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kasperCardinal Walter Kasper has come increasingly under fire from fellow cardinals and others in the Church for his comments about marriage, divorce and Communion. While some are concerned by these visible disagreements, and Cardinal Kasper himself having even suggested that his critics are personally attacking him and Pope Francis, this really is simply what Pope Francis has said he wanted: open and free discussion about the topics that the Synod will devote its time to next month. And while I usually don’t want to commit myself to stark distinctions between left and right, orthodox and liberal, in this discussion it really does seem that those who want the Church to change or loosen up her teachings are honestly insulted by those who disagree.

In an interview for Vatican Radio, Cardinal Kasper commented on the situation. I have translated some of his answer which I think are most interesting in this context.

“Of course everyone has the right to publicly state their opinion. Nothing can be brought against that. But I wonder if the entire Synod is not being reduced to a single point. It is about the pastoral challenges in the context of the new evangelisation. That is far broader field. An insider problem is being place at the centre here. What matters is to be able to speak again and discuss the beauty and the Christian understanding of the family, which many today no longer know – it is about far more fundamental problems than simply this one. And secondly: what sort of understanding of the Gospel is this? It is the Good News. One can’t turn it into just a legal codex alone and then say that there can be no discussion about this point anymore. That makes the Synod a joke. Nobody has the right to say in advance what is possible and what is not. The Pope wants an open discussion, and that should be held. Then, in the Synod, to listen quietly to one another, in an atmosphere of prayer, and the in the end make a decision for the good of the faithful. I will not enter into polemics.”

“Without doubt the family is the cell of society and the cell of the life of the Church. In the family, in marriage and family, life and faith come closest together. It is an essential reality of life which has been raised to the glory of a sacrament. In that way it is a very vital and central issue for the Church to stand for marriage and family and offer solutions for the crisis that exists today. It is about these pastoral challenges, which is the theme of the Synod, not a war of doctrine. Of course, pastoral care is impossible without being oriented on the truth. But the truth is not an abstract system, but in the  end it is Jesus Christ in person, and we need to bring the people close to Christ. In that sense the Synod must be oriented on the truth and understand  Tradition as a living and bubbling spring and not as a rigid system.”

“I have posed a question, not simply suggested a solution. And I posed that question in agreement with the Pope. That’s very important for me. I asked, “When a marriage has failed one should do everything to repair it. But when there is no way back, when someone has entered into a new relationship which is, humanly speaking, a happy one, lived in a Christian fashion, when there are children, one can’t give up this new relationship without serious consequence. And we must also see how God offers new chances – and God does. That is His mercy, that He does not let go of anyone of good will. And everyone does what he can in their situation. And I think that this should be pastorally clarified in every individual case, after a period of orientation. That is called the ‘Via poenitentialis’ – but those involved suffer enough already without it. They do not need to perform great acts of penance. But a new orientation is necessary. That should be the sacrament of penance – that is why we have it – and the sacrament of penance also means re-admission to the Eucharist. But as I said, that is not the solution for all cases, presumably for a minority of all people who live in our communities, who suffer from it and have an honest desire for the sacraments, who urgently need the sacraments to deal with their difficult situations.”

In general it is hard to disagree with much of what the cardinal says. He is very right that the entire Synod is indeed being reduced this single topic (and his perceived opponent Cardinal Burke recently said the exact same thing). His words about the importance of family and the Church’s  defense of and communication about it are also very important, as are his concerns for those who are involved in a good, Christian, loving second relationship while their first marriage is still canonically valid. There is a problem there, but  not with the quality of the second relationship.

And that’s were the problem of the discussion lies. Too many people shift the focus to those second relationships and how the mean Church wants to destroy them and the happiness of those involved. That is a clear untruth. The fact remains that a marriage is a sacrament, and therefore something that can’t be broken by human hands (we simply need to listen to Christ’s words: “What God has joined, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9)). So when a marriage exists (we’re looking at pure existence here, not quality), there can’t be a second marriage next to it. This is, in essence the basis of the argument. All discussion and, indeed, pastoral care needs to be built on it. And at the latter the Synod will look in detail.

