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Images speak louder than words, and this is no exception…
Pope Francis, the 266th bishop of Rome, cradles the relics of the first Bishop of Rome, Saint Peter. With this display of continuity from the time of Christ to today, the Year of Faith was closed yesterday. Looking back, we must also look forward, as we, being Christians, are ever called to do.
As Pope Francis said in his homily:
“Jesus’ promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it. The Lord always grants more than what he has been asked: you ask him to remember you, and he brings you into his Kingdom!”
As I was reminded again yesterday, Mary is in many ways a mother. Motherhood in both the theological and personal meaning of the word. She is also a teacher who teaches us about her Son and about our personal relationship with Him.
The faith she shows and so teaches us is faith in the deepest essence of who we are, for our essential being flows from God’s being. Faith in Him, relationship with Him, knowing Him… that is knowing ourselves to our very heart.
“When Jesus’ “hour” came, the hour of his passion, when Mary’s faith was a little flame burning in the night, a little light flickering in the darkness. Through the night of Holy Saturday, Mary kept watch. Her flame, small but bright, remained burning until the dawn of the resurrection.”
Photo credit: Kitty Goeman
Today is International Translation Day. It is also the day that the Church commemorates Saint Jerome. And that’s no coincidence.
The feat that St. Jerome, one of the Doctors of the Church, is most remembered and celebrated for is his translation of the Bible into Latin. This so-called Vulgate became the definite text of the Bible used for most of modern history and, at the Council of Trent, the benchmark for which books were canonical and which were not.
St. Jerome’s work had a profound influence on religion, spiritual formation, Church and faith, but not least on the development of languages itself. Not bad for the work of a devoted translator.
So, the obligatory Pope Francis interview blog post… I’m not going to analyse it very much. Others have done so much better than I ever could, but, as ever, the warning for everyone wanting to know what the Pope said stands: read his words, not those reported in most mainstream media. The interview can be read in English here and in Dutch here.
There are a few things I can and will say about it, though. First of all, the way that this interview was published, simultaneously in several languages, is worth noting. On Twitter, Father James Martin SJ joked:
To achieve the surprise release of the interview with Pope Francis, 16 Jesuit journals had to keep a secret. Pope Francis’s first miracle?
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) September 20, 2013
But in all seriousness, prepping several translations and publishing them in various journals and magazines at the same time deserves to be noted, not least in the Vatican. It prevents the rise of rumours, misunderstanding and avoids the risk of not being noticed (as many documents on the Vatican website, which are published in several languages, still are for many faithful).
Personally, I found the interview a bit dense to read, but refreshing. In all honesty, I a still getting used to Pope Francis. He is so different from Pope Benedict XVI, who was the Pope for all of my Catholic life (all of five years…), until last March. A serious reading of the interview shows that Francis and Benedict are not that different after all, although their personalities and priorities certainly are. Shocking as some oneliners may seem for too many, they, not even the Holy Father’s comments about topics such as abortion and same-sex marriage, really are not at odds with what the Church has been teaching for centuries. Pope Francis simply emphasises other things than his predecessors wanted or succeeded to do. And in doing so, he may well succeed in explaining these teachings, this faith of ages, anew. And in that light, how painful, how shameful it is that too many media outlets simply take the chance to put Pope against Pope – as if Benedict was the old meanie whose policies are now being reverted by good Pope Francis. Rubbish.
This interview is exciting. It allows us to get to know Pope Francis on a far more personal level than before. From his preferences in music and films to his prayer habits and his certainties (and doubts) in the faith. Our faith, our Church, is built on a relationship, of course: the relationship between man and God. Relationships also play an important role on other levels of the Church. And how we relate to our Pope is one of those levels. If we know him, we can form a relationship with him, even if it is a one-sided one since he can impossibly know all of us.
So, thanks, Holy Father, for sharing a glimpse of your life and personality. It’s so easy to be critical of an anonymous man in white, but we can follow a person, with wishes, hopes, dreams, doubts, fears and faith.
In the days after the funeral of Bishop Jan Bluyssen, last Thursday, I’ve been reading a fair amount of criticism on how the Mass was performed. It was not in line with how the late bishop would have wanted it, some say. The large number of representatives of Church and state, the guild members in their folkloristic costumes, the clerics in cardinal red and bishop’s purple… all this are not becoming a bishop who was close to the people, who was loath to portray himself as lording it over the laity, who was, for many, a man among men, trying his best to serve the Lord and His Church as a bishop.
