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Various bishops have written messages to their faithful on the occasion of Lent. In this post I want to go over six of them, written by bishops in and around the Netherlands. I have been scanning the various diocesan websites for them, and an interesting conclusion from that is that there aren’t a lot. I have found one in the Netherlands, and a few in Belgium and the Nordic countries. Oh, and one from Luxembourg. None from Germany, oddly enough.
Anyway, let’s see what the bishops who did write a message found important to share.
From Utrecht, Cardinal Wim Eijk speaks about charity. He writes:
“For many of us [Lent] is a time of abstinence, a period in which we deny ourselves “the pleasures of life” or at least limit ourselves. Lent is a journey through the darkness to the Light of Easter, a journey through the desert to the Source. And we take the time for that: this is not ‘merely’ a Four-Day March, but one of forty days. We do not fast with an eye on losing weight or adopting a healthier lifestyle – although these can certainly be positive side effects… [...] During Lent we place not ourselves but God and also our neighbours at the centre. It is the we have in mind when we downsize our consumption pattern.”
But the cardinal warns, Lent is not just about saving money to give to some charity. He quotes Pope Francis, who said that if we do not have Christ and the Cross, we are a enthusiastic NGO, but not a Church. In other words, we can’t lose sight of our faith when doing good. In addition to fighting material poverty, we must also fight spiritual poverty.
“[Lent] is after all a time in which we make room to enrich our heart and our spirit, through prayer and reading Scripture, by directing these on what the should be the heart of our existence: our personal relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. We remove the frills and side issues from our life to experience that our wellbeing does not depend on them.”
In essence, Cardinal Eijk explains, our charitable actions can not be seen separate from the Eucharist.
“In the sacrament of the Eucharist we come closest to Our Lord Jesus Christ. In receiving the Eucharist we are conformed to Him. This creates obligations and holds an assignment: from now on, try to act in His Spirit.”
He concludes with pointing out several “desert experiences” that deserve our attention: the loneliness of people around us, and the loneliness that we as faithful can sometimes experience.
“We live in a time in which faith has long since ceased to be a matter of course, in which not belonging to a religion is increasingly becoming normative. Going to Church on Sunday has almost become “socially maladjusted behaviour” now that this day is beginning to look more and more like every other day of the week. And then there is the unavoidable fact that several churches will have to be closed in the coming period, churches in which parishioners have often had decades worth of precious experiences and memories. It is clear: a person of faith in the year 2014 must stand firm to continue following Jesus faithfully.
But the person of faith and his faith can also be shaken from within. Every faith life has fruitful and barren periods. Barren periods during which we are locked up in ourselves, imprisoned by doubt and sorrow. Sorrow for the loss of a loved one or the disappearance of what was once familiar. In those dark nights of abandonment it may seems as it of our prayer do not reach beyond that barrier of sorrow, as if they return to us like a boomerang.”
Countering that is the realisation that Christ is with us, even in times of sorrow and suffering, even of sin.
Brussels’ Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard sheds a light on the three constituent elements of Lent – fasting, almsgiving and prayer – and asks his audience some direct questions. About fasting, he writes:
“Properly understood, fasting is an act of love for God. Is it not right to happily deny ourselves something for the people we love the most? [...] The way in which our Muslim brother and sisters practice Ramadan can inspire us in an exemplary manner to be at our most generous in this field.”
About almsgiving, the archbishop explains:
“This is an important aspect of Lent. Brotherly sharing starts at home. With that I mean the sharing of friendship, respect, patience and service.”
Lastly, there is prayer. Archbishop Léonard remind sus that the most important prayer is the Eucharist. About personal prayer, he asks us a question:
“We all know, at least in theory, the importance of prayer. But reality shows that a solid reminder sometimes does wonders! I ask you again: “How much time did we spend on prayer over the past month? Where were we?” Lent is an excellent opportunity to make a new start or, who knows, finally get started. Spending a few minutes a day with the Lord is not to much to ask, is it?”
