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These days this blog certainly gives the impression of being preoccupied with death. But, then again, death is part of life, and when it encroaches we can benefit by acknowledging it. So, with that, in mind, onwards to another post about a death in the local Catholic family.
Last night a life ended that was greatly animated by concern for others, both abroad and at home. Also a life that was not without its critics, who accused it of being perhaps too generally spiritual as opposed to Catholic, and on some topics far too liberal. But that criticism did not leave its mark. Silence, care and simply doing what needed doing did.
Bishop Martinus Petrus Maria Muskens passed away last night at the age of 77. The final years of his life were marked by ever decreasing health and mobility, although he was able to attend several major celebrations within the Diocese of Breda, including the 50th anniversary of his own ordination to the priesthood. Bishop Muskens is survived by his own predecessor, Bishop Huub Ernst, and two of his predecessors, Bishop Hans van den Hende and Jan Liesen, as bishops of Breda.
Bishop Muskens, whose first name was usually shortened to ‘Tiny’, started his life in the Church as a priest of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch in 1962. His study of missiology at Nijmegen led him to Indonesia, where he worked for eight years as director of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference’s documentation centre. In 1978, Father Muskens went to Rome, to become rector of the Dutch College and teach Church history at two international colleges. One of his most noted efforts there was the restoration of the Church of Saints Michael and Magnus, better known as the Church of the Frisians. Today this church is the home base for Dutch pilgrims and officials in Rome. In 1994, Pope John Paul II appointed him as the ninth bishop of Breda. Bishop Muskens was consecrated by his predecessor, Bishop Huub Ernst, which marked his first permanent return to the Netherlands since he left for Indonesia. Marking his international and interfaith outlook that would come to the fore in later years, Bishop Muskens chose the simple word “Shalom”, Peace, as his motto.
Following two minor strokes in 2001, Bishop Muskens decided to request a coadjutor and an early retirement. These were both granted in 2006, in the form of Bishop Hans van den Hende, and in 2007, when Bishop Muskens joined the Benedictine community in Teteringen, where he was simply known as “Brother Martinus”. Shortly afterwards, a chance collision with a cyclist led to him breaking his hip. He never walked again without the aid of a cane, and at major celebrations he was usually present in choir or in a pew at the front of the church.
In his years as bishop of Breda, Msgr. Muskens was perhaps the most visible bishop in the media. Several of his statements and convictions caused ripples in society and also within the Church. He was, for example, in favour of abolishing mandatory celibacy for priests, and suggested the use of condoms as a lesser evil. He was also in favour of female deacons. On the other hand, other acts and statements made him quite popular in society. He said that a homeless person should be allowed to steal a bread if that meant survival, and at another occasion he slept in a doorway to underline the plight of homeless people. This social engagement gave him the nickname I used in this blog post’s title: the Red Bishop.
His experience in dealing with Islam was also visible in his work as bishop. He suggested that the Dutch national holiday of the second day of Pentecost be traded for a holiday to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid, since the former lacks any theological basis. He also suggested we address God also with the name Allah. On the other hand, he was also critical of Islam. The dialogue between Christians and Muslims has no future, he said in 2007, as long as countries in the Middle East continue to forbid the construction of churches.
Like him or not, there is no denying that Bishop Tiny Muskens was a character, and he knew it. He knew the importance of sometimes shaking up set morals and convictions. As such, he leaves some big shoes to fill, but I’ll go as far as to say that we could use someone to fill them.
Journalist Arjan Broers, who wrote three books with and about the bishop, characterises Bishop Muskens in the epilogue to one of those books:
“In this book, you won’t read how all sorts of people feel at ease with Muskens, because they don t need to pretend with him. You will neither read how people often felt visibly uncomfortable with him. Not out of awe for His Excellency, but because he is so hard to fathom.
You will not read how Muskens can pester people [...]. You won’t read how he can act like a tank, by walking into a Church institution in Rome, bishop’s cross on his chest like an imposing identification, and keep on walking and asking until he gets what he wants. And you’ll neither read how, at other times, he accepts how things are without a fight.”