It should be noted here, that the funeral Mass was offered according to the liturgy of the Church. Attending bishops and other clergy were there to pay their respects to Bishop Bluyssen and they did so as prelates of the Church, which is not a 9-to-5 job, but, in lieu of their ordination, their identity. Bishop Bluyssen would have worn his liturgical clothing for the very same reason.
^Bishops attending the funeral Mass of Bishop Bluyssen. Clockwise from the top: Frans Wiertz (Roermond), Gerard de Korte (Groningen-Leeuwarden), Everard de Jong (aux. Roermond), Theodorus Hoogenboom (aux. Utrecht) and Joseph Lescrauwaet (aux. em. of Haarlem-Amsterdam). Behind them Cardinal Simonis.
Funerals are important. They are the final moment in which friends and family can bid farewell to a loved one, and a time to mourn that person. In that light, it is understandable that people feel ill at ease when a funeral seems to be about something else than the person being mourned. But when the funeral takes place from a Church, when the deceased (and hopefully his or her family and friends) are Catholic, there is an important element to the funeral that secular ceremonies lack. It is a Mass, so the first and most important focus is on Christ, and the deceased is seen and remembered in His light.
What does that mean for the Catholic Church funeral Mass? Is mourning and remembering out of the question? Certainly not, but there are two things we need to consider: death is not the end, and those left behind are not powerless in the face of death.
A person’s life on earth has ended, but we believe that the soul is immortal and will return to its Creator, barring any obstacles. Prayer is the most powerful tool we have to make sure those obstacles are removed or diminished, and that is where we, those left behind come in. Our prayer is an act of love for the person we miss.
The funeral Mass is a Mass. That means that it is primarily the remembrance and actualisation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, the single most redemptive event in our entire history. Christ defeated death by rising after three days. Our loved one who has passed away follows our Lord in death, in the hope of one day rising with Him. Here, our prayer comes in again.
Catholic funerals, then, are not first and foremost a remembrance or even a celebration of the life that has ended. It is our sending off the deceased into the hands of the One who defeated death once and for all, and the start of our duty of prayer towards him or her.
The funeral Mass should be considered, planned and discussed out of its identity as a Mass. All other elements, such as eulogies and music, must be measured against this. And then, sometimes, the conclusion must be made (by the person who is responsible for the liturgy of the Mass: the priest) that some things are not suitable for Mass, but can be more suitable for a separate occasion before or after the Mass.
The Mass is the Mass is the Mass: we leave our beloved in the hands of the Lord and help him or her with our prayers, in the faithful hope of being reunited one day, as we follow the example of the first to rise from the dead: Jesus Christ. This transcends any personal preferences or opinions. Jesus can’t be left out of the equation. In the end, a person’s life comes to fullness in the light of the Lord, and there is no better memory than entrusting him to that light and expecting a future reunion.
^ Bishop Hurkmans incenses the coffin and mortal remains of Bishop Bluyssen, just like the offerings to the Lord, and the Word we receive from Him, are incensed during the Mass.
Photo credit: Ramon Mangold
Last Sunday my fiancée and I were away from home – at least five dioceses* (or three countries) to be exact - so Mass was to be attended at an unfamiliar church in an unfamiliar language (well, at least partly). We opted for the Cathedral of St. Erik in Stockholm.
The cathedral is the mother church of the Diocese of Stockholm, which covers all of Sweden, and the seat of Bishop Anders Arborelius (who himself was in Rio when we visited his cathedral). It has been the cathedral since 1953, when Stockholm was established as a diocese, although it wasn’t consecrated until 1983.
As visits to other churches than my own, both in the Netherlands and in Germany, have made me a bit concerned about how the liturgy would be celebrated, I entered St. Erik’s with similar feelings. But, as it turned out, there was no need. The cathedral community and her priests understand liturgy and celebrate Mass as the Church requires. What they don’t do well, however, is architecture.