And prayer is not hard:
“We must at least realise that every one of us can pray, even a longer prayer. Prayer is not reserved to priests and religious. It does not require a diploma or any special talent. The desire for prayer and asking Jesus, like His Apostles did, “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Luke 11:1), is enough. Let su listen to the voice of the Lord, who asks us, “Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share a meal at that person’s side” (Rev. 3:20).”
Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg uses his message to urge the his faithful to devote themselves even more to the practices of Lent and Easter. In order the hear the voice of God, we must be ready to do so, he writes.
“I [...] propose we fast and do abstinence every Friday during this time of preparation for Easter. A simple meal can help us break down barriers in our daily routine and to open ourselves to Christ’s call. It is also a gesture of solidarity with the poor. And it would be good to not do it alone, but to do so in our various communities. Fasting and abstinence open our hearts and make us better able to pray. Would this not be an opportunity to pray more, to maintain dialogue and contact with the living God? Without personal prayer these things elude us!”
Archbishop Hollerich also speaks about almsgiving, about giving something up for the other. And this is also good for ourselves:
“Let’s shake ourselves up during this Lent! Let’s open our hearts to the distress of the world, which also exists in Luxembourg. Only someone who opens their hands to share can receive this gift: the freedom of the children of God.”
The archbishop urges us to celebrate all of Lent, not just Easter, but also Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, in order to encounter Christ fully in our hearts.
Despite the problems the Church faces, and we as individual faithful also, Lent is ultimately a season of hope, and that hope grows the closer we come to the Living Lord.
Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm takes a slightly different approach to his message for Lent, as he does not explicitly discuss what we can and should do during this season. Instead, he begins with the image of a forgotten God, opening his letter with these blunt lines:
“We forget God. We live in age where God has become the forgotten God. Even the one who says, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14) has in fact himself forgotten God.”
But God does not forget us, he continues. We can’t imagine how close God is to is, and how much he loves us. It is up to us to remind others that, while they may forget Him, He never forgets them. And that is hard to communicate, but we must remain hopeful.
Forgetting God contains an enormous risk for us, the bishop explains:
“When we forget God, there is a great risk that we also forget man and fail to see him in his dignity of being created in the image of God. When God is forgotten, creation itself is diminished and so are all created beings. In a time and environment where consumerism is paramount, everything – and everybody – is easily reduced to things that can be consumed. When God is out of sight, so is humanity – indeed all of creation is brought down and diminished.”
But God is knowable in His creation, Bishop Arborelius states. “His presence permeates everything”. And when we get to know God, our respect for His creation grows. In Lent, that respect is shown by our refraining from making unnecessary use of created things.
“We eat less. We disengage ourselves from our covetousness. We try to help our neighbour. We meet God in the poor and naked. We forget ourselves so that we can set God in the centre. We serve those who need us. We praise Go for His goodness. We deepen our faith. Lent helps us to seek God with greater eagerness. We are more receptive to God’s will for us.” St. Birgitta likens God to a washerwoman, who constantly washes us clean of our sins and guilt. During Lent we are serious about our conversion. We prepare ourselves for the triumph and joy of Easter through contrition and penance, by receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation and by participating in the Eucharist more often. We unite ourselves to the suffering and crucified Christ so that we can meet Him as the Risen and glorified Lord. The cross always leads us to the joy and peace of Easter.”
During Lent we must make a choice, the bishop insists.
“We must choose sides. We cannot limp on both sides. Mediocrity and half-heartedness must give way to devotion and commitment. We must begin each day anew in the new life of grace. We must seek the face of God each day by praying to Him and serving Him in our neighbour.”
But we need not stand alone in this radical choice. We are part of the community of the Church, which strengthens us, and the saints in heaven support us by their prayer. This is an antidote against selfishness and forgetting God.
Bishop Arborelius concludes his letter by presenting the Blessed Virgin, to whom the bishops of the Nordic countries will consecrate their nations on 22 March in Lund, Sweden, as our great help in heaven. She helps us be more evangelising and a better witness of Christ.
Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny devotes a major part of his message to the Belgian bill which allows euthanasia on minors. He quotes part of the bishops’ response to that immoral piece of legislation, which was sadly signed into law by King Philippe only days ago.