Cardinal Kasper’s mistake, in my opinion, is that he sweeps aside this basis when he says, “One can’t turn [the Gospel] into just a legal codex alone and then say that there can be no discussion about this point anymore. That makes the Synod a joke. Nobody has the right to say in advance what is possible and what is not.” There must be discussion, certainly, for the good of the faithful. But there are also parameters, which are set by Christ. If we want to follow Him, we must accept and work within His parameters. The Codex of Canon Law is the result of centuries of understanding these parameters and translating them for a host of situations, places and times. There must always be such development, and in that sense the law can change. But it can not be overwritten, swept aside or corrected as if what was once true no longer is. In the end it reflects the Truth that is its founder, Jesus Christ.

The Synod will certainly look at the law, but not in order to change it. No, it will concern itself with translation and communication. How can the pastoral care that the Church now offers be improved, so that what she asks the faithful is also possible for them to achieve. In a recent interview Cardinal Burke said, “It simply makes no sense to talk about mercy which doesn’t respect truth. How can that be merciful?” He’s right. Truth and mercy are not separate. How is it merciful to encourage someone to move further away from the truth that he or she wants to follow? And how are we true to what Christ’s asks of us if we show false mercy?

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).

thomasRich 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 Jozef De Kesel of Bruges has an excellent message on the topic of suffering and death in the perspective of the Resurrection.

de kesel“All that is written about us, will be fulfilled by you in these days”. Thus the opening verse of a song that Willem Barnard wrote for the start of Holy Week. Much is said in those few words. That He shared our existence to the very end. That nothing human is unknown to Him. The final days, the days of His passing. These are also the days that refer to what is impossible, but what the Church counts as her deepest conviction: that He is risen. The final days: they are the days of ‘pascha’, the passing from death to life. And in these days He fulfilled all that was written about us.

What is striking is that that also includes His death. You would think that the Resurrection makes everything in order again and that we would better forget this dying and that death. Especially considering how scandalous that dying was: condemned and executed. But that dying and death does belong to what He fulfilled in those final days. No Easter without Good Friday. Death is also part of the Pascal mystery.

The Church has never been tempted to hide or trivialise that death, let alone suppress it. Paul says with emphasis:  “We are preaching a crucified Christ” (1 Cor.1 :23). And when Holy Week begins with the introit of Maundy Thursday, we sing: “Let our glory be in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we have salvation, life and resurrection, through Him we are rescued and set free.”

Glory in the Cross, that is a strange and alienating thing to say. Isn’t suffering being cherished here? Isn’t it explained as something positive? That is something that the Church and Christianity is sometimes accused of. A sort of mystification of suffering. When, a few weeks, the expansion of the euthanasia bill for minors was voted on, we were confronted again with that criticism. Are faithful not aware of the suffering of people? Shouldn’t people be freed from that suffering? Is that not the ultimate at of compassion? Or is it perhaps meaningful and good that people suffer?

Suffering is something we should pursue. That would be absurd. Pain must be relieved and that is possible today. Therapeutic stubbornness can’t be justified. Christianity does not cherish suffering. Not even that of Jesus. Jesus did not seek out suffering. The Gospel informs us that Jesus, when things did indeed get dangerous for Him, retreated more and more. Now and then we read that He did not show Himself in public. In the end He even prayed that that cup could pass Him by. He tried to avoid danger as much as possible. But not at the expense of His mission. He would complete that mission to the end. And if the Cross was part of it, He would accept it. He said so to His disciples: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).