A tank, a man with a mission he simply had to see through, Bishop Muskens got away with it and did what he understood as the right thing. And he simply did it, without much words, as he was perfectly at ease with silence. Silence just because it’s silent.
The Requiem Mass and funeral will take place on 23 April in the Cathedral of St. Anthony in Breda. Bishop Muskens will be laid to rest in the family grave in his native Elshout.
Photo credit: R. Mangold
Yet another conflict erupts in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch as the diocese removes a priest and a deacon from their parish. The reason: they refuse to cooperate with the diocese’s plans to merge parishes. As has become standard, it seems, in these situations, the parish council has resigned and the clergymen announced to hold and alternative Mass in a nearby school, despite the diocese’s decision to remove both men from active ministry for now.
But Father Richard Schreurs (pictured) and Deacon Hans van der Laar, formerly of the parish of St. Anthony in Best, have relented from doing the latter after the diocese pointed out that, in holding alternative services, both men would place themselves and their faithful outside the Church, which can be understood as being excommunicated. It is important to note here that the diocese does not threaten to punish the priest and deacon, but excommunication is something that we call upon ourselves by our actions, without any formal declaration from ecclesiastical authorities. In that sense, it is not so much a punishment levelled against a person by a priest, bishop, or even the Pope, but the recognition, by the Church, of a situation that has come into being.
In the past few years there have been several instances of local clergy, faithful and communities disagreeing quite audibly with the diocese. In more than a few cases, this was triggered by the diocese acting against trends which had been allowed to develop for years, but it’s not completely honest to lay the blame with the diocese. Reinforcing Catholic teaching and spiritual life can only be a good thing, but it is also understandable that feelings get hurt if people have the impression that things that seemed to have been allowed for years are suddenly no longer allowed. The standard Catholic situation has, in the minds of the people, become the exception, after all.
The situation outlined above is somewhat different, however – not a difference in teaching and practice, but a refusal to go along with the wishes of the diocese – but the way both parties act is quite the same. And much of the reason why this happens must be a clear lack of communication to the outside world. If people feel misunderstood and attacked by the other party, like in St. Anthony’s (church pictured), they turn to others to have their stories heard. In this case that is often the media who, sadly, often spin the stories in their own ways. Of course, conflicts needs to be able to be resolved by the parties involved, if necessary through mediation by a third party. This situation has somewhat escalated, so it may be a bit more difficult to resolve as it should be. Part of that resolution is a clear understanding by the parish in question that it is not an island, but part of a diocese. Likewise, the clergy must realise they owe a level of obedience to their bishop and can’t just strike out on their own. On the other hand, diocese and bishop must work towards the best resolution for the conflict, and that includes making sure that a level o trust and confidence is maintained. If the other party feels to need to go public with their story, some of that confidence has already been lost.
Is that the end of the story, then? Happily, it is not. We need only look back at some other recent conflicts in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. In the parish of San Salvator, faithful refused access to Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, who had been appointed as administrator of the rather liberal parish. Faithful broke away and held their own services just around the corner. Today, the parish is young and alive under the guidance of Fr. Geertjan van Rossem and recently ordained Fr. Patrick Kuis (both pictured, with a group of children preparing for their First Communion), is active in social media and has a newly refurbished church as the architect intended. But, it must be added, the breakaway community still exists and continues to be active outside the Church.
Similarly, in Tilburg, the student chaplaincy received a new priest who intended to return Catholic practice and faith to the daily proceedings of the community, which lead, once again, to the parish council resigning and many hurt feelings displayed in the media, even before the new priest, Fr. Michiel Peeters, had been able to start his work for the chaplaincy. In this case, the faithful who quit did not take a group of faithful with them, but the ‘success’ of Fr. Peeters’ appointment and the new direction of the chaplaincy still remains to be seen, although it seems that there is definitely some successful outreach to students.
Photo credit:  montfortanen.nl,  Irene Wouters,  San Salvatorparochie
No April Fool’s joke, the announcement made by Father Leendert Spijkers on Easter Sunday: granted by Pope Benedict XVI back in February, the 15th century church of St. Peter in Oirschot, Diocese of ’s Hertogenbosch is to be elevated to the status of basilica minor. Bishop Antoon Hurkmans will make the official declaration some time in the summer, making it his diocese’s fourth basilica.
