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Like previous years, Bishop Gerard de Korte is among the first to publish his Advent letter to the faithful of his diocese. Below my translation. In the letter, the bishop tackles the issue of loneliness, and thus creates a coincidental link with Pope Francis’ speech at the European Parliament today, in which he identified loneliness as “one of the most common diseases in Europe today”. More about that speech later. First, the bishop:
“Late last year the media reported a macabre find in a house in Rotterdam. The remains of a woman were found. She had been dead for more than ten years and no one had missed her. Her daughter had rung the doorbell once or twice on Mother’s Day. But no one opened the door, and the daughter concluded that the closed door meant that she was still not welcome. Ten years dead in a house and no one notices. Symbol of groundless loneliness.
Of course, this is an extreme example. But we all know that loneliness is a major problem in our society. Many elderly people lead a lonely existence. When I was a parish priest in Utrecht, I visited elderly people who received visitors twice a week. They were home alone for the rest of the time. In Nestor, the magazine for the Catholic Union of the Elderly, I read last year that 200,000 elderly spent the Christmas days alone.
But loneliness is not only an issue for elderly people in our society. More than a few young people also struggle with loneliness. And there are plenty of couples who are physically together but spiritually lonely because they can no longer share the most essential things of life. In the end, many a philosopher states, every person is lonely to a certain extent. At heart, everyone remains hidden for the other. At the same time people try to break through that existential loneliness by searching mutual commitment, friendship and love.
God looks for us
In the coming weeks of Advent we prepare for the feast of Christmas. Christmas is a feast of connection; of light and desire for peace. The Christmas tree is decorated and good food is purchased. Family and friends are invited, perhaps also to chase away our loneliness. Because as human beings we realise that we can only be happy in connection with others.
Many Catholic families also have a nativity scene. Christmas is, after all, about the birth of Christ. Christmas makes clear that God wants to break through our loneliness. That is told clearly in Luke’s Gospel of Christmas, with singing angels and worshipping shepherds. The Gospel of John is a bit more abstract and theological: the Word has become flesh and has lived among us. But both evangelists say the same thing with different words: In Jesus, God comes looking for us. In Jesus, God reveals His love for us and He shows us that that love is the meaning of our lives.
Is Christ welcome?
The big question for each of us is: do I accept God’s offer? Can Christ really come into my life? Is there room for Jesus in my inn? Do I really want to life in friendship with Jesus? Several Christian thinkers have been said to have made this remark: “If Christ had been born a Thousand times in the stable in Bethlehem, but not in our heart, His birth was pointless”. In these words I hear the statement of John the Baptist: “He (=Christ) must increase; I must decrease”. And I also think of the nearly mystical words of the Apostle Paul: “I do not live, but Christ lives in me”.
Here we touch upon the core of our Christian existence. Christian life requires conversion, a transformation. My own “I” must become increasingly like Christ. In other words: I must become more like a Christophorus, a Christ-bearer. When we truly follow Christ, we will be praying people who place God in the heart of our lives. We will not remain imprisoned in self-interest but manifest charity. In the case of an argument, we will not harden ourselves, but really choose forgiveness and reconciliation. We will be mild and merciful for each other and thus reflect God’s mildness and mercy. I wish you a fruitful time of Advent on the road to Christmas.
Groningen, 25 November 2014
+ Msgr. Gerard de Korte”
Wonderful news from the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed in Warfhuizen, late last night, as hermit Brother Hugo announced that he will be ordained to the diaconate on the 23rd of January. This news is the culmination of months of studying on the part of the hermit, and a process in which the status of the shrine has been regularised to such an extent that the future is ensured should Brother Hugo (many years from now, God willing) no longer be able to serve the needs of the pilgrims and Our Lady there. Brother Hugo is now a member of the hermit’s association of Frauenbründl in the German Diocese of Regensburg. This association now takes responsibility for having a hermit present at the shrine, even though the shrine remains part of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, and the hermit’s profession, made two years ago to the bishop, remains with him as well.
Brother Hugo’s ordination is set for 23 January and will take place at the cathedral of St. Joseph in Groningen. Bishop Gerard de Korte will be the ordaining bishop. The ordination to the priesthood will take place at a later date, presumably in the autumn of 2015. There will be no official invitations to the ordination, but everyone who wants to join in celebrating the occasion is welcome. Mass starts at 19:00 hours.
