterproductive and incorrect. Sadly, I think that both sides in the argument may be to blame for that. Fr. Buyens for not being consistent and the media for hyping it as discrimination.
In the end, though, I think the court will consider this a matter of Church law, and Church law is very clear on this.
The misunderstanding and violent need to be proven right becomes painfully clear in other parts of the Volkskrant article quoted above. “We want to see if Communion will also be postpone there [the cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch] if we are present,” says Giovanni Nijenhuis, chief of gay organisation Embrace Pink. “It is important for us all that the church acknowledges that homosexuality is a disposition, which has nothing to do with moral preconceptions”.
“We’ll totally confuse them,” he said about the planned protests.
This is not about intelligent debate, this is an emotional and childish need to be proven right, even if that is not the case.
What we Catholics should do is not lower ourselves to their tactics, but offer clear and concise explanations of the truth. That Communion is not a right, that excluding people from Communion is not a matter of discrimination, that is not limited to homosexuals alone, that Communion is not the sole way of being part of the Church, and that the Church is neither a democracy nor a human club of which anyone, no matter what they do and how they live, can be a part. The Church, like any gathering of people, has rules that regulate it and improve its members. Denying those rules is like playing a football game and being upset when the referee calls foul when you don’t follow the rules of the game. “But football is for everyone, and everyone should be allowed to make their own rules!” That’s not football, that’s chaos.