The church of St. Peter in Oirschot dates from 1515, replacing its predecessor which had burned down in 1462. From 1648 to 1799 the church was Protestant, and it wasn’t until 1904 that the local parish regained full ownership of church and tower. In the war, the tower was severely damaged from Allied gunfire, and it took until 1952 for restorations to be completed. The church is one of the largest remaining Gothic village churches in the province of North Brabant. The furnishings are partly original and partly taken from demolished churches with the altars dating from around 1700 and 1766 respectively. The church has been a national monument since 1966.
Age and a certain esthetic value are but two elements which can make a church a basilica. Another, and certainly not the least important, is the presence of a certain devotion within an active parish community. In the case of St. Peter’s, that devotion is to the ‘Holy Oak’.
The story goes that, some time in the early 15th century, two shepherds found a statue of the Blessed Virgin on the banks of the Beerze stream. They placed it an oak, but inhabitants of nearby Middelbeers took the statue and put it in their church. The next morning, though, the statue was back in the oak. Villagers of Oirschot came to venerate the statue, and there were reports of miraculous healings.
A chapel was built on the place of the oak, and an annual procession developed to that spot. Oak and chapel were removed in 1649, but a new chapel (view of the interior pictured) was erected in 1854, on the foundations of the old one. The original statue resides in St. Peter’s, but a replica remains at the chapel. Some 250,000 pilgrims and visitors find their way to Mary of the Holy Oak every year.
Photo credit:  Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed,  Parish of St. Peter, Oirschot
It’s a bit late, but since there is an interest in it, here is the schedule for the Holy Week celebrations in the Dutch cathedrals. As ever, things may change at any time, but since this information is taken from the various diocesan websites, it should simply be accurate.
Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, Cathedral of St. Joseph:
Wednesday, 19:30: Chrism Mass
Maundy Thursday, 19:00: Mass offered by Bishop Gerard de Korte
Good Friday, 14:00: Stations of the Cross for children
Good Friday, 15:00: Stations of the Cross
Good Friday, 19:00: Service of the Passion of the Lord
Holy Saturday, 22:00: Easter Vigil
Easter Sunday, 11:00: Mass
Easter Monday, 11:00: Mass
Archdiocese of Utrecht, Cathedral of St. Elisabeth:
Wednesday, 19:00: Chrism Mass (at the Church of St Mary in Apeldoorn).
Wednesday, 21:00: Tenebrae and Lauds, followed by silent prayer until 8 o’clock the next morning
Maundy Thursday, 19:30: Mass offered by Cardinal Wim Eijk
Maundy Thursday, 21:30 Tenebrae and Lauds
Good Friday, 8:00: Morning Prayers
Good Friday, 15:00: Stations of the Cross (at the church of St. Augustine)
Good Friday, 19:30: Service of the Passion of the Lord, led by Cardinal Eijk
Good Friday, 21:30: Tenebrae and Lauds
Holy Saturday, 16:00-17:00: Confession
Holy Saturday, 21:00: Easter Vigil, offered by Cardinal Eijk
Easter Sunday, 10:30: Mass offered by Cardinal Eijk
Easter Monday, 10:30: Mass
Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, Cathedral Basilica of St. Bavo:
Wednesday, 19:30: Chrism Mass (for both the diocese and the Military Ordinariate).
Maundy Thursday, 19:30: Mass
Good Friday, 15:00: Stations of the Cross
Good Friday, 19:30: Service of the Passion of the Lord, led by Bishop Jos Punt
Good Friday, 21:00: Tenebrae
Holy Saturday, 21:30: Easter Vigil
Easter Sunday, 10:00: Mass offered by Bishop Punt
Easter Monday, 10:00: Mass
Diocese of Rotterdam, Cathedral of Sts. Lawrence and Elisabeth:
Wednesday, 19:30: Chrism Mass
Maundy Thursday, 19:30: Mass, followed by a prayer vigil until 7 o’clock the next morning
Good Friday, 10:30: Stations of the Cross for children
Good Friday, 15:00: Stations of the Cross
Good Friday, 19:30: Service of the Passion of the Lord
Holy Saturday: 22:30: Easter Vigil, offered by Bishop Hans van den Hende
Easter Sunday, 11:00: Mass offered by Bishop van den Hende
Easter Monday, 11:30: Mass offered by Bishop van den Hende
Diocese of Breda, Cathedral of St. Anthony:
Wednesday, 19:00: Chrism Mass (at the church of St. Gummarus in Wagenberg).
