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Last week, American social media evangelist and orthodox Catholic Michael Voris visited the Netherlands for two lectures. He also recorded an episode of The Vortex, his regular program on ChurchMilitant.tv. Watch it below:
Some may disregard Voris as overly alarmist, but I think he is rather spot-on. When it comes to transmitting the faith in its entirety, we are faced with enormous challenges in the Netherlands, a society which generally does not accept the existence of absolute truths and a division between right and wrong.
I am also glad to see that he is evidently not alone in this, as Bishop Rob Mutsaerts’ words, quoted by Voris, fit in well with the general theme of this talk.
Two days ago, Pope Francis spoke about the often-heard comment of people who are generally spiritual, even generally believe in God, but won’t go so far as to say anything concrete about what they believe in. The Holy Father asked, “But who is this God you believe in? An ‘all over the place’ god, a ‘god-spray’ so to speak, who is a little bit everywhere but who no-one really knows anything about? We believe in God who is Father, who is Son, who is Holy Spirit. We believe in Persons, and when we talk to God we talk to Persons: or I speak with the Father, or I speak with the Son, or I speak with the Holy Spirit. And this is the faith. “
God-spray… there’s an image. Father Tim Finigan got creative and advertised the imaginary product thusly:
All joking aside, the image and wording is thought-provoking and indicates what our faith is: not just some vague background noise to make us occasionally feel good, but a true relationship with a God who allows Himself to be known. We can know God, and we can let Him direct our lives. There are consequences to faith. If there weren’t, it wouldn’t really be faith.
“[T]he liturgy is the celebration of the central event of human history, the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Thus it bears witness to the love with which God loves humanity, to the fact that human life has a meaning and that it is through their vocation that men and women are called to share in the glorious life of the Trinity. Humanity needs this witness.
People need to perceive, through the liturgical celebrations, that the Church is aware of the lordship of God and of dignity of the human being. She has the right to be able to discern, over and above the limitations that will always mark her rites and ceremonies, that Christ “is present in the sacrifice of Mass and in the person of the minister” (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7).”
- Pope Benedict XVI to a group of French bishops on their ad limina visit,
17 November 2012
In the coming weeks I will be writing about the Sacra Liturgia conference that will be held in Rome from 25 to 28 June. The conference ”on liturgical formation, celebration and mission” is the brainchild of Bishop Dominique Rey of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon in France and draws its inspiration in part from the teaching and person of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who strongly encouraged Bishop Rey’s initiative.
Why a major conference on the liturgy, and why special attention to it in this blog? Pope Benedict has spoken about it many times, both during his pontificate and as priest, bishop and cardinal. The quote I chose to place at the top is only the most recent I could quickly find, but it does give an indication of the reason. Our faith comes from God; it is His gift to us. In the liturgy, centered around the sacrifice of the Eucharist, God comes very near to us, nearer than we can ever hope to come to Him if left to our own devices. Since God is near to us, we must take care to show that in how we celebrate and participate in the liturgy. And because this is the place where God is tangible for us, the liturgy takes up a central place in our faith and life as Catholics. That means that we can’t take it for granted, but should treat the liturgy as an opportunity to learn and grow, and that is what the conference wants to aid in.
During the conference, various speakers will address a proper selection of liturgy topics. Standing out for me, upon a reading of the list of speakers, are Cardinal Raymond Burke (Liturgical law in the Mission of the Church), Archbishop Alexander Sample (The Bishop: governor, promoter and guardian of liturgical life of the diocese), Monsignor Guido Marini (Ars celebrandi in the Sacred Liturgy), Monsignor Stefan Heid (The Early Christian Altar – Lessons for Today), Father Uwe Michael Lang (Sacred Art and Architecture at the service of the Mission of the Church), Father Paul Gunter (Academic Formation in the Sacred Liturgy), Father Nicola Bux (Liturgical catechesis and the New Evangelisation), Dom Alcuin Reid (Sacrosanctum Concilium and Liturgical Formation) and Mr. Jeffrey Tucker (The Liturgical Apostolate and the Internet), although any choice here is strictly based on the various topic titles. I will be profiling several of the speakers in the coming weeks, with, obviously, a special focus on their thoughts and actions regarding the liturgy.
All the relevant information regarding prices, accommodation and, certainly not least, the speakers and their topics can be found via the link I supplied above. Personally, I would have attended if it was within my means, but I’ll have to make do with a digital presence, via this blog and various social media.
It’s been a while since this blog featured some words by the great archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard. Below is my translation of his homily on the occasion of Pope Francis’ installation, yesterday.
The cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, where the Mass was held, could not house all the faithful who had come. Among them was Queen Fabiola. Archbishop Léonard concelebrated with the other Belgian bishops – except for Ghent’s Bishop Van Looy, who was in Rome – Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, and Archbishop Alain Lebeaupin, Nuncio to the European Union.
The archbishop speaks about the unreserved faith of St. Joseph, and also paints a picture of Pope Francis which shows him as a continuation of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in his modesty and humility.
“Providence decided that the inthronisation of Pope Francis would take place on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, but also patron saint of Belgium. Allow me to consider that a small wink in our direction…
This morning the bishop of Ghent, Monsignor Luc Van Looy, represented the bishops of Belgium at the installation in Rome. I am grateful to him for that, as well as to our voting cardinal, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who stayed in Rome for the occasion. In the spirit of simplicity that already characterises our new Holy Father, and since the Belgian representation in Rome was already assured, I thought it better to stay in Belgium to thank God with you all and with my fellow bishops for the gift of Pope Francis.
Saint Joseph played a major part in our salvation history. Eve though he is only the foster father, not the biological father of Jesus, it is yet he who, within the framework of Jewish law, assures that Jesus – the Messiah (in Hebrew) or the Christ (in Greek) – descends from David, of whom we heard in the first reading of this liturgy.
The second reading was chosen to illustrate the faith of Saint Joseph, which may be compared to that of Abraham. For Abraham had faith without reservations in the word of God, which proclaimed that he, despite his and his wife’s advanced age, would be the father of many peoples. And he kept believing in that, even if the apparent death of Isaac, his only son, seemed to rob him of any hope of offspring. Abraham had faith in God, without any reservations. And because of that God recognised him as righteous.
But Joseph as well, he too, had to believe – almost blindly, in a complete surrender – that what had happened with his wife Mary came from God and not from man. He had to efface himself in a radical faith, for an act of God which transcends any understanding; an act which makes us say in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”
And the Gospel of today shows us what it cost Joseph, but Mary as well, to make themselves so very small for that mysterious work in Jesus. “Son,” Mary says to Jesus, ”why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And then that shocking answer of Jesus! The answer of a child who is only twelve years old, but who already knows that he came from God, who knows, deep inside, what we express in the Nicean Creed, that He is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” Hence His confusing answer: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary had spoken about “Your father and I”, but Jesus quietly corrects His mother’s words: He speaks of “My Father” when He refers to the God of Israel, who resides in the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus has stayed behind in Jerusalem, that is not the flight of a teenager, but because He – in the innocence of twelve-year-old child - wanted to stay in the House of Him who is His true Father: “In my Father’s house is where I had to be”. And Luke acutely says about Joseph and Mary, “they did not understand what he said to them”. But they will understand later. After they had kept the events in their hearts and considered them for a long time.
Saint Joseph, then, played a major role in the life of the Church. Through him, because of his role as foster father, Jesus discovered in His human conscience the father figure of God, His sole and unique Father.
Our previous Pope, Benedict XVI, whose baptismal name is Joseph, was also characterised by humility and a great modesty. We don’t know a lot yet about his successor, the Bishop of Rome, Francis. But the first signs which he has given in only a few days clearly indicate that the patronage of Saint Francis of Assisi is not just empty words for him. He will be humble, like Benedict XVI, not just in his personality, but also in the outward signs of his mission as successor of Peter. Like Saint Joseph he will consider himself merely a foster father – if I may say it like that – knowing that we are all children of the one true Father, our heavenly Father, and that the Church, the Bride of Christ, is not here just for herself, but only to lead to truth, goodness and the beauty of her only love: the Christ, her bridegroom.
Of course, there were some in the media – which have the valuable task to inform us – who immediately tried to paint our new shepherd in a negative light. But just as fast there were voices, normally not too inclined to speak positively about the Vatican, which, supported by documents, pointed out the baselessness of these accusations. Let us, for our part, thank God for the gift He gives us: not just a new Pope, but also a shepherd with a totally new style. And let us – like he asked us so touchingly on the night of his election – pray intensely for him, for the universal Church for which he has responsibility, and for this world of which he is the foremost spiritual and moral guide. Amen.”
Photo credit: Phk/Kerknet
In his meeting with the cardinals who are still in Rome, Pope Francis brought the conclave period to an end today. In his address, which was characteristically filled with unscripted asides, the Holy Father looked back on the conclave, calling it a “period … filled with meaning not just for the College of Cardinals but also for all the faithful.”
