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“Jesus did not condemn the adulterous woman who was threatened with death by stoning, but he did not tell her to keep up her good work, to continue unchanged in her ways. He told her to sin no more.”
Words from Cardinal George Pell, until recently the archbishop of Sydney and today the Secretary for the Economy of the Holy See and a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals. He writes these words in the foreword to a book that will be publishes in the runup to the Synod of Bishops which is set to begin on 5 October. Like so many before (and undoubtedly after) him, Cardinal Pell is speaking about one of the topics of the Synod: the question of whether or not divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive Communion.
The quote above refers to the first part of chapter 8 of the Gospel of John, which relates the meeting of Jesus with a woman accused of adultery. While the Pharisees are intent on stoning her for he misdeed, Jesus offers no accusation, but looks at the scribes and Pharisees instead, turning their eagerness for condemnation against them. If there is one among them without sin, He says, let him throw the first stone. None does, and they leave. Left alone with the woman, Jesus does not condemn her, but sends her on her way with a simple command: “Go away, and from this moment sin no more”.
In the discussions about the Synod and the questions about doctrine and pastoral practice it is expected to tackle, it often seems as if there is a division between mercy on the one hand and doctrine on the other. This is an unnatural division and one that does not reflect the Catholic faith and should not be expected to be honoured by the Synod. Cardinal Pell also writes that “doctrine and pastoral practice cannot be contradictory”.
The example of Jesus given above is, I think, a very important one. For here we have a situation in which someone has sinned and is subject to God’s judgement. Jesus’ way of acting here offers a blueprint of how we must act in similar situations. Approach with mercy: Jesus does not speak unnecessarily, He does not expound on the whys and wherefores of law and condemnation. He expects all involved to know enough about that anyway. Only in the end does He refer to the relevant teachings when He tells the woman to go and change her ways. So He does want her to stop doing hat she has done, and reorder her life to the teachings that He offers and the law He has come to fulfill.
Mercy and doctrine are not mutually exclusive, but strengthen and enrich each other. Those who pretend that we must between one and the other are, quite simply, wrong. We must be merciful like Jesus, and we must fulfill His law. That is why I do not think that the Synod will change the rules in any significant way. What it will look at is how mercy can help in upholding the law, how the pastoral side of the equation can be improved to better allow us and others to follow Christ. A legalistic culture will not achieve that, and neither will a culture that allows everything for the sake of mercy.
In a recent circular letter, the text of which I have only come across in Spanish, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments announces some measures to ensure greater dignity and less distraction when it comes to the sign of peace in the Mass.
Although I have personally rarely experienced this moment in the Mass a overly distracting, its place in the liturgy may be considered odd, coming as it does at a moment when we are focussed on Christ among us in the bread and wine that have just been consecrated. We have prayed the Our Father and will soon come forward to receive Him in the communion. The sign of peace asks us to look to the people around us and exchange our wishes for peace with them. This can be distracting, as the question arises how many people to greet (just those immediately around you, the pews in front and behind you, people across the aisle?) and how long and in what manner to do so. In more enthusiastic societies, this may be fairly distracting and even disruptive in the atmosphere and focus of the liturgy. More subdued communities will, clearly, have less of a problem here.
In order to lessen this distraction and increase awareness of the actual meaning of the sign of peace, the Congregation proposes four things:
- It first emphasises that the gesture is not obligatory. The priest is free to decide when it is and is not suitable to invite the faithful to exchange the sign of peace. In my own parish I have seen this happen in weekday Masses, where there is no sign of peace, as opposed to the Masses on Sunday.
- Bishops’ conferences should think about making changes in how the sign of peace is made. Familiar and worldly greeting should be substituted with more appropriate ones. So, no high-fives, backslaps, bearhugs and such, but, for example, a short handshake, kiss, bow or other gesture.
- Clear abuses of the rite, like other liturgical abuses, are right out. No song of peace in place of a gesture between individual faithful, no roaming about the church looking for friends to greet, and during wedding or funeral Masses it should not be an occasion for congratulations or condolences.
- Lastly the Congregation urges the bishops’conferences to prepare catechesis on the sign of peace and how it should be observed.
In the end, the final point is the most important one: catechesis for both clergy and faithful. Without knowledge or awareness, there is no proper use or benefit. The sign of peace is never strictly horizontal, between people alone. It first has to be vertical, between God and man, before it can use its horizontal dimension. The sign of peace in the Mass is not like a regular greeting in the streets. In it we pass on the peace that Christ gives us (John 14:27), we must first receive before we can give. Let’s hope this letter will bear fruit.