Maundy Thursday, 19:00: Mass, offered by Bishop Jan Liesen
Good Friday, 15:00: Service of the Passion of the Lord, led by Bishop Liesen
Good Friday, 19:00: Stations of the Cross, led by Bishop Liesen
Holy Saturday, 21:00: Easter Vigil, offered by Bishop Liesen
Easter Sunday, 10:30: Mass, offered by Bishop Liesen
Easter Monday, 10:30: Mass (at the Begijnhof chapel)
Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Cathedral Basilica of St. John:
Wednesday, 19:00: Chrism Mass
Maundy Thursday, 19:30: Mass
Good Friday, 15:00: Service of the Passion of the Lord
Good Friday, 19:00: Stations of the Cross
Holy Saturday, 22:00: Easter Vigil
Easter Sunday, 10:00: Mass
Easter Sunday, 11:45: Mass
Easter Monday, 11:00: Mass
Diocese of Roermond, Cathedral of St. Christopher:
Wednesday, 19:00: Chrism Mass
Maundy Thursday, 18:30: Mass, offered by Bishop Everard de Jong (at the Munster)
Good Friday, 15:00: Stations of the Cross, led by Bishop Frans Wiertz
Good Friday, 19:00: Service of the Passion of the Lord, led by Bishop Wiertz (at the Munster)
Holy Saturday, 20:30: Easter Vigil offered by Bishop Wiertz
Easter Sunday, 11:30: Mass offered by Bishop Wiertz
Easter Monday, 11:30: Mass
A few days ago the financial numbers over the 2011 Kerkbalans were published. Kerkbalans is the overall campaign taking care of the financing of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, as well as several Protestant church communities. It supports the local parish initiatives of raising money, as the state nor the diocese in question does so. The money raised by the parishes goes to support their own activities, the salaries of priests, deacons, pastoral workers and others, the maintenance of buildings and contributions to the diocese. Kerkbalans makes up the bulk of this, while the remainder is made of money raised by possessions and investments.
The total income of the parishes has dropped 3%, compared with 2010, to a total of some 164 million euros (218.8 USD). The parishes expended some 179 million euros (238.8 USD), a drop of 2%, but still an imbalance when compared to what came in. But a light on the horizon as that this is the first instance in years that expenditure dropped. Shortage has increased to more than 15 million euros (20 million USD).
Comparing the numbers per diocese, it is clear that the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, although the smallest of the seven Dutch dioceses, tops the list with the highest percentual Kerkbalans income: 52% of the total, some 3.5 million euros (4.7 million USD). But as far as collections go, it is in the bottom tier, with a mere 10%. The Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch tops the list in exact numbers,, with a total income of 36 million euros (48 million USD), except when it comes to collections (topped by the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam with 4.5 million euros (6 million USD), and Kerkbalans (topped by the Archdiocese of Utrecht with 14.6 million euros (19.5 million USD). All these numbers are strictly the income of parishes.
When it comes to expenses, ‘s Hertogenbosch also leads that list, with 40 million euros (53.4 USD). Utrecht leads in te categories of personnel costs (15.4 million euros (20.5 million USD)) and the costs of services and pastoral care (4.5 million euros (6 million USD)).
There is an imbalance, then, which keeps growing, certainly where Kerkbalans is concerned. This is a serious issue, and most dioceses have paid attention to this, or are in the process of doing so. The most visible step is the merger of parishes and consolidation of assets of local communities. This is taking place in Groningen-Leeuwarden, Utrecht, ‘s Hertogenbosch and Haarlem-Amsterdam. Another, more painful, choice for cutting costs is the slimming down of personnel numbers.
But in the end, income needs to be raised. It is perhaps a measure of how successful parishes are in engaging the faithful in their territory. The people are there (albeit in dwindling numbers), I think, but with fairly low numbers of frequent churchgoers (nowhere more than 7 or 8 % of the total number of Catholics), the money isn’t being raised when Kerkbalans and collections are only brought to people’s attention in the church or via church media such as parish magazines and websites.