St. Erik’s is divided in two parts. There is the original church, which is a perfectly fine 19th century building, with lots of woodwork, paintings, stained glass, statues and two altars. Much is made of the 1989 visit of Blessed John Paul II, and the cathedral is the proud owner of a relic of the soon-to-be saint. The patron, Saint Erik himself, is also in evidence, as is St. Bridget, patron of Sweden. No complaints with this part of the building, except that it contains a gaping hole.
There is no main sanctuary.
Instead, where the sanctuary once upon a time was, there is now a nicely arched entry into the second haf of the building: a standard hall-like structure of the style which suffices for a meeting hall, multifunctional school room or other spacious area where a large number of people can meet. But a space where the sacrifice of our Lord can become present? Not so much. The contrast between the two parts of the church is quite jarring. It is a sign of the power of good liturgy that it is able to transcend this contrast, but why someone once elected to remove a perfectly good sanctuary, designed to elevate the soul and make the sacrifice of the Mass visible to its deepest level, and replace it with a brick room is anyone’s guess.
But not wanting to be a sour-puss, I’ll share some photos I took at the cathedral:
^The coat of arms of Pope Francis graces the front of the cathedral.
^The modern section of the cathedral, which does contain some positive elements: the tabernacle is impossible to miss, the altar has a Benedictine arrangement, and priests, deacons, acolytes and servers sit facing the tabernacle when not at altar or lectern.
^A relic of Blessed John Paul II’s blood, in a chapel in the archway leading from the original church to the newer section.
^ From the old to the new: both parts of the church seen together.
Lastly, a church is also made up out of people. One of these was Blessed John Paul II. Another is the unknown lady who approached us and told us her story in Swedish (we were not able to follow it all). Her tears touched us, as did her desire and hope for our future happiness. She gave us a tiny relic of the blessed Pope, a piece of fabric with his blood on it… **
*Seen from my home diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, these would be the Dioceses of Osnabrück and Münster, the Archdiocese of Hamburg, and the Dioceses of Copenhagen and Stockholm.
** And yes, it is official, containing an affidavit with Cardinal Vallini’s name and signature.
“Paprocki said he could accept some legal protections for same-sex couples, but that same-sex marriage is “inimical to the common good” and civil unions often are marriage masquerading under another name.”
“It is a good thing for states to regulate relations between people of the same sex, but for the Church that is not true marriage, between man and woman. So you must add a new word to the dictionary. But the fact that it is legal [...] is not something that the Church can say anything about.”
Two quotes from two different sources. In recent days, one has generally been hailed as brave and Catholic, the other as in defiance to what the Church teaches and pandering to society’s whims. The first quote is from Michael Clancy in the National Catholic Reporter, describing a comment made by Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield (pictured at left) in a debate about same-sex marriage, the other from Godfried Cardinal Danneels (pictured below) in an interview for De Tijd. Bishop Paprocki is generally much appreciated in orthodox Catholic circles, and rightly so, while Cardinal Danneels is not, and often just as rightly so. But in this case, it appears as if the same thoughts and comments are treated differently, solely based upon who uttered them.
The issue of same-sex marriage is a thorny one, as it involves two different schools of thought on what marriage is, the secular and the religious. Add to that the often emotional and personal involvement of many different people, and you have what appears to be a recipe for disaster. The former point is clear, for example, in Bishop Paprocki’s distinction between civil unions and marriage: that is a distinction the Church generally upholds, also for marriage between a man and woman, who don’t actually get married in the civil ceremony. That is another type of union, a profoundly secular one. And can the Church exert any influence on that, as Cardinal Danneels asks? He clearly says she can’t, whereas Bishop Paprocki considers it harmful to the common good, and so already says something about it. The Church can’t order the state on what to do, that much is true, but she can, indeed she must, remain vocal about what is and is not allowed in a state. That is a direct consequence of the Church having and upholding a set of morals. So if we read Cardinal Danneels’ comment as a statement against the Church saying anything about same-sex marriage, we are mistaken. And if Cardinal Danneels meant to say that, he is equally mistaken.
Balancing the Church’s opposition to a changed definition of marriage is the fact that she is called to defend the dignity of all humans, regardless of sex, creed, race, language or sexual orientation. In that context, the Church must welcome legal protection and benefits for persons with same-sex attraction, just as she must for others. If a state chooses to recognise the fact that two persons of the same sex have formed a union and therefore have the right to legal protection and recognition, the Church can’t do anything but support that. That is not the same as recognising the morality of that union, but merely a recognition that the union exists and that it involves two people with their innate human dignity. But a union between people, be they friends, family, of the same sex or different sexes, is not automatically marriage.