And, dear Congregation, get some other official translations out…
Photo credit:  Jennifer Willems
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, best known as Doubting Thomas. The passage from John 20, in which Jesus appears after His death on the cross, but Thomas happens to be absent is well known. Thomas refuses to believe what he didn’t see for himself, only to be corrected by the Lord when He appears again and shows His wounds to Thomas, even inviting him to place his hand in the wound in His side.
“You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).
Rich as this passage from the Gospels is, and it teaches us much about the nature of faith, there is more to St. Thomas than this. In the Bible, he appears in all four Gospels, as well as in the Acts of the Apostles. Matthew (10:3), Mark (3:18) and Luke (6:15) first list him among the Apostles called by Jesus, while John first mentions him in the story of the death of Lazarus, where Thomas seems a bit defeatist. Upon hearing Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany, in the land of the Jews who had earlier tried to kill Jesus, he says, “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16). Still, it indicates a willingness on Thomas’ part to follow Jesus whatever the consequences, even if death is one. Not exactly the sign of a doubting follower.
Later in the Gospel of John, we see another side to Thomas: the questioning follower, the man trying to understand. As Jesus announces His return to the Father, telling the apostles that they know where He is going and how to get there, Thomas replies, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). This prompts Jesus to teach him – and us – that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thomas comes across as honest and straightforward, not afraid to ask about what he doesn’t understand. The next time we come across him is in the aforementioned passage of the Lord’s appearance in his absence. Thomas doubts, is still as honest and straightforward as ever, but not stubborn: he accepts what the Lord teaches him and professes his faith in his Lord and God.
Thomas appears once more among the disciples to whom Jesus appears at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21;2), but the Evangelist does not tell us any details about what Thomas may have said or done. But he did witness Jesus giving Peter the task to look after His sheep. After the Lord’s Ascension, Thomas remains with the other disciples, as Acts 1:13 tells us, part of the young and rapidly growing Church.
That’s all the Bible tells us about St. Thomas, but it’s enough to slightly correct the image we have of him as a doubter. It would be more accurate to see him as a very honest man, to himself and to others. He is not afraid to ask questions, or even to ask others to be more clear, but also does not hesitate to recognise his own errors and correct them.
Several post-Biblical sources tell of Thomas travelling to India to preach the Gospel there. Indeed, south India is home to the St. Thomas Christians, who can be traced back to the 2nd or 3rd century. The trip from the Holy Land to India would at least have been possible in the first century, as trade relations existed between the subcontinent and the Roman Empire. It is hard to tell what is true and what is apocryphal in this, but the fact remains that Thomas is strongly connected to Southern Asia, and Christian communities appeared very early in India. A strong-willed follower of Jesus may well have taken it upon himself to undertake such a perilous and uncertain mission to remote parts, all to spread the Gospel and enkindle the faith, serving the Lord as he did from the moment he was first called.
Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp wrote a message for the feast of Pentecost, discussing the seeming opposition between the Spirit and the institute of the Church. Of course, there is no opposition, but the Holy Spirit works in the Church and the Church needs to be continuously open to His workings. Not an easy task…
“The Pope and the Holy Spirit: do they get along? It seem a superfluous question. But much ink has been spent and battle has been done, but in and outside the Church, about that topic. For some the Holy Spirit is invisible where the Pope is. For others the Pope is invisible where the Holy Spirit is. Institute and charisma, durability and renewal, shepherding and prophecy: they are so easily put in opposition to one another. Yet the story of Pentecost begins in the house where the Apostles are. They are among the first to receive the Spirit for the mission that the Lord has entrusted to them.
I thought of Pentecost when I was in St. Peter’s Square for the canonisation of Pope John XXII and John Paul II. In his homily, Pope Francis said about these Popes that they “cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, Saint John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader [guida-guidata], guided by the Holy Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; for this reason I like to think of him as the the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit.”
This is the work of the Holy Spirit: to continuously reveal the original features of the Church. That is what Jesus promised His disciples, shortly before his departure: “the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you” (John 14:26). The memory of the Church and Christians is short, especially concerning the heart of the Gospel and the witness of Jesus. The Holy Spirit doe snot have an easy task in continuously reminding the Church of the word and example of Jesus. You have to be the Holy Spirit to not get sick of it!