“The bishops agree with all who have expressed themselves unambiguously against this law on the basis of their experience and expertise. They fully support the rights of the child, of which the rights to love and respect are the most fundamental. But the right of a child to request his or her own death is a step too far for them. It is a transgression of the prohibition to kill, which forms the basis of our humane society.”
Following this reminder of the Church’s opposition to the laws of death, Bishop Bonny writes about the two complementary topics of freedom and solidarity.
“From where does our freedom come, and what does it consist of? Where does our solidarity consist of and what does it consist of? In the Christian view of humanity and the world freedom and solidarity are inseparable. They are like twins who belong together and strengthen each other.”
Using the example of St. Damian, Bishop Bonny then asks what connection we still make between freedom and solidarity. Lent leads us to the answer to that question.
“What was Good Friday but the ultimate unity of those two: freedom and solidarity. Why did Jesus end up on a cross? On the one hand because He wanted to be free: free to witness to the truth free to say and do what the Spirit of God inspired Him to do, free to give His life for His friends. On the other hand because He wanted to remain solidary: solidary with poor and broken people, solidary with the martyrs of all times, solidary with a weak and sinful humanity. He did not make a success story out of His life. He lost His trial. He was carried off through the backdoor of society.”
And so we come full circle, as the bishop seems to want to imply a link between the victims of draconian laws and Jesus Christ.
Reykjavík’s Bishop Pétur Bürcher writes about the Year for Consecrated Life that Pope Francis has announced for 2015, and uses the opportunity the address the religious communities in Iceland which, he says, “are a sign of hope for our Church!” The bishop goes on to relate the contributions that the religious communities have made to Catholic Iceland and announces a plan for the future:
“I would like to establish a male monastery, if possible with the Benedictines or Augustinians who in the Middle Ages possessed several monasteries in Iceland. We have already found a large piece of land with houses and a heated church in Úlfljótsvatn. Now we have to find a monastic community! I have undertaken a lot to find it and hope soon for a fulfillment of my dream which has become one of many people in Iceland and abroad!”
Lastly, Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt opens his message by acknowledging that our environment does not make it easy for us to have the right attitude to start Lent.
“There is very little around us which calls us to it. The chocolate Easter eggs are already in the supermarket and commercials and media have always spoken with more easy about carnival, dieting and the Ramadan than about Christian fasting. Lent is apparently considered to be a private matter which we had better not discuss too much.”
But Lent is a precious time of conversion, the bishop says, drawing parallels with Christ’s time in the desert and the forty years that the people of Israel spent in the desert. It is a time of conversion from worldly things, in preparation for the future. And that conversion begins with the person of Jesus. Quoting Pope Francis, Bishop Hoogmartens says we must understand Christ’s deepest ‘being’.
“Jesus reveals Himself, not with worldly power and wealth, both more so in weakness and poverty. He came to us with a love which does not hesitate to sacrifice itself. He became like us in every way, except in sin. He carried our suffering and died on the Cross. It is He who we must open our hearts and lives much more to during Lent. From out of the love of Jesus, out of His mercy as the Christ, we can, as it were, ‘practice’ our witnessing, in honest love for the other, during Lent.”
The bishop emphasises the two sorts of poverty we must address, material and moral. About the latter he says:
“The extreme emphasis on human autonomy, for example, which became to shockingly visible in the recent amendments in Belgium regarding euthanasia, must urge us Christians to even more support care and nearness to suffering people according to the Gospel.”
In the first place, the bishops concludes, we must first make a conversion ourselves, before we can address the various sorts of poverty we see around us, for it is in Jesus that we find the means to fight it.
As many styles as there are bishops. Some offer deep theology, others outline plans for the future, but all offer points that we can keep in mind during Lent.