For the shrine of Our Lady, this will mean a further boost for the spiritual life which has been steadily growing over the past decade, as we may expect the daily celebration of Holy Mass to take place there once Brother Hugo is a priest. This in addition to the life of prayer, adoration, pilgrimage, worship and down-to-earth spiritual recharging for all who happen to wander into the shrine.
Brother Hugo has expressed great joy at the decision, which officially came as a response to a request from the hermit of Frauenbründl, who serves as the hermit’s association’s head. I add my own joy and prayers to that.
EDIT: Since I probably looked at the date crosseyed, I have corrected it: the ordination is scheduled for the 23rd of January, instead of the 25th. Time and location are unchanged.
The national Church of the Netherlands in Rome, the church of Saints Michael and Magnus in Borgo, better known as the Church of the Frisians, celebrated the 25th anniversary of the renewed use of the building as such. In 1989, it was the later Bishop Tiny Muskens, then rector of the Pontifical Dutch College, who started the first of an unbroken series of Masses in the Dutch language in this 12th century church on the edge of St. Peter’s Square. To commemorate this, a plaque was revealed in honour of the late Bishop Muskens (pictured at right).
On Sunday, a festive Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Eijk, and he was also the recipient of a letter sent on behalf of Pope Francis by Archbishop Giovanni Becciu from the Secretariat of State. My translation follows below, although I am uncertain if this is the complete text. But for now, the sentiment comes across as the archbishop uses a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians to succinctly describe what a Church is.
“With joy Pope Francis took note of the 25th anniversary of the transferral of the venerable church of Saints Michael and Magnus in Borgo, the Church of the Frisians, as national church of the Netherlands.
As Church we are all “built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. Every structure knit together in him grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:20-21). May this certainty give strength to the faithful in their daily work and their witness of Christ, the Saviour. May they always be messengers of the joy of the Gospel to their neighbours.
Pope Francis wishes and prays that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church, may accompany all visitors of Ss. Michael and Magnus with her loving support and gladly grants you, your eminence, as well as the honourable father rector and all who will take part in the celebration of the Eucharist and the festivities on the occasion of the anniversary, the Apostolic blessing.”
Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu
Substaitue for general Affairs, Secretariat of State
from Rome, 7 November 2014
the Feast of St Willibrord
Good news this week as Catholic Voices launches a Dutch group. This weekend, a group of 20 Catholics follow the initial training in order to become informed and communicative voices for the Catholic Church and the Catholic faith in the media. Founder of Catholic Voices as a whole, Jack Valero, summarises the purpose of the initiative as follows: “It’s not about winning the discussion, but giving a positive witness.”
The original Catholic Voices was formed in 2010 in the United Kingdom, on the eve of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to that country, in order to be able to answer questions of the media and inform the public about all sort of subjects related to the Church and the faith. A Catholic Voice may be contacted via the group to be a guest commentator, a participant of a discussion or a source of information for all sorts of media.
Since 2010, groups ave been established in a number of countries, including Italy, the United States and Australia.
In addition to training the first group of Catholic Voices, they also offer a three-part training course in Strategic Communication of the Faith, on three Saturdays in 2015. This is for people who want to be able to give good answers to the difficult questions they may get in their daily life.
In the First Letter of Peter we read, “If anyone asks you to give an account of the hope which you cherish, be ready at all times to answer for it” (3:15), and that is exactly what Catholic Voices wants to do. In our modern media, driven by concerns of a financial as nature as well as the need to offer good journalism and information, the subject of religion is often forgotten. No longer are there specific, well-informed reporters appointed to cover these topics, and often we see the results: incorrect information and subjective reporting coloured by opinions. Catholic Voices can be a tool to correct that, as well as a wonderful opportunity for individual faithful to learn more, not just about their faith and Church, but also about their own communication.
It’s barely November, but two potential Christmas gifts came to my attention today.
Father Robert Barron’s series on the Catholic faith, Catholicism, is set for release in the Netherlands, with Dutch subtitles. Originally released in the United States several years ago, the series appears to be a wonderful tool for catechesis, but also an interesting look at the great variety of our worldwide Church, as well as the heart of the faith.