With the publication of these numbers, Kerkbalans 2013 was also launched. It once again follows the renewed template launched in 2005, which intensified local efforts. Where these intensified efforts are put into practice, Kerkbalans reports, income increases. This is perhaps clearest in the Diocese of Roermond, where Kerkbalans income has remained at the same level as in 2010. Overall, some 41% of Catholic families contribute in some to Kerkbalans. This is the same percentage as in 2010, although the number of Catholics has dropped with 75,000. In total, there were 4,091,000 Catholics in the Netherlands in 2010, which means that each Catholic would contribute 14 euros (19 USD). Taking only the 41% who actually did, we see that every person contribute some 77 euros (102 USD) to Kerkbalans, which is a drop from 79 euros (105 USD) per person.
86-year-old Bishop Johannes Bluyssen - emeritus ordinary of ‘s Hertogenbosch and the sole surviving Dutch Council father – has spent the past few days in hospital, suffering from undisclosed heart problems. He has already been moved out of intensive care, where he was admitted with breathing problems and severe fatigue. Happily, the news broke today that things have quite improved, and from one of the priests of the cathedral we hear that Msgr. Bluyssen may return to his home at ‘s Hertogenbosch’s St. John’s seminary on Sunday.
In the meantime, as the third-oldest bishop of our little country is not out of the woods yet, let’s call on the intercession of St. John of God, patron saint of heart patients, for the bishop’s increasing and continuing wellbeing.
In 2009 I had the privilege of being a guest at the Maranatha church in Tilburg, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. This church is the home of the student chaplaincy in that city and as such hosts the activities of several student bodies. A priest is appointed for the pastoral care of students and staff of nearby Tilburg University.
The students and priest during my visit were perfectly hospitable to me and the other guests. There was food, there was conversation, there was interest in one another. There was only one problem. Only after my visit had concluded did I realise I had in fact been in a Catholic church.
While merriment and nourishment that was on offer are not alien to Catholics (on the contrary), there was little else to indicate the Catholic identity of church and even the priest. The interior of the church, picture at left, was a rectangular space marked by bare stone, concrete and bricks. There was an altar table of sorts, but no visible tabernacle, or any other indication of the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The priest, Fr. Hub Lenders, was dressed in his casuals, perfectly fine for the warm summer weather of that day, but perfectly unsuitable to indicate the fact that he was a priest and as such available for pastoral care and distributing the sacraments. If I was told he was the caretaker of the church, I would have also believed it.
This is a situation which is, sadly, not unique to the Maranatha church. There is still a major lack of identity in many Dutch churches and priests. And the results are easily understood, and in evidence at the Maranatha church: the Catholic identity is watered down in order to befit communion with the local Protestant communities. Ecumenical services in which a cracker is shared with anyone who wants to, whether they are Catholic or even religious or not, and the condoning of same-sex relations, abortion, euthanasia and many other things which society promotes, but which are at odds with Catholic teaching, were the result. For many of the students and staff attending services at the church there was virtually no clear difference between Catholic and Protestant, religious and irreligious. The message being communicated was that the only thing that matters was goodwill. While there are always exceptions, I do think this was generally the rule.
But the diocese is finally ready to change things, using the retirement of Fr. Lenders as an excuse. It has appointed Fr. Michiel Peeters (picture at right) as his successor; a young priest with experience abroad and also a Dutch blogger at the critical and active blog Voorhof.net. While Fr. Peeters intends the maintain the church community’s ‘living room’ atmosphere, he is also tasked with bringing it back in line with the diocese and the world Church and her teachings and faith. This requires an accurate presentation and communication of what that faith is. Ecumenical ‘table prayers’ are out, a proper licit Mass in is.
Of course there are protests, as there usually always are when things change ofter a long time. And now, like often, these protests flow from a lack of knowledge about the faith of the Church and an almost Protestant understanding of what faith and church are. And while we share much with our Protestant brothers and sisters, this is not one of those things.