But there is one question that remains. Why did God not answer the prayer of Jesus? Why couldn’t He change the minds of those who wanted to kill Jesus? Why couldn’t God arrange this differently, without that suffering and without that Cross? For faithful people the Resurrection is the ultimate answer to that question. Here, God breaks through all barriers. Indeed, what awaits is neither more nor less than a new creation. But not without that detour of suffering an death. Like the People of God once, when it left Egypt and tried to escape from a life of slavery, had to make a detour through the desert, a place of testing and suffering. Why no direct route to the promised land? Why that detour? Why Jesus’ death? There is only one answer to that question: because that detour, because suffering and death are a part of the human condition. We are not gods but human beings. About  Jesus it is also said: “Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. [...] and being in every way like a human being” (Phil. 2:6-7).

In the media debate about the expansion of the euthanasia I gradually started to ask myself this question: doesn’t all this also have to do with the fact that death is loosing its place in our secular society? That life is being arranged in such a way that it doesn’t really exist? It is being banned as much as possible from life. And when it comes and can’t be avoided, let it strike as quickly as possible. The euthanasia file is no longer about the physically unbearable suffering. It is increasingly about psychological suffering. And while the danger of a slippery slope as denied at first, the transition seems fairly obvious. Psychological suffering is real suffering, so why exclude it? And why not go further? Existential suffering also exists. Suffering because the meaning of life itself has been affected. It is striking that suicide is no longer a taboo today. Of course it is shocking in the case of young people. And that is the focus is rightfully on prevention. But the elderly? These are people that are “done” with life and so “step out of it”. That language says much. Suicide becomes a lucid and courageous act. Death is being made harmless from the start because it is no longer recognised for what it really is: a sign of radical finality. A sign that I did not decide or want my existence but was given it. A sign that I am not my own origin.

In a column in De Standaard rector Torfs rightfully notes, “life must be beautiful, and if it is not, death is an option. Suicide is today not just an escape for people who are deeply unhappy. It is equally there for someone who, after careful deliberation, decides that his happiness is not enough”. Where one no longer realises that finality and mortality, and so also death, are an essential part of what it means to be “a human being on earth”, life itself in its deepest sense becomes trivialised. Life in itself has then no meaning or value. Meaning and value depend on a presupposed quality to which it has to answer. But what is quality? The lightness with which “stepping out of life” is being discussed ultimately refers to the lightness with which life itself is being discussed.

The Christian faith in the Resurrection does not trivialise death. It belongs to our finite and mortal existence. And it is that finite existence that Christ wanted to share with us. Everything that is written about us, is fulfilled by Him. Including our death. Even if our culture tries to keep death as much as possible out of sight, death is and remains a mystery that we will never fully comprehend, let alone solve. Christian is no mysticism of suffering. But it does not deny death. But – and this is the heart of our faith – it is taken up in the even greater mystery of God’s love defeating death. That is what Christ fulfilled for us.”

Original text

lent_desktopIt’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.

As 185 cardinals are planning to attend the consistory for the creation of new cardinals on 22 February and, more importantly, the preceding days in which the College of Cardinals will be employed for it most significant use: to function as an advisory body for the Pope on, in this case, topics related to the reform of the Curia and the upcoming Synod on the family, 14 archbishops and one bishop are planning to travel to the Eternal City for their inclusion into the College.

An impression.

archbishop nichols
Archbishop Vincent Nichols poses in the purple of a bishop for the last time, shortly before flying to Rome for the consistory.

Archbishop Leopoldo Brenes Solórzano, clad in jeans and a sports jacket, says his goodbyes at the airport of Managua.

Archbishop_Loris_Capovilla_personnel_secretary_of_Pope_John_XXIII_in_a_recent_photo_in_2013_Credit_ANSA_PAOLO_MAGNI_DRN_CNA_Catholic_News_1_13_14

Archbishop Loris Capovilla, who, at 98, will be the oldest cardinal ever, has asked Pope Francis to allow him not to come to Rome for the consistory. Stating that his strength is greatly diminished and feeling uncomfortable at meeting so many people, the former personal secretary of Blessed Pope John XXIII will receive the red hat at the church of Sotto il Monte, birthplace of John XXIII, a few days after the consistory. The last time a cardinal was not present at the consistory in which he was created was in 1998, when Cardinal Alberto Bovone, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, received the red hat at the Gemelli hospital. He would succumb to the illness which had confined him there a few months later. Blessed Pope John XXIII, by the way, also wasn’t in Rome when he was made a cardinal in 1953. Then the Papal Nuncio to France, he received the regalia from the French head of state, a privilege no longer in use.