Marriage in the original Christian definition, is not only about a union between two people. There are other factors which combined make a union a marriage: the free decision to enter into it, for example, but also, and this is the one that caps the union both parties entered into, the openness to new life. If one of those, or other, factors are not present, there can be no marriage. It is a union, but not a marriage.
All the above, the facts on the ground, the dignity of all human beings and the morality of actions, do not change the Church’s teaching about same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general. In fact, they are all enveloped by this teaching. No one, in or outside the Church, can arbitrarily change the definition of marriage. But that fact should never be understood as discriminatory towards certain people, or as a reason to look down upon or exclude them. Their human dignity means that we are not allowed to do so. We must found a middle way between impossibility and rights, between facts and desires.
So, no, we can’t call a union between two persons of the same sex a marriage, as its very nature prevents it from fulfilling what marriage calls for: the openness to life. But neither can we bar people with same-sex attraction from the legal rights and protections enjoyed by other persons. So, as both Bishop Paprocki and Cardinal Danneels have stated, the Church can support a state’s legal regulation and protection of same-sex unions, but she can’t change what marriage is, can’t support the state doing that, and nor should she be forced to pretend to.
And in closing, let’s not muddle the issue, which is sensitive and difficult enough, with our thoughts about who said what. Even people we don’t often agree with can be correct.
Pope Francis’ recent homily about salvation, and even more so Father Thomas Rosica’s comments about it, has led to much speculation, confusion and even anger about one of the most essential questions in the faith: the question of who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. Maybe it’s good to shine a small light on this difficult theological topic.
First of all, let’s start with the words that Pope Francis spoke in his homily of 22 May:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”
The Church has always upheld the universality of redemption in contrast to some Protestant communities, who have limited it to a certain group of predestined faithful. A glance on the Catholic Encyclopedia page about this topic points our attention to some Scripture passages which bear this out. I’ll quote a few, but do read the link above especially the subsection titled ‘Universality of Redemption’, to get an idea of traditional Catholic teaching about this subject.
1 John 2:2: “He is the sacrifice to expiate our sins, and not only ours, but also those of the whole world.”
1 Timothy 2:4: “he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.”
1 Timothy 4:10: “he is the Saviour of the whole human race but particularly of all believers.”
2 Corinthians 5:19: “I mean, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, by which He brought about redemption for humanity, was not in any way limited. It’s target audience, so to speak, included every human being in past, present and future. But in order to properly understand this, we must try and understand how redemption works.
Perhaps it can be best likened, for the purpose of this blog post, to some form of medication, a pill perhaps, which works for everyone. It can relieve everyone of the pain of some illness. But it doesn’t do so automatically: we must take the pill for it to work. It is no different in the case of redemption. In order for it to work in us, we must make the conscious decision to accept it. That is once again perfectly in accordance with the free will that God has created us with and which He always respects.
So, yes, Pope Francis is correct and in full agreement with Catholic teaching when he says that Christ also redeemed atheists. However, as is sort of their job description, they haven’t accepted it yet. They haven’t yet taken their medication, so it can’t do its work. But unlike a pill, redemption has no sell-by date. It doesn’t go bad if left on the shelf for too long.
Father Thomas Rosica, who is not the press chief of the Vatican as some media would have it, offers some answers to questions about the Pope’s homily. He does not relegate all atheists to Hell (nor to Heaven, for that matter), but presents some much-needed nuance to the discussion, based on several passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Most important is that Christ is the final Judge: He will decide on the fate of everyone, based on how they have lived (and in that matter there can be no opposition between faith and works, as both are integral parts of a person’s life).
Also important in the discussion above is Paragraph 171 of the Catechism, which asks “What is the meaning of the affirmation “Outside the Church there is no salvation”?”
This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.
In short, if a person knows that the Church that Christ founded is necessary for salvation, and nonetheless refuses to be part of her, he or she can not be saved. So, is this true for atheists, then? I would say that it isn’t for the vast majority of them. Many people are atheist or agnostic out of ignorance, and generally not wilfully so. They do not know the Church as necessary for salvation, so it can’t be held against them if they refuse to be part of her.