For the students of Tilburg and the Maranatha church this means a renewed introduction to the Catholic faith and the Catholic understanding of what the Church is: in the first place sacramental and educational, and from that flows her outreach to the world, Catholic or not.
Photo credit:  Baasjochem/Flickr,  Peter de Koning/Brabants Centrum
In a welcome decision, Father René Wilmink, the dean of Eindhoven in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, took a stand against the ridiculisation of the Holy Mass. In discussion with the local carnival federation, Fr. Wilmink insisted that future carnival Masses – which are usually accompanied by priests dressed up, no sense of worthy reception of Holy Communion, and a general party atmosphere in the church – can only continue in his church of St. Catherine if they stay close to the heart of the faith.
A representative of the carnival club said: “In his case that means that we will no longer have a say about the liturgy and that there can’t be any carnivalesque forms of expression on or around the altar or sanctuary”.
Is this guy for real? First of all, the liturgy belongs to the Church, not to a club of partygoers, and secondly, Fr. Wilmink doesn’t go his own way here, but that of the Church. In the celebration of the Mass, no one has any business in the sanctuary, unless they have a task to perform in the liturgy. And no, a clown, a juggler or a lector dressed up as a sailor have no business in the liturgy whatsoever. The Mass has a rather different focus and meaning.
Sadly, the Augustin fathers do welcome the carnival Mass in their church, which belongs to the Mariënhage monastery and as such falls outside the jurisdiction of the dean or the diocese (although, while the church in question remains the property of the Augustines, all pastoral care was handed to the city parish of Eindhoven some five years ago). The Augustine fathers are more than happy to “work with” the carnival federation “to preserve the carnival Mass for Eindhoven”.
Photo credit:  Image of the 2010 carnival Mass, Niels van Rooij
It’s a week ago now, but I figured it would be nice to give an impression of how the Year of Faith was opened in the Netherlands. All dioceses marked the occasion with special Masses in either the cathedral or another major church in the diocese.
The Archdiocese of Utrecht played host to a national symposium on the four great Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. Some 250 people attended, a number that could perhaps have been higher if the symposium wasn’t open to clergy and pastoral workers only.
The Mass which started off the symposium was offered by Wim Cardinal Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht. In his homily he looked back at the fruits of the Council, but also the responses to it. The cardinal noted that, “On the one hand there are people who are disappointed, because the Council did not bring the fruits they had hoped for. And on the other hand there are people who make the reproach that the current crisis in the Church was caused by the Council.” He went on to say that both responses are unjust. The roots of secularisation were already laid well before the Council – as, for example, Blessed Titus Brandsma already noticed – and the discussion about celibacy and liturgy was already being held in the 1950s.
In Breda Bishop Jan Liesen, pictured at right during the symposium mentioned above, offered a Mass in the cathedral of St. Anthony. About the Year of Faith he said:
“The Year of Faith is a year in which to listen to God, to the spirit which has been poured out in our hearts. Put differently: our Church does not revolve around an organisation, but around a living person, Christ. The Gospels speak of how Jesus continuously presented people with the question, “Who do you say I am?” Other religions may have a book, a great way of life or something. We Christians do not have that, at least not as the heart of our faith: we have the person of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Liesen also spoke about our spiritual life, which we need to nurture in order to be evangelisers ourselves.
“To make work of your spiritual life – how do you do that? It is a matter of choosing, really choosing. In our time we have somewhat forgotten what choosing is, maybe or probably because we have such material wealth. We can walk past shop windows in long shopping streets and pick what we like. We then think that we have made a choice, but we haven’t. We were looking for something and left much where it was and brought that one thing home, but that is not choosing. There comes a time when we don’t like what we have brought home anymore and then we’ll get something else. That is not choosing: it is merely the satisfaction of a desire, whether it is real or imaginary. Because of such a materialistic way of life, which is being promoted in all manners imaginable and which we should not underestimate or make illusions about when it concerns ourselves – because of that way of life we sometimes deal with people in the same way, and we drop them when they no longer suit us. But really choosing when it concerns a person means: choosing that one as he or she is and not dripping them to choose another. That is the basis of true friendship, that is the basis of marriage and family, and that is also the basis of spiritual life, of the conversation with God.”