And so, here it is, the first red dawn of Francis’ pontificate, increasing the College of Cardinals to 218 members, with 122 on active duty. The batch of new cardinals (pictured at left, during yesterday’s proceedings) has widely been reported as a conscious break away from the west. Although there still are eight prelates from Europe or North America (including five Italians), they are not a majority. Among them, we find only the second cardinal from Nicaragua (Brenes Solórzano) and Burkina Faso (Ouédraogo), and the very first from Saint Lucia (and the lesser Caribbean as a whole) (Felix) and Haïti (Langlois). They are all archbishops, with the sole exception of Cardinal-designate Chibly Langlois, who has been a bishop for less then ten years.
Age-wise, there are also some interesting shifts. Not only has Pope Francis chosen to create the oldest cardinal at the time of creation (and at this moment the oldest member of the College at large), 98-year-old Loris Capovilla, but also a few of the youngest. While 54-year-old Cardinal Baselios Thottunkal remains the youngest member, he is followed by two new cardinals: 55-year-old Chibly Langlois and 56-year-old Gérald Lacroix. At number 6 of the youngest cardinals is the highest ranking member of the latest batch: 59-year-old Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, the youngest in this function since Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, in 1930.
After today the College of Cardinals will have 2 members created by Pope Paul VI, 116 by Blessed Pope John Paul II, 81 by Pope Benedict XVI and 19 by Pope Francis. It is still dominated by the appointments of one of the longest-reigning Popes, but this is a status quo this will change fairly rapidly over the coming years. Only 39 of the cardinals created by John Paul II are still under the age of 80, which equals to about 34%. Of the ‘Benedictine’ cardinals, 75 remain active, which is some 93%. Of Francis’ appointments, 84% will be under the age of, so in a sense this is all relative. But it does point out the slow but sure change happening in the composition of the College of Cardinals.
Today’s consistory should be seen in the greater context of Pope Francis intended and gradual overhaul of the institution of the Church. Loving pastoral care in the field must have first place over managerial concerns. Today’s new cardinals, especially once they’ve taken their place in the Curia, are chosen with that in mind.
In the countries around us the results of the Synod of Bishops questionnaire have been published and they show a worrying image. While the data differs slightly per country, the general trend seems to be that Catholic faithful in general do not agree with Catholic teaching about sexuality and gender. In Germany the bishops have said that the faithful considering same-sex marriage a matter of justice and equality. Celibacy for priests is equally considered outdated and should be abolished.
This points to a serious problem: the Church in these countries has not succeeded in communicating her teachings very well, and where it has, it has done so according to the stereotype of the Church who forbids everything. Catholic teaching about sexuality is rooted in a profound understanding of human nature, according to his being created by God who has created man with a purpose.
This teaching, founded in that of Jesus Christ and unchanged (if developed) since then, is one that often exists at direct angles with society. Society in the west teaches something radically different than the Church: sexuality is a commodity, gender is self made, free choice trumps all. In essence, it says that the human being is the sole interpreter of who he or she is or can be. The Church, on the other hand, teaches that the human being is called to something greater in all aspects of his being. God calls him to Himself and shows us the way in His Son. That means that we are not limited by what we think, feel or know ourselves, but also that we should take our nature seriously. And that latter part is where we struggle. With those around us who tell us something different, but also with ourselves.
It is certainly easy to go along with what society tells us about sexuality. It is easy, comforting, uplifting even to fight for the happiness of others in love and marriage. It is a measure of control and seeming self-knowledge to decide on our own sexuality and practices. But God tells us something different. He says that we are called to look beyond ourselves, to listen to what He tells us and how He created us.
And that is something that must be communicated well. Until now, it hasn’t. The keyword in this communication is love. We must communicate, teach, inform with love. The love of the Father for us, but also our love for our neighbours and for ourselves. That love can’t be withdrawn when we or others stumble or decide to go another path. We are, after all, people with free will. That is how God created us and that is what we must respect.
What sort of love must we show to others and ourselves? In essence it is the love of the Father, and the best analogy I can think of is the love of parents for their children. Parents want what is best for their children, even when the children disagree. The children know that their parents love them, even when they sometimes forbid them things or correct them. We must emulate that love when we share the teachings of the Church on these very personal and sensitive matters.
Don’t turn anyone away.
Be honest and open. People deserve no less.
Love the person, not their actions.