Per the Vatican website, the rite for the creation of the new cardinals will be unchanged from those of Pope Benedict XVI’s last two consisteries. It all starts with a greeting, prayer and a reading of the following text from the Gospel of Mark:

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive. Once more taking the Twelve aside he began to tell them what was going to happen to him, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the gentiles, who will mock him and spit at him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.’

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him. ‘Master,’ they said to him, ‘We want you to do us a favour.’

He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’

They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’

But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I shall drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I shall be baptised?’

They replied, ‘We can.’

Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I shall drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I shall be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’

When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the gentiles those they call their rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. Among you this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of man himself came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (10:32-45).

The first of the new cardinals, in this case Cardinal-designate Pietro Parolin will address the Pope on behalf of all, after which the Pope officially names the new cardinals. From that point onwards, they are officially created as cardinals. The new cardinals will then speak the profession of faith and oath of fidelity.

Each new cardinal then approaches the Pope to receive the biretta, the ring and the bull of his creation which also names his deaconry or title church. The kiss of peace follows, and the rite ends with the Our Father.

Photo credit: [1] The Papal Visit on Facebook, [2] ANSA/PAOLO MAGNI/DRN

van den hendeIn 2011 Bishop Hans van den Hende, bishop of Rotterdam, gave one of the catechesis classes during the World Youth Days in Madrid. His talk then was met with a standing ovation. This year, although he joined pilgrims for the pre-WYD program in Suriname, he returned home before the start of the World Youth Days proper in Rio. But, as the WYD@Home program took place within the bounds of his diocese, in Delft, Msgr. van den Hende did offer catechesis there.

Here follows my translation of the text, which may be found in Dutch here.

1. Topic of the Catechesis

In unity with Pope Francis and with the youth in Rio we here in Delft also have catechesis. We follow the catechesis program as given in Rio. Catechesis means: putting the contents of our faith into words, explaining and communicating them.

The catechesis here in Delft and in Rio is closely tied into the theme of WYD 2012. Every WYD has its own theme, chosen by the Pope, including this year’s WYD in Rio. The previous Pope, Pope Benedictus XVI, gave the WYD in Rio the following theme: “Go and make disciples of all nations”.

The words of the theme are words from the Bible. They come from the New Testament, from the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

2. The Gospel = the Good News of Jesus Christ

In the Gospels the person of Jesus Christ takes centre stage [1].In the first chapter the Gospel of Matthew explains that God’s salvation history from the Old Testament is linked to the person of Jesus Christ (the so-called genealogy). Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise, He is the Messiah (the Anointed One, the Christ). In that way Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel of Matthew.

That is also the case in the other three Gospels. The Gospels tell us who Jesus is: the incarnated Son of God. The Gospel also proclaims the message that Jesus promotes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Gospels are the heart of all the Scriptures “because they are our principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Saviour”.” [2]

As an illustration, three quotes from the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John. These clearly show the intent of the Gospels:

  • The Gospel of Mark’s opening sentence is “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” [3].
  • The introduction of the Gospel of Luke states: “I [...] have decided to write an ordered account for you, [...] so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received” [4].
  • Near the end of the Gospel of John we read: “There were many other signs that Jesus worked in the sight of the disciples, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name” [5].

So the Gospel proclaims to us that Jesus is the Son of God, that the message of Jesus is the Good News of God’s Love, that Jesus gave His life on the cross; He died for us.That the Word of Jesus is trustworthy, that Jesus has risen from the dead; that He lives. In short, the Gospel encourages us to follow Jesus: believe in Him, have trust in Him, build your life on Him: He lives!