During this time of Pentecost we pray for “openness to the Holy Spirit”. We ask that the Holy Spirit may renew our Church community, bring her closer to the times, reveal her original features. We pray for all those who carry responsibility in the Church community: that they, as shepherds, let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. And especially: we thank the Holy Spirit that He hasn’t given up our Church community, despite our short memory. Perhaps because of that the Holy Spirit is as light as air and as fire: to be able to get along with us!
+ Johan Bonny
Bishop of Antwerp”
Below is the full text of the homily that Pietro Cardinal Parolin gave yesterday at the consecration of Archbishop Bert van Megen, in the cathedral of Roermond. He gave his homily in English, but since there is no video of this that I could find, I have translated the text from the Dutch translation back to English. Here’s hoping the general intention of it remained intact.
“Your Excellencies, honoured guests, dear Monsignor Bert and family, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
It’s a special joy to me to preside over the consecration of Monsignor Hubertus van Megen, who has been named by our Holy Father as titular archbishop of Novaliciana and to Apostolic Nuncio of Sudan. On the occasion of this joyful event, Pope Francis asked me to share his heartfelt greetings as well as his communion with all present here. It is a time of great joy for all of us who have come together here in this cathedral today, but for you, dear Monsignor Bert, it is a time of gratitude for all the blessing which God has granted you over the years. Today you are surrounded by your parents and family, your friends and your brothers, the priests of this local Church of Roermond. This Church first raised you in the faith, you were ordained a priest for here and here you spent the first years of your priestly ministry. You also bring to the joy of this day the years of studying in Rome and your considerable experience in the diplomatic service of the Holy See, most recently in Zambia and Malawi. You are now called to return all of this to God and serve Him and new way and with greater responsibility. Today you will be consecrated to be a successor of the Apostles, a herald of the Gospel and a shepherd of Christ’s flock, with the special duty of representing the vicar of Christ in his concern for the Church in the entire world, yes, in his care for the entire human family.
The rich symbolism of the rite of consecration eloquently speaks of the continuity of the Church’s faith and life throughout the centuries. Through the imposition of hands and the invoking of the Holy Spirit you will be welcomed to the College of Bishops. This college succeeds in all ages the Apostle to whom the Lord Jesus entrusted the care of His flock. So you, Monsignor Bert, will become a link in a living chain which goes back uninterrupted to Jesus Himself, and will continue to the end of times, according to His promise. It will be your duty to preach the Gospel of salvation integrally, to take care of strengthening the Church community in faith and, by the celebration of the sacraments, to work for the distribution of the Kingdom of Christ in truth and life, holiness and mercy, love and peace.
“Do you love me?”, “Feed my lambs”; “Look after my sheep” (Joh. 21:15-17). Jesus’ words to the Apostle Peter in today’s Gospel are especially applicable to someone who, like Monsignor van Megen, is called to be both bishop and Papal Nuncio. These words remind us that the task of the bishop, his ministry, must first and foremost be based on his personal love for Jesus Christ and his personal relationship with the Good Shepherd. Every day Jesus asks the bishops again, “Do you love me?” In essence this questions is of course also directed to every Christian; each one of us is called to know and love the Lord. During this time of Easter we have contemplated how every one of has died in Baptism and risen to a new life in Christ, how we received the gift of His Holy Spirit and a call to share in the mission of the Church.
But the Lord’s question – “Do you love me?” – is directed in a special way to those who are also called to shepherd His flock with apostolic authority. It is meaningful that the new bishop receives the ring during the rite of consecration, the symbol of His unconditional love for the Lord and His Church, before receiving the crosier, the symbol of his pastoral authority. Pope Francis reminded us that it is the shepherd’s task to go before the flock as its guide, but also to walk with the flock as a disciple, to listen to its voice and sense where the Holy Spirit, the source of every gift and mission, wants to lead it. “For you I a a shepherd,” Saint Augustine said, “but with you I a a Christian” (Serm. 340:1). To be a loyal shepherd requires those virtues that Saint Paul presents in the first reading today: integrity following from a personal conversion, honest and frank witness to the truth and self-sacrifice in service to all, faithful and non-faithful (cf 2 Kor. 4:1-2;5-7).
If all this is true for every bishop, it is all the more true for the bishop who is also a Nuncio, a personal representative of the Successor of Peter, the rock on whom the Lord built His Church (cf. Matt. 16:18). As a concrete sign of the communion of the local Churches with the Holy See in Rome, the ministry of the Apostolic Nuncio is exercised in a manifestly universal sense: in service to the mission of the Church, he is called to promote the unity in mind and heart of the bishops with the Pope, to confirm his brothers in loyalty to the Gospel and the mission of the Church and to foster a spirit of authentic ecclesiastical community in every aspect of the life of the local Churches. He is also called to everywhere encourage those seeds of justice and peace, which are the leaven of God’s Kingdom. For as we know, the Church is the sign and sacrament of a new mankind, reconciled and renewed in Christ.