In addition to the usual words of thanks to both the cardinals and his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, “a wise and humble interpreter with his gaze always fixed on Christ, the Risen Christ, present and alive in the Eucharist”, Pope Francis also touched upon various matters of faith. He likened the unity experienced in the conclave to the unity in the Church, which results in an openness to the Holy Spirit:
“As someone told me: the Cardinals are the Holy Father’s priests. But we are that community, that friendship, that closeness, that will do good for every one of us. That mutual knowledge and openness to one another helped us to be open to the action of Holy Spirit. He, the Paraclete, is the supreme protagonist of every initiative and manifestation of faith. It’s interesting and it makes me think. The Paraclete creates all the differences in the Church and seems like an apostle of Babel. On the other hand, the Paraclete unifies all these differences – not making them equal – but in harmony with one another. I remember a Church father who described it like this: “Ipse harmonia est.” The Paraclete gives each one of us a different charism, and unites us in this community of the Church that adores the Father, the Son, and Him – the Holy Spirit.”
And from his words we may perhaps also glean some idea of what the papacy ahead may bring, as Pope Francis outlined the mission of the Church: “to bring Jesus Christ to humanity, and to lead humanity to an encounter with Jesus Christ: the Way, the Truth and the Life, truly present in the Church and, at the same time, in every person.”
And although the subsequent conversations with each cardinal was heartwarming to watch, the content of the what the Pope actually said must not be ignored. It is easy to consider him a nice and humble man with his heart in the right place, he is also a staunch Catholic, with a living faith in the Lord. That is what makes him tick, it’s the foundation of his identity. In that sense, Cardinal Napier’s gift of an armband with the text “I believe in God” is as suitable as can be for Pope Francis.
I have a Dutch translation of the Pope’s address.
A new face, definitely a new name, and plenty of memories of both Popes John Paul (in appearance and in the way he was received). From what little we have seen of him, it is clear that Pope Francis (no “the first”!) is not like his immediate predecessors. And yet, there is much that is familiar.
My first glimpse of him, in footage showing him walking towards the balcony, immediately reminded me of the stature of a Pope Paul VI, or perhaps John Paul I. On the balcony… well, what else could we feel but sympathy mixed with joy. What an undertaking he faces! Poor Pope Francis… But then he addressed the crowd, asked them to pray for and with him, as Benedict XVI was wont to do as well. And that smile that eventually broke through on his face: a second smiling Pope?
Yesterday, it would seem, we received a Pope who is truly a servants of the servants of God as the world best knows it: a man who is not afraid to approach the weak, the sick and the poor, who shuns pomposity and vanity and, as we soon learned, chose to take the bus with the other cardinals back to the Domus Sanctae Marthae, instead of taking the limousine that was waiting.
But that humility should not be taken for weakness or even simplicity. As his chosen papal name indicates, underneath the simplicity of his appearance and actions, not unlike his two immediate predecessors, lies a person of great strength and faith. Whereas Benedict XVI was the professor who taught us about the faith, Francis will be the older brother who walks with us and shows us the way in love and charity.
The new papal face and name will take some getting used. I will miss Benedict XVI, but I am also certain that I will soon come to love Pope Francis.
As an aside, you’ll notice some changes in the blog. In the left sidebar I have added the photo of then Pope in place of the seal of the sede vacante, and on the College of Cardinals page, which you can find via the tab above, I have made Cardinal Kasper a non-elector and removed the man who was once Cardinal Bergoglio.
Pope Benedict this morning ended his Lenten retreat. In a short address, he thanked Cardinal Ravasi for leading the retreat, as well as the other participants for being a “community of prayerful listening”. Below an excerpt of the address:
“The art of believing, the art of praying” was the theme. I was reminded of the fact that the medieval theologians translated the word “Logos” not only as “Verbum”, but also as “ars”: “Verbum” and “ars” are interchangeable. For the medieval theologians, it was only with the two words together that the whole meaning of the word “Logos” appeared. The “Logos” is not just a mathematical reason: the “Logos” has a heart, the “Logos” is also love. The truth is beautiful and the true and beautiful go together: beauty is the seal of truth.