3. Jesus lives

To start with, we’ll look at the final part of the Gospel. When Jesus died on the cross, it seemed as if everything was over, had come to a dead end. The Gospel tells us that the dead Jesus was buried [6]. The disciples and other friends of Jesus were truly in mourning. The heavy stone that they had placed before the entrance to Jesus’ grave weighed also, in a sense, heavily upon their hearts.

But the Gospel does not end with the death and burial of Jesus. On the contrary, the Gospel proclaims that Jesus lives. When the disciples visit the grave, it is empty. The Gospel tells us: Jesus is no longer in the grave, He has risen [7].

That is the Good News of Easter: Jesus lives! The Gospels also relate that Jesus visited his disciples several times after His resurrection, that He appeared to them: for example to Mary Magdalen [8], to the Apostles in their home [9], on the shore of the lake [10], on the road [11], and on the mountain (Matt. 28:16-20).

On the mountain Jesus ultimately gave his disciples the special assignment: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. These are the words that are the them of WYD 2013.

Jesus, the Risen Lord, asks his disciples to communicate the Good News to others and to baptise them. In the book Acts we read that the Apostles remain loyal to the assignment to go and make disciples of all nations, which they received from Jesus. The Apostle Pater, for example, holds a speech and proclaims the crucified and risen Jesus Christ to his audience. And Peter subsequently baptises about three thousand people who join them [12].

Jesus lives. He stays with us. In Matthew 28:20b, Jesus promises: “And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time”. That is why we – centuries later – stand when the Gospel is read during the celebration of the Eucharist. We have the good habit to stand at the Gospel because we believe that Jesus himself, the living Lord, is speaking in the words of the Gospel [13]. We are called to be listeners to Jesus’ words and also proclaimers and executors of them. As disciples of the Lord we listen to the Word of God to act according to them [14].

van den hende4. To be a disciple of Jesus: learning from Jesus

Jesus is true teacher. That is also the opinion of the rich young man in the Gospel, who asks Jesus: “Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [15]. Jesus Christ is a good teacher in the words he speaks and the actions he performs in His life amid the people: what Jesus asks of us, He also does himself.

A) In the first place the words Jesus speaks. We may learn from the words of Jesus. In the first place Jesus makes use of the expressive language of parables. The Gospels tells us: “He told them many things in parables” [16], and: In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables” [17].

When we are a little bit familiar with the texts of the Gospels, we all know a few parables, for example: of the sower who sows on different kinds of soil: rocky soil, shallow soil, soil with weeds and thistles, good fertile soil [18]. The Catechisms states that parable are mirrors for man: “will he be hard soil or good earth for the word?” [19]

In the Gospel we can also read that Jesus speaks His words as a teacher in conversations with people, for example with the scribe Nicodemus. The Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night to converse with Him and he says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him” [20]. Another example is Jesus’ conversation with Mary, the sister of the deceased Lazarus. Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” [21] As disciples of the Lord we can do no else but start listening attentively to Jesus’ words in the Gospel [22].

B) We can also learn from the things that Jesus does in the Gospel, of the actions that Jesus performs. As disciples we may carefully read and see the acts of the Lord, learn from them and imitate them.

  1. Jesus is faithful in praying to His Father. The Catechisms tells us: “When Jesus prays he is already teaching us how to pray” [23]. In the Gospels we read that when Jesus prays to His Father, the disciples at one point asks Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” [24].
  2. Jesus also performed acts of love and charity and so encourages His disciples to truly love their neighbours. Jesus says, “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” [25]. And in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you” [26].
  3. Very impressive is the footwashing that Jesus performs at the Last Supper. The washing of feet was, at that time, the work of a servant, but Jesus does it himself and says, “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” [27].
  4. Jesus is a true teacher when it comes to forgiveness and mercy. In the home of the Pharisee Jesus expressly forgives a women who is known to be a sinner, but who is penitent [28]. To an adulterous woman who is about to be stoned for her sin, Jesus says, “Go away, and from this moment sin no more” [29]. And to the taks collector Zacchaeus in Jericho, Jesus says, “I am to stay at your house today” [30]. In the end, when He is dying on the cross after taunts and torture, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” [31]. That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners” [32].