Dear Monsignor Bert, in the exercise of your own episcopal ministry you are sent as a representative of the Holy Father to Sudan, a country that is dear to him, a country that has suffered greatly in recent years from violence and civil unrest. In unity with the bishops of that country, you will be called to proclaim, in word and example, a Gospel of reconciliation, forgiveness and mercy. In a special way you will also be called to support the Christian community in Sudan, a small flock which nonetheless is very dear to God. Confirm the in their faith and in their loyalty to the great commandment of loving God and the neighbour. In this way you will perform your mission which you receive today: by making, “as a servant for Jesus’ sake”, the glory of God visible as it is revealed in the crucified and risen Lord (cf. 2 Kor. 4:5-7), and by encouraging your brothers and sisters to trust in His victory over the powers of sin and death.
Now that you are preparing for your consecration and your new responsibilities, know that you can count on the mercy that this sacrament hold, on the confidence and prayers of the Holy Father and on our own prayer, friendship and support. We commend you and your ministry to the protection of Saint Josephine Bakhita, a great daughter of Sudan and an excellent witness to the power of God’s mercy to redeem and transform even the most difficult situations. May the Risen Lord always support you in His love and bear rich fruits from the ministry that is about to be entrusted to you. Amen.”
All photos: Bisdom Roermond
Marking Easter – which is more than just one day – I want to share some of the messages that our bishops have given for the Feast of the Resurrection. First is the archbishop of Berlin, Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, who speaks about how the hope of Easter opens us up to Christ, every day anew, so that we can help others to also meet Christ.
“”He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would” (Matt. 28:6). The angels’ Easter message is not only directed to the women at the empty tomb, but also directly to us. Full of joy we join in with the Alleluiah of Easter. At the same time, many people have difficulties believing in the Resurrection, which makes me think.
Easter brought something new into the world: a hope which tells us, over the power of death: “For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Joh. 3:16). Easter is the answer of the Christian faith to the provocation of death.We are called to life in unity with the living Lord, we are called to eternal life. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminded us of this: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (EG 7)*. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ as the risen and the living. Scripture tells us of these encounters of people with the Risen: Jesus Christ is risen, He lives!
Only the Light “from Heaven” brightens our own life. Only the gaze “upwards” to Him opens up for us the meaning of all that Jesus Christ has done and said. His death on the cross seems to put into question his message and works. But through the Resurrection God the Father confirms the message and the work of His Son. The Resurrection, not death, is the final chapter of His and our life story.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!” (Joh. 20:29). This is verse from the Bible puts it succinctly: Whoever is open to the Easter message, in him it changes something. The Kingdom of God is near, and the promise is already active today. In the night before Easter this becomes visible when the Churches festively receives the catechumens. Through Baptism they arise into new life in Jesus Christ. The same is true for all of us, who are baptised and confirmed in His name. In Jesus we arise every new day to new life. And when we suffer some setback in our life, the hope of Easter give us the power to stand up anew every day.
In this way our own life becomes an answer to the questions of those who struggle with the message of Easter: Every Sunday, every day he can encounter the Risen One himself! In the Eucharist we meet the Risen One like the disciples met Him on the road to Emmaus. Similarly, we meet Him in prayer, where He listens to us and our concerns. And we meet Him in our neighbour, and vice versa: “It is no longer I, but Christ living in me” (Gal. 2:20). As easter people we are the “Light of the world”, the “Salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13-14), and we become signs of His salvation.
I wish you a happy and blessed Easter, Alleluiah!”
* Pope Francis quotes Pope emeritus Benedict XVI here
It’s almost Lent. Snuck up on you, didn’t it? But it’s true, Less than a week away the great time of fasting and penitence will begin and prepare us for Easter.
Time to plan ahead.
For this Lent and Holy Week I want to take the Gospel readings of every day and do some lectio divina with them, a spiritual reading. I’ll be posting the relevant passage every day (well, that’s the plan) and reflect on it. These reflections will be short, as lectio divina is by definition a personal exercise: we prayerfully read a Bible text for ourselves and are open to learn from it. The reflections are therefore what I take from the text: your experience may be a different one, but I hope that comparing what others learn with what you have learned can set you off on new avenues of thought, prayer and discovery.