Condemn actions, not persons.
Lead by example.
People will still disagree when we do, of course. But we are called to share and spread the faith, and to do so fully. Faith without love is nothing.
As announced today, Pope Francis will be releasing his first encyclical on Friday. Titled Lumen fidei, “The light of faith”, it has been co-authored by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. Pope Francis has reworked a draft created by the emeritus pontiff, and as such the encyclical will be the third in a series on the theological virtues of hope, charity and faith. Benedict XVI published Deus caritas est – on Christian love – in 2005, and Spe Salvi – On Christian hope – in 2007.
Lumen fidei is published very early in this pontificate – less than four months into it – , a fact no doubt due to the fact that the previous Pope already drafted an initial version. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI took eight months to release his first encyclical. Pope John Paul II, in 1979, released his first five months after his election. Pope Paul VI took more than a year, Pope John XXIII eight months, Pope Pius XII seven months, Pope Pius XI ten months, and Pope Benedict XV released his first a mere two months after his election in 1914.
The encyclical will be presented on Friday morning at the Vatican by Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella and Gerhard Müller, the heads of the Vatican offices for bishops, new evangelisation and the doctrine of the faith. That, in itself, may give us some hints at how we should read Lumen fidei: as an integral element of the Year of Faith and the new evangelisation, and with perhaps a special focus on the role of the bishops in that endeavour.
At a European conference on the emancipation of homosexuals in The Hague, an Amsterdam alderman has called for all religious leaders in the world to take their responsibility regarding the acceptance of homosexuals and transgendered people.
“As long as the Pope and most Muslim leaders do not accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation, millions of people will consider violence against gays, lesbians and transgendered people to be justified,” Andrée van Es (pictured), who holds the diversity and integration portfolio in the Amsterdam city council, said. This sweeping generalisation, putting religious leaders in all their diversity in the same corner, is not only a gross misrepresentation of reality, but also a worrying example of the imposition of one society’s political philosophy on others.
Writing as a Catholic and as a blogger with some knowledge of Catholic teachings on these matters, I will limit myself to the Church and her faith, leaving Muslim thoughts about homosexuality aside.
To begin with the very first words of the statement quoted above, I must explain that the Church does accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation: she accepts that it exists, that people can experience sexual attraction to people of the same gender. However, she does not accept it as a true expression of the ordered nature of man as created by God. That is why she will always be opposed to same-sex marriage, for example, as it is an impossibility. However, that is far from the same thing as advocating violence against homosexuals. The Church always upholds that ancient teaching of hating the sin, loving the sinner. Whatever a person’s sexual orientation, he or she has an innate dignity and should always be treated in accordance with that dignity that all men have been given. The Church will always defend that dignity, which is most visibly in her pro-life attitude, but also in her pastoral relations between individual faithful, laity and clergy alike.
However, and this is an important distinction that is often misunderstood or overlooked, this loving understanding of people’s equality in their human dignity is far from the same as accepting everything a person does (not is or has, but does). Indeed, when we love someone, we are bound to correct that person if he or she makes mistakes, and we should guide and help them in their lives, whatever the difficulties are that they may face over the course of it. Be it illness, poverty, social issues or a disordered sexuality, we must be there to stand with them, help them in their lives, to achieve the fulfillment of life as God has willed it. We are people with a purpose, created for that purpose, and God has given us the possibility to achieve that purpose, to live in unity with Him for all eternity, despite the obstacles and barriers that we find on our path. He has given us the means to overcome them, and we often find those means through the help of others.
That reality governs the actions of the Church. God has willed to reach out to us through her, that she may be there to lead us to Him. As members of His Church, we are called to make that possible. We do so through the love that Christ has showed us, and that is not a sappy kind of love which sees everything through rose-tinted glasses and accepts everything. No, that love wants the best for its object: us. And therefore it guides, corrects, teaches.
The Church accepts reality, but does not accept that that is all there is. We can and must always strive for something better, for the very best. God is that very best, and He is what we strive for.