Do we, as disciples, really want to listen to Jesus’ words, keep them in our hearts, and put them into practice? That is only possible if we really want to learn from Jesus, from His words and His actions. As a disciple of Jesus you let yourself be touched by His words and actions. It is necessary to let yourself be formed in your life by Jesus [33]. Because Jesus rose from the dead and lives, He can now be our teacher, shepherd and friend, in the community of the Church.

5. Trusting in Jesus: believing in Jesus

Jesus Christ, the living Lord, asks us, as His disciples, to really trust in Him. This means:

  • Believing that Jesus lives (Jesus is not just someone from the past, He is also close to us now);
  • Believing that Jesus loves you and is interested in you, that He calls you with your talents;
  • Being willing to entrust your life to the Lord by being honest to yourself and to God, asking and receiving forgiveness for your sins (Sacrament of Confession), laying your fears at His feet (Jesus also knew fear [34]);
  • Offering your talents to Him: the willingness to be an instrument of God;
  • Believing that Jesus has given you the Church to learn, to celebrate, to serve and live in faith and love in the community of faith.

It is important to realise that the word of God, the Gospel, is also the word of the Church. Jesus has entrusted His Good News to us, His Church: to write down, to life from, to communicate [35].

6. Following Jesus: building your life upon Christ

As a disciple of Jesus you are invited to build your life upon Jesus. To be able to do and grow in that the following points or of vital importance:

  • Your life with Jesus needs a continuous conversation with Christ in prayer, alone in your inner room [36] and in the community of the Church;
  • Your relationship with Jesus, the living Lord, has consequences for how you relate to people around you (concerning honesty, neighbourly love, forgiveness, pure intentions, etc);
  • Every day requires conversion (if necessary forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: confession);
  • Your life in faith is never without difficulties (it is necessary to be willing to give something for it, the sign of the cross means victory but also presupposes suffering and sacrifice [37]);
  • Life in faith can never exist by our own strength alone: it is a gift from God, of God’s mercy: it is therefore necessary to keep celebrating the sacraments, to ask and receive the comfort and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, to accept and experience the support of your guardian angel [38];
  • Your life in faith needs good examples: look towards the saints as friends of God. They are our intercessors, which means that they pray with you to God.

In short: your path as a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong journey with Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the community of the Church, from day to day, with ups and downs.

7. In closing (through Him and with Him and in Him)

The first word of the theme of the WYD is “go”. That means getting up towards your neighbour to confess your faith in Jesus. You can only do so if you’ve first come to Jesus, meaning:

  • Consciously aligning your heart with the Lord and letting Him touch you
  • Actively uniting your life to the Lord and His Church
  • Choosing to place your life in the light of the Gospel

Only when you’ve come to Jesus yourself, only then you can leave from Jesus and go in His name to win others for the Lord, to make others into disciples of Christ.

8. Questions to discuss

  • Do you believe that Jesus lives? What does that mean for you personally?
  • What would you like to learn from Jesus?
  • What do you think is the most important thing to tell others about Jesus?

+ J. van den Hende
Bishop of Rotterdam

Photo credit: P. van Mulken

pope writingOn the Fourth Sunday of Easter – still a long way away, it seems as we are approaching the Fourth Sunday of that other great season, Advent – the Church will join together, “united in prayer, to ask from God the gift of holy vocations and to propose once again, for the reflection of all, the urgent need to respond to the divine call,” as Pope Benedict XVI writes in his Message for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (My Dutch translation here).