For those who want to read and reflect in their own time, or if I am unable to post every day, here is a list of the Gospel reading of every day:
Wednesday 5 March (Ash Wednesday): Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
- Thursday 6 March: Luke 9: 22-25
- Friday 7 March: Matthew 9:14-15
- Saturday 8 March: Luke 5:27-32
- Sunday 9 March (First Sunday of Lent): Matthew 4:1-11
- Monday 10 March: Matthew 25:31-46
- Tuesday 11 March: Matthew 6:7-15
- Wednesday 12 March: Luke 11:29-32
- Thursday 13 March: Matthew 7:7-12
- Friday 14 March: Matthew 5:20-26
- Saturday 15 March: Matthew 5:43-48
- Sunday 16 March (Second Sunday of Lent): Matthew 17:1-9
- Monday 17 March: Luke 6:36-38
- Tuesday 18 March: Matthew 23:1-12
- Wednesday 19 March (Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary): Matthew 116, 18-21, 24a or Luke 2: 41-51a
- Thursday 20 March: Luke 16:19-31
- Friday 21 March: Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
- Saturday 22 March: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
- Sunday 23 March (Third Sunday of Lent): John 4:5-42 or John 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42
- Monday 24 March: Luke 4:24-30
- Tuesday 25 March (Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord): Luke 1:26-38
- Wednesday 26 March: Matthew 5:17-19
- Thursday 27 March: Luke 11:14-23
- Friday 28 March: Mark 12:28-34
- Saturday 29 March: Luke 18:9-14
- Sunday 30 March (Fourth Sunday of Lent): John 9:1-41 or John 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38
- Monday 31 March: John 4:43-54
- Tuesday 1 April: John 5:1-16
- Wednesday 2 April: John 5:17-30
- Thursday 3 April: John 5:31-47
- Friday 4 April: John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
- Saturday 5 April: John 7:40-53
- Sunday 6 April (Fifth Sunday of Lent): John 11:1-45 or John 11:3-7, 20-27, 33b-45
- Monday 7 April: John 8:1-11
- Tuesday 8 April: John 8:21-30
- Wednesday 9 April: John 8:31-42
- Thursday 10 April: John 8:51-59
- Friday 11 April: John 10:31-42
- Saturday 12 April: John 11:45-56
- Sunday 13 April (Palm Sunday): Matthew 26:14-27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54
- Monday 14 April: John 12:1-11
- Tuesday 15 April: John 13:21-33, 36-38
- Wednesday 16 April: Matthew 26:14-25
- Thursday 17 April: John 13:1-15
- Friday 18 April (Good Friday): John 18:1-19:42
- Saturday 19 April (Holy Saturday): Matthew 28:1-10
- Sunday 20 April (Easter Sunday): John 20:1-9
It’s much, to be sure, but it is an investment that’s worth the effort. Lent is especially a time to return to the basis, to the Word, and allow the Lord to join us on our way.
“What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.”
“Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Yesterday, the body of Bishop Jan Bluyssen was moved from the monastery where he had lived for the past thirty years to the bishop’s house, in preparation for tomorrow’s funeral Mass. The transfer was preceded by a Mass offered by Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, who addressed the sisters of the Mariënburg monastery as follows in his homily:
“Sisters, you too are ‘disciples’ of the Lord. As John took Mary into his home, you took Bishop Bluyssen into your home. There is of course a great difference between giving someone a space to live and giving someone a home. You have done the latter. Monsignor knew himself to be truly at home with you. For almost thirty years, he enjoyed this to the fullest. He could always generously receive his family. You and those who worked with you took good care of him until the final day. He lived richly in your monastery. He studied, wrote, travelled, celebrated the liturgy and received many guests, This put a pressure on your household, but this was always possible as a matter of course. In his life with you, Monsignor remained faithful to what moved him most deeply. Travelling to and with God. This by living according to the example of the Good Shepherd in great service. Not only when it was convenient, no, serving daily. His presence here was rich. Life in reciprocity. Life according to the Gospel. As John was rich with Mary, Mary was rich with John.”
With the name ‘Mariënburg’ referring to Mary and the late bishop’s name being the Dutch equivalent of John, the comparison with the words of Jesus to His mother and his disciple under the Cross (John 19:26-27) becomes clear and gains, in this context, a specific and touching relevance.
The funeral is scheduled for 11:00 o’clock tomorrow.
Photo credit: Ramon Mangold