And yet, starting from the Psalms and from our everyday experience, you have also strongly emphasized that the “very good” of the sixth day – expressed by the Creator – is permanently contradicted by the evil of this world, by suffering, by corruption. It’s almost as if wickedness wills permanently to spoil creation, to contradict God and make its truth and its beauty unrecognizable. In a world so marked even by evil, the “Logos,” the eternal beauty and the eternal “art”, must appear as a “caput cruentatum.” The incarnate Son, the incarnate “Logos” is crowned with a crown of thorns and nevertheless is just that: in this suffering figure of the Son of God we begin to see the deepest beauty of our Creator and Redeemer; in the silence of the “dark night” we can, nevertheless, hear the Word. And believing is nothing other than, in the darkness of the world, touching the hand of God, and in this way, in silence, hearing the Word, seeing love.
The Holy Father also thanked Cardinal Ravasi personally, in a letter. Among other things, he wrote that the theme chosen by the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture was particularly helpful in this time of silence and prayer: “We have been able to tap into the source of plenty and pure water that is God’s Word … from the Book of Psalms, the place par excellence where the Word of the Bible becomes prayer.” In closing, Pope Benedict XVI told Cardinal Ravasi that “the Lord will know to reward you for this effort”, a wish that gains special significance in the light of the coming conclave, in which Cardinal Ravasi will vote. Many outside the conclave consider him papabile, a likely successor of Pope Benedict XVI on the Chair of St. Peter.
But luckily that choice ultimately lies in the hands of 116 electors and most importantly, the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray for a fruitful final six days of this papacy, blessing and guidance or the cardinals in the conclave, and also for the new Pope, whoever he may be.
Despite my impression that the length of Pope Benedict’s messages is getting shorter, his latest one, for the coming season of Lent, is still an elegant theological discourse on the two virtues of faith and charity.
Starting from a raft of Biblical quotations and references, the Holy Father demonstrates how these two are “intimately linked,” how the love of God is the source of our faith, and how our faith enables us to love God and the neighbour.
“Essentially, everything proceeds from Love and tends towards Love. God’s gratuitous love is made known to us through the proclamation of the Gospel. If we welcome it with faith, we receive the first and indispensable contact with the Divine, capable of making us “fall in love with Love”, and then we dwell within this Love, we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.”
An excellent read, and a text we can all study and reflect upon as we enter Lent.
My Dutch translation is available here.
Photo credit: l’Osservatore Romano
The Dutch bishops yesterday decided to streamline the process by which people can have their names removed from parish records. Other than some media are reporting, it is not being made “easier”, but the bishops intend to have the same regulations applied throughout the Church province.
The plan is that a single letter to the parish in which a person was baptised or received into the Church will suffice to remove someone from the baptismal and other records that exist. In effect, this person will no longer be registered as Catholic and, by distancing himself from the Church, will not be able to receive the sacraments.
In the past, bureaucracy sometimes got in the way, especially when a case involved several parishes or even dioceses. Different regulations in different places meant that the process could sometimes take a long time, even involving lawyers and legal action. By enforcing the same regulations everywhere this problem should be removed.
Related to this is the case of Father Frank Michael As, parish priest in the parish of St. Michael, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch. People expressing a desire to leave the Church received the following letter from the priest:
“You can no longer receive any sacrament, in which Christ wants to come to you. You will not be able to have a Catholic funeral. You are denying Christ and His Church.
I am afraid that you do not consider yourself worthy of eternal life and have blocked yourself from the entrance to eternal life and resurrection. That way you will end up in eternal oblivion, where no one will ever miss you.
I can only advice you to convert to Jesus Christ to achieve life.
With regret over the calamity that you have called over yourself, the Church bids you farewell.”
A serious tone which seriously upset people, and that led Fr. As to remove much of this from the letters he sends. The reason for doing so is mainly to avoid a media frenzy. But in the end, Father is right. The Church is in the business of saving souls, and removing oneself from the Church is a serious danger to one’s soul.
Any decision has consequences, and people are better off knowing those. Fr. As’s letter does nothing but informing them of the consequences of them leaving the Church.
But all this does not address the real issue: why do people want to leave the Church, and what can we do to make them decide to stay? True, the number of people leaving is not great (15,000 – less than half a percent - in 2012), but people still do so. The only thing we, as Catholics, can do, is exercise honesty and openness, and a willigness to listen, without denying any of the truths we hold there. These truths of faith and human destiny are what the Church exists for, and they are for all people. If we succeed in communicating that, perhaps some people will see that their issues with the Church, however serious and justified, can be solved and can be seen in a context which is far greater than any of us. It’s hard to do so alone, so let’s try and help people who are struggling with the Church and their own faith.
The Church is not a bogey man or an evil institution, but our means of salvation which Christ has given us. And that is a thing of exceeding beauty.