Taking as its theme “Vocations as a sign of hope founded in faith”, the message is first and foremost a meditation on hope. Drawing on Abraham’s faith in Gods promise that He would make him “the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:18), the pope explains the reason for our hope: Gods faithfulness. He writes:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, what exactly is God’s faithfulness, to which we adhere with unwavering hope? It is his love! He, the Father, pours his love into our innermost self through the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5). And this love, fully manifested in Jesus Christ, engages with our existence and demands a response in terms of what each individual wants to do with his or her life, and what he or she is prepared to offer in order to live it to the full.”

And later Benedict suggests a very real and practical realisation of this response to Gods love manifested in Christ:

“Just as he did during his earthly existence, so today the risen Jesus walks along the streets of our life and sees us immersed in our activities, with all our desires and our needs. In the midst of our everyday circumstances he continues to speak to us; he calls us to live our life with him, for only he is capable of satisfying our thirst for hope. He lives now among the community of disciples that is the Church, and still today calls people to follow him. The call can come at any moment. Today too, Jesus continues to say, “Come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). Accepting his invitation means no longer choosing our own path. Following him means immersing our own will in the will of Jesus, truly giving him priority, giving him pride of place in every area of our lives: in the family, at work, in our personal interests, in ourselves. It means handing over our very lives to Him, living in profound intimacy with Him, entering through Him into communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and consequently with our brothers and sisters. This communion of life with Jesus is the privileged “setting” in which we can experience hope and in which life will be full and free.”

The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is mostly aimed at vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but we must not forget that we all have a vocation. Because we are baptised, Christ calls us all. Each of us must decide to answer, and also how to answer. Hearing the call, ans thus answering “is possible in Christian communities where the faith is lived intensely, where generous witness is given of adherence to the Gospel, where there is a strong sense of mission which leads people to make the total gift of self for the Kingdom of God, nourished by recourse to the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and by a fervent life of prayer.”

And so ends the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, or the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, as it is referred to in a rather handier fashion. A closing Mass yesterday wrapped up the three weeks of deliberations that, for now, resulted in a Message (available in Dutch as well) as composed by the commission chaired by Cardinal Betori and Cardinal-designate Tagle, and a set of 58 propositions to the Holy Father, which the latter will craft into a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which will probably see the light of day in a year or more. This will the final and concluding document of the Synod Assembly, but of course there is no reason before waiting to reflect on what has already been said and proposed, or to put some of it in practice. Because words are all fine, but if they don’t become reality, there is little point to them.

Reflecting, like I did in my previous blog post, on blind Bartimaeus, Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily, referred to what St. Augustine said about this Biblical character, that he was a man fallen from prosperity into  misfortune:

“This interpretation, that Bartimaeus was a man who had fallen from a condition of “great prosperity”, causes us to think.  It invites us to reflect on the fact that our lives contain precious riches that we can lose, and I am not speaking of material riches here.  From this perspective, Bartimaeus could represent those who live in regions that were evangelized long ago, where the light of faith has grown dim and people have drifted away from God, no longer considering him relevant for their lives.  These people have therefore lost a precious treasure, they have “fallen” from a lofty dignity – not financially or in terms of earthly power, but in a Christian sense – their lives have lost a secure and sound direction and they have become, often unconsciously, beggars for the meaning of existence.  They are the many in need of a new evangelization, that is, a new encounter with Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1), who can open their eyes afresh and teach them the path.  It is significant that the liturgy puts the Gospel of Bartimaeus before us today, as we conclude the Synodal Assembly on the New Evangelization.  This biblical passage has something particular to say to us as we grapple with the urgent need to proclaim Christ anew in places where the light of faith has been weakened, in places where the fire of God is more like smouldering cinders, crying out to be stirred up, so that they can become a living flame that gives light and heat to the whole house.”

 And, I can’t help but thinking, is the Holy Father perhaps thinking along similar lines as the late Cardinal Martini, when he speaks about “smouldering cinders”, under ashes or not?

Pope Benedict mentions three pastoral themes that apparently struck him during the Synod’s proceedings (and the Holy Father himself was perhaps one of the most active participants, taking copious notes during the interventions and being far more than just a presiding pope): the importance of the sacraments of initiation; the Missio ad gentes; and the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism. All are important themes for the new evangelisation.