In his homily of last Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke much about “good works”. This lines up well with the above quote from the Catechism: “those who … sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”
There is much more that may be said about this, but the post is getting overly long anyway, so I’ll leave it at this. But I will add an addendum:
Fr. Rosica’s explanations (and those of others) do not contradict what Pope Francis has said, and nor do they indicate some division in the Vatican between the Pope and the Curia. That many media do choose to present it as such, should serve as a warning to us to always remain vigilant when reading or hearing someone’s interpretation of Church affairs and teaching.
At a European conference on the emancipation of homosexuals in The Hague, an Amsterdam alderman has called for all religious leaders in the world to take their responsibility regarding the acceptance of homosexuals and transgendered people.
“As long as the Pope and most Muslim leaders do not accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation, millions of people will consider violence against gays, lesbians and transgendered people to be justified,” Andrée van Es (pictured), who holds the diversity and integration portfolio in the Amsterdam city council, said. This sweeping generalisation, putting religious leaders in all their diversity in the same corner, is not only a gross misrepresentation of reality, but also a worrying example of the imposition of one society’s political philosophy on others.
Writing as a Catholic and as a blogger with some knowledge of Catholic teachings on these matters, I will limit myself to the Church and her faith, leaving Muslim thoughts about homosexuality aside.
To begin with the very first words of the statement quoted above, I must explain that the Church does accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation: she accepts that it exists, that people can experience sexual attraction to people of the same gender. However, she does not accept it as a true expression of the ordered nature of man as created by God. That is why she will always be opposed to same-sex marriage, for example, as it is an impossibility. However, that is far from the same thing as advocating violence against homosexuals. The Church always upholds that ancient teaching of hating the sin, loving the sinner. Whatever a person’s sexual orientation, he or she has an innate dignity and should always be treated in accordance with that dignity that all men have been given. The Church will always defend that dignity, which is most visibly in her pro-life attitude, but also in her pastoral relations between individual faithful, laity and clergy alike.
However, and this is an important distinction that is often misunderstood or overlooked, this loving understanding of people’s equality in their human dignity is far from the same as accepting everything a person does (not is or has, but does). Indeed, when we love someone, we are bound to correct that person if he or she makes mistakes, and we should guide and help them in their lives, whatever the difficulties are that they may face over the course of it. Be it illness, poverty, social issues or a disordered sexuality, we must be there to stand with them, help them in their lives, to achieve the fulfillment of life as God has willed it. We are people with a purpose, created for that purpose, and God has given us the possibility to achieve that purpose, to live in unity with Him for all eternity, despite the obstacles and barriers that we find on our path. He has given us the means to overcome them, and we often find those means through the help of others.
That reality governs the actions of the Church. God has willed to reach out to us through her, that she may be there to lead us to Him. As members of His Church, we are called to make that possible. We do so through the love that Christ has showed us, and that is not a sappy kind of love which sees everything through rose-tinted glasses and accepts everything. No, that love wants the best for its object: us. And therefore it guides, corrects, teaches.
The Church accepts reality, but does not accept that that is all there is. We can and must always strive for something better, for the very best. God is that very best, and He is what we strive for.
All of the above commits us to something which is not easy, certainly not in our modern society. It can come across as discriminatory, hateful even. But just like a parent correcting a child, there can be no hate between God and man. The Church does not hate homosexuals. She loves them like she loves all men, and she teaches them through the faculties given to her by the Lord, in love, like a parent teaches, guides and sometimes has to correct a child.
When suggesting someone to do something, the first step to is to make sure you know what you are talking about. Ms. van Es has clearly failed to do this, as she so clearly links the Pope, and thus the Catholic Church, to violence. A cursory search soon comes up with Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
In 2008, while offering some criticism, the Holy See welcomed
“the attempts made in the statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity – presented at the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2008 – to condemn all forms of violence against homosexual persons as well as urge States to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them” [source].
In 2009, the Permanent Mission to the UN reiterated much the same sentiments:
“The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. The murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State” [source].
Three quotes found through a short search via Google and Wikipedia. Ms. van Es could and should have known much better.
Photo credit: Gemeente Amsterdam