The final topic that Bishop Liesen touched upon was the Eucharist. He re-emphasised the central place that that sacrament has in our faith, and his desire (and presumably intention as well) to cut down the number of Communion service in his diocese. These services have, in many places, become more of a habit and a celebration of the community instead of a necessity when there is no priest available, and water down the valuable role of the Eucharist in our lives.
In the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the Year of Faith was opened at the shrine of Our Lady of Need in Heiloo. In his homily, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks spoke about faith, saying:
“Faith is a mercy and we can be grateful that we have received that mercy.
Faith requires surrender, giving up control, confidence that you are safe in the loving care of a heavenly Father, that everything will turn out alright, no matter how many setbacks and suffering you may find on your way.
No matter how much evil and how many problems there are: because of faith our life is an ascent to God. Without faith it would be nothing but decomposition, descent, a pointless event with a sad ending.
Faith also requires humility, because it entails us bowing down for a higher power, for someone who can dictate the law to you.
Our Catholic faith lets us know Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. It lets us understand the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts and gently leads us to the heavenly Father, who is source and purpose of all of creation.
Through our Catholic faith we also got to know and venerate Mary, who is our Mother through Jesus, as an example of faith, as intercessor and mediator.”
And about evangelisation, he added:
“Whatever we do in the Church, we must first be Christians.
Every priest, every believer must first be a Christian.
The work that we do in the Church can’t be an exterior job, but an expression of our love for Christ, expression of our faith.”
Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, who opened the Year of Faith in the cathedral basilica of St. John in Den Bosch, spoke about having faith in our time:
“Today every faithful is individually faced with a great challenge. The Second Vatican Council already foresaw this. This Council was intended to bring the Church up to date, a way of returning to the source. It again placed Holy Scripture at the heart. It looked for the vital sources of the Church of the future in the young Church of the Church Fathers. You and I, we are confronted with an increasingly secularised world. We shouldn’t want to walk away from that. We should be strong by resisting the difficulties of this time and witness of our faith in the world of today, with the sources of the Council. There are numerous difficulties. The Church in our part of the world grows smaller, we must dispose of church buildings. It’ll be increasingly difficult to pass on the faith to future generations. Acting according to the faith in marriage, in celibacy, in politics is increasingly at odds with what’s going on in society. What matters now is to believe or not: to entrust yourself to God. To travel the way with Him. When you have faith, confess this faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit openly. God will take care of you. He will give you life. Confess your faith in the Church. Do not stay alone. Participate, as the Council asks, in the life of the Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life. Be there, every Sunday. Immerse yourself in the liturgy, in Holy Scripture and never forget to serve the poor. Faith must be expressed in action.”
In Roermond Bishop Frans Wiertz referred to the collection of ten local Saints and Blesseds, from 4th-century St. Servatius to St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, who was killed in Auschwitz in 1942, who were gathered in the cathedral of St. Christopher as examples of the faith. The bishop said about this:
“We are gathered here as faithful from all directions of our local Church. And we are not alone, but in the presence of a number of prominent blesseds and saints from our area, men and women who represent the faith of many centuries, who represent all those people who preceded us in the faith.”
In the Diocese of Rotterdam, Bishop Hans van den Hende opened the Year of Faith in the Basilica of St. Liduina and Our Lady of the Rosary in Schiedam. In his homily he discussed Pope Benedict’s Apostolic letter Porta Fidei, in which the Holy Father announced the Year of Faith, and on the Second Vatican Council, but also on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. Summarising the Year of Faith, the bishops said:
“The Year of Faith, brothers and sisters, regards all aspects of our life in faith. To confess that God exists, that His Son became men, that the Holy Spirit always wants to inspire us. To celebrate our faith in the Eucharist and the other sacraments and to be careful with the Words of Scripture. We do so as true listeners to the message of God and also by truly living as Christians and to be recognisable in our words and actions as friends of the Lords, and fourth, to keep up the conversation with the Lord.”
In Groningen, Bishop Gerard de Korte also opened the Year of Faith, with a Mass at the cathedral of St. Joseph, but the text of his homily is sadly not available online.
Photo credit: ,  Ramon Mangold,  Peter van Mulken