And perhaps Bartimaeus, although never canonised – in fact, nothing is known of him beyond his appearance in the Gospel of Mark – can still be something of a patron for the new evangelisation, for as the Holy Father says:

“Dear brothers and sisters, Bartimaeus, on regaining his sight from Jesus, joined the crowd of disciples, which must certainly have included others like him, who had been healed by the Master. New evangelizers are like that: people who have had the experience of being healed by God, through Jesus Christ. And characteristic of them all is a joyful heart that cries out with the Psalmist: “What marvels the Lord worked for us: indeed we were glad” (Ps 125:3).”

They reached Jericho; and as he left Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus – that is, the son of Timaeus – a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and cry out, ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.’ And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’
Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him here.’ So they called the blind man over. ‘Courage,’ they said, ‘get up; he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus.
Then Jesus spoke, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘Rabbuni, let me see again.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has saved you.’ And at once his sight returned and he followed him along the road.

Yesterday we heard this simple and powerful Gospel passage (Mark 10:46-52) in the celebration of Mass. The blind beggar Bartimaeus happens to be in the right place at the right time. Or is he?

In his homily Cardinal Eijk, who offered Mass at our cathedral for the occasion of the 125th anniversary of its dedication, told us that that wasn’t the case. It was not a matter of chance that Bartimaeus happened to be sitting in the street through which Jesus passed on His way out of Jericho. For Jesus passes us every day. It is up to us to see and recognise Him, something that Bartimaeus, despite being blind, managed to do.

He saw with the eyes of faith, thus recognising Jesus. The next step that he took, and which has to be a step we all should take, is to call out, to confirm the recognition to ourselves, to Christ and to everyone around us. Bartimaeus did so in a very simple form: “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me”. But it is deceptively simple. Bartimaeus words were a short but very effective prayer, one that we could do worse than use every now and then.

Bartimaeus shows us that we can see and recognise Jesus every day, and we should not hesitate to speak to Him, in prayer. And prayer can be very short and simple without losing any of its intent and power.

Some that are blind can see clearly, and some that have their sight are blinded by vision.

Art credit: Bartimaeus, by Harold Copping

“And he said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’
And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven; there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.”

Mark 16:15-20

Today we celebrate Ascension Day, although celebrate is perhaps not the correct term. After all, the Apostles had no reason to celebrate when their Teacher returned to His Father. After the sorrow of the Crucifixion, the joy of the countless appearances of Christ after His Resurrection, now there came a true ending of sorts. Now they had to go out alone or in small groups and spread the Gospel among all creation. Not a small task, even with the prospect of the Lord “working with them”. The Apostles, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, needed some time to come to terms with this new reality. They surely didn’t feel like celebrating.

But we do today. Maybe it’s easier for us, since the Lord remains with us in the same way that He has ever since our Baptism. Apart from the readings at Mass and the prayers of the day, we have no real sense of change in our life. Instead, we may renew our efforts to follow the commandment that Christ gave His disciples upon His Ascension: to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel to all creation.

Today’s Gospel reading offers us some examples on how to do so, or rather: how the Lord helps us in doing so. There are signs which accompany the work of the Apostles, and which still accompany our work in the same way. Those sings can take all kinds of forms; it is not as if God is limited in His help. They need not always be great miracles (although they certainly can be – consider, for one, the miracle of the sun at Fatima), or even take place at the same time that a modern Apostle does his or her work.

Often, we only realise that God was with us, helping us, confirming our words and works, when we look back at the things that happened or that we, or someone else, did. A prayer answered, a chance encounter with someone new, a seemingly random set of occurrences, some words read out, a homily… the possibilities are endless. What these signs indicate is that Christ is still with us, and that He will always be with us on our way to our ultimate goal. And that is why we celebrate today.

Art credit: “He vanished from their sight,” by Harold Copping

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

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Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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