The 500-minute DVD series is available for the price of €39,90 from the Catholic Alpha Centre and Publisher Betsaida, which is connected to the St. John’s Centre seminary of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch.
Also from ‘s Hertogenbosch comes the second book, this time for adults, from the pen of Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary bishop of that diocese (and at the moment filling in for ordinary Bishop Antoon Hurkmans who is taking his rest for medical reasons – prayers for him). In it, the bishop aims to correct all sorts of misconceptions about the Church and her faith. He writes:
“This is no scientific book. I don’t pretend to be a theologian, I’m no cultural sociologist or scientist. In order to explain things to non-experts, a pragmatic and sober approach by someone who knows the topic well is often more effective than a highly scientific approach.”
The book, titled Gewoon over Geloof (a play on words which means both “simply about faith” and “acting or talking normally about faith”), aims to correct an image of the Church in modern secular society, which consider the Catholic faith to be “backwards, irrational, medieval, illiberal, unreasonable, misogynistic, homophobic and brainwashed”.
Bishop Mutsaerts has one previous book on his name, a children’s book titled Jezus kan niet voetballen (“Jesus can’t play football”).
Bishop Gerard de Korte looks back on the Synod:
“Pope Francis’ thinking is process-oriented. The Synod (‘journeying together’) which has now ended was a moment on the way. The Church is on her way to a new Synod in October of 2015. In the meanwhile the thinking about sexuality, marriage and family continues in the worldwide community of faith.
Building bridges, not destroying them, as Church is in the spirit of Pope Francis and the Synod. Personally I advocate a ‘ministry of encounter’.
We can’t kick people with marriage problems or other relational worries when they’re down, but we should stand with and help them. In that way we follow in the footsteps of Christ who, as the Good Samaritan, seeks out and heals people who lie wounded on the side of the way of life. Catholic ministry will not repel or write off people but try and meet them in the places where they are. In that, the Catholic shepherd is called to manifest God’s unconditional love for imperfect people.
Media report that the Church wants to be more merciful but that doctrine is unchangeable. I think that is too simplistic. Life means growth and change. That is also true for the life of the Church. Christian teaching knows development (Cardinal John Henry Newman). When our thinking is historical-organical it becomes clear how important the hermeneutic questions are. The doctrine of the Church must continuously be interpreted and communicated. Of course, the spirit of the times can never be a deciding factor in that. He who marries the spirit of the times, is soon widowed. But we should wonder of we have sufficiently probed the wealth of Scripture and Catholic Tradition (Cardinal Reinhard Marx). In that sense the doctrine of the Church must always be actualised to stay close to life.
Going towards the Synod of October 2015, there are important questions on the Church’s agenda. How can we help young people to grow towards the sacrament of marriage? How do we help couples to strengthen and deepen their marriage bond? How do we stand with people who failed and were unable to fulfill their word of faithfulness?
An important questions, it seems to me, is also how love, friendship and affection can take shape for people who do not live within the bond of marriage. In our country millions of people live outside of marriage. The Church traditionally asks them to live in abstinence. But what does this mean in real situations, certainly when we realise that celibate life is a charisma, a gift from God, which few people receive. When we acknowledge that the questions of relationship ‘within the boundaries of Catholic morality become all the more exiting. In short, there is much work to do for the faith community.
Msgr. Dr. Gerard de Korte”
The bishop raises good questions, ones that certainly need answering. But not just theoretical answers. These questions instead need practical solutions, they need to become visible in how the Church acts and speaks, not just how she thinks. That’s what the Synod is about, too: the question of how teachings become reality for people living in the world.
The doctrine of the Church, the rich body of faith that she protects and communicates, is neither completely solid nor completely fluid. Comments about doctrine continuously needing to be interpreted, as made by Bishop de Korte above, are often understood to mean that what the Church once believed to be true, need not be believed anymore (not that am I saying that the bishop holds to this). That is quite simply wrong.
In his most recent blog post, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York writes:
“We Catholics pledge allegiance to what is called a “revealed religion”. That simply means that we believe that God has told us (“revealed”) certain things about Himself and ourselves through the Bible, through our own nature, especially through His Son, all celebrated and taught by His Church.”
We find this everywhere in the Bible. God reveals Himself to people and over the course of history we get to know Him more and more, and our relationship with Him develops. But at the start, there are certain truths which we know because they have been revealed. These divine truths are unchangeable, as they exist independent of us. So when we say that we must interpret or develop doctrine, we always have these revealed truths as our solid basis. Does that limit us? Perhaps it does, but only because it’s not only about us. God is the other party in the relationship and His contributions, His truth about Himself, creation and human nature and purpose, must equally be acknowledged.
Developing doctrine must be understood as increasing our knowledge and understanding of it, building on what we already know. That deeper understanding is one step, the communication and manifestation of it is another. And that, again, is what the Synod is intended to encourage.
But, as a final aside, not every doctrine is dogmatic (ie. held to be absolutely and unchanging true). Non-dogmatic teachings and practices, such as certain rituals and traditions of the Church, can certainly change. But if we want to change them, we must always ask ourselves: why do want them to change, and why do we have them in the first place? Perhaps then we’ll find that it is sometimes better to hold onto teachings, instead of doing away with them.
In more than a few dioceses in Europe, bishops and parish councils are forced to make choices about which Church buildings to maintain and which to close. The reasons are generally financial and logistical and call for local faith communities to merge, to join one another in remaining local Churches. The pain and even anger that this process causes, despite its frequent necessity, becomes clear in this plea from the community of the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Beverwijk, Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam. For four years, they have been fighting the parish council and the diocese, guarding their church to prevent it from being closed.
I understand their pain. The place which has been the home of a community for decades, where people have worshipped, married, were buried from, prayed, celebrated, grieved… Losing that can’t be easy. But that does not mean, if we are in such a situation, that we should become closed in. The impression I get from this video is that the people of this community put their local community first: they are members of their local community first, faithful of the diocese, the greater Church in the world second. But as Catholics we profess no bond to a localised place, although we have our local duties, tasks and relations. We profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, who is everywhere where two or more people are gathered in His name. Our brothers and sisters are everywhere, not just in our immediate vicinity. In the case of this community, it seems that their walls have become so high that it has become impossible to look over them from within.
Again, while I understand the pain, the community members present themselves as a very angry bunch. I don’t know the reasons for the parish council and the diocese to want to close this church, but I would have my reservations at the community’s promise to pay for the upkeep of the building. They may be able to do so now, but they all seem to be quite elderly. Will this community still be able to maintain their building in ten years time?
It is to be hoped that, despite their high walls and anger, the ears of this community will still listen. And the same goes for the diocese and parish council as well, of course. But for now, it seems it is more important to speak (or even shout) than to listen.
My own bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte, has also released a short statement about the Synod. His hopes and expectations are realistic and, I think, what we should expect from the Synod. Bishop de Korte holds the portfolio for Church and society in the bishops’ conference.
“In the media there has, rightly, been much attention for the tension between current Church teachings about sexuality, marriage and the family, and the concrete realities of stubborn life. For many modern Catholics much of the teaching about marriage and family have become incomprehensible and petrified.
That is why I very much hope that the Synod will choose a third way. Not a repetition of words which no longer express anything, but neither an adaptation to modern liberal culture. It will have to be about putting the Catholic wisdom about marriage and family into comprehensible words. For without a clear teaching which is near to life, many (young) Catholics receive no spiritual guidance in the fields of sexuality and forming families. They very easily go along with the ethics as shown in movies, video clips and soap operas. Those are often ethics of brief pleasure and fleeting relationships. The Church faces the challenge of speaking clearly about the importance of faithful love, especially for the happiness of people. Within marriage the Golden Rule is of great import: treat your neighbour as you would want to be treated.
The Synod will undoubtedly maintain the indissolubility of marriage. The teaching of Christ on this point is clear. Marriage is a covenant for life: not a temporary contract. But we can’t close our eyes to the enormous marriage crisis in our modern (western) world. In our country one in every three marriages ends in divorce. Against that background the Synod will probably and rightly plead for a more intense marriage preparation.
For the many people who fail in marital fidelity the Synod will hopefully choose a ‘ministry of mercy’. Like the youngest son in the parable, God is also a father for people who divorce, a father who watches for and embraces with unconditional love. That may hopefully be a source of comfort for people in a relationship crisis. God remains faithful, also for failing and sinful people.”
Msgr. Dr. Gerard de Korte