All of the above commits us to something which is not easy, certainly not in our modern society. It can come across as discriminatory, hateful even. But just like a parent correcting a child, there can be no hate between God and man. The Church does not hate homosexuals. She loves them like she loves all men, and she teaches them through the faculties given to her by the Lord, in love, like a parent teaches, guides and sometimes has to correct a child.
When suggesting someone to do something, the first step to is to make sure you know what you are talking about. Ms. van Es has clearly failed to do this, as she so clearly links the Pope, and thus the Catholic Church, to violence. A cursory search soon comes up with Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
In 2008, while offering some criticism, the Holy See welcomed
“the attempts made in the statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity – presented at the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2008 – to condemn all forms of violence against homosexual persons as well as urge States to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them” [source].
In 2009, the Permanent Mission to the UN reiterated much the same sentiments:
“The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. The murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State” [source].
Three quotes found through a short search via Google and Wikipedia. Ms. van Es could and should have known much better.
Photo credit: Gemeente Amsterdam
In the run-up to tomorrow’s inauguration of King Willem Alexander there has been much attention paid to Catholic notions of kingship. While Christ is the one King, the Church also teaches much about the duties of earthly kings. Bishop Jos Punt’s homily is an excellent example of the latter. It also contains an interesting glimpse of the religious landscape of the Netherlands and the role of tolerance, as well as a theological explanation of the globus cruciger. Recommended reading (for Dutch readers, the original text).
A recording of the Mass, by Dutch public television, may be viewed here.
In closing, some words by Father Jim Schilder, priest of the basilica of St. Nicholas:
“Today is the fifth Sunday of Easter. But is also two days before the inauguration of our Crown Prince. That is, you could say, a moment of renewal. A threshold to a new era, without breaking with the past. That is also what we see in this time of Easter. On the one hand it is a time of revolutionary renewal through the resurrection of Christ, and on the other hand a time of a new covenant rooted in the old. It is still about the way that God wants to travel with us, about his continuous invitation to follow Him. We can do this by answering the call of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” This goes beyond the two commandments He gave before, and which were already present in the Old Testament: To love God, and your neighbour like yourself. In the Gospel of John He asks us to love each other as He has loved us. His love was characterised by the fact that His entire earthly life was devoted to the other. “I have come to serve.” May the same, we pray, also be true for our new head of state.”
Photo credit:  Isabel Nabuurs,  Fr. Jim Schilder.
On 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.”
German prelates seem to be making the headlines these days. If it isn’t Archbishop Müller, it’s Berlin’s Archbishop, Rainer Cardinal Woelki. About six weeks ago, he was featured in this blog with comments that seemed to endorse homosexual relationships. Although that wasn’t really the case, it was something that continued to haunt him. In an interview for German weekly Die Zeit he was asked if he maintained his earlier statement about homosexual relations. Cardinal Woelki answered:
“”Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,” the Catechism says about people with homosexual tendencies. If I take that seriously, I can’t merely see homosexual relationships as a “violation of natural law”, as the Catechism puts it. I should also try to perceive it as people permanently taking responsibility for one another, being loyal and willing to take care of each other, even if I can’t agree with such a lifestyle. The lifestyle that we, as the Catholic Church, stand for, is the sacramental marriage between one man and one woman, open to the transmission of life. I have also said this at the Catholic Day in Mannheim, immediately before the passage you quoted.”
Reading this, I think it is unfair to see Cardinal Woelki’s earlier statement as an acceptance or even endorsement of homosexual relationships. He says clearly that he is unable to agree with this lifestyle. But, and this is the key, he does emphasise an important element of our dealings with people or situations that we don’t agree with. This element is love, as the catechism quote also hints at. Through love, we can see the good in situations which are “intrinsically disordered”, meaning that in their nature they are contrary to natural law. But, as Jesus has shown us, love trumps all, so even in these situations, love can shine through. Does that mean that homosexual acts and relations cease to be disordered? No, they don’t. But, as the Catechism and the cardinal indicate, we must acknowledge the fact that love, loyalty, responsibility and care can be present in this lifestyle.
Loving homosexual relationship or abuse heterosexual ones don’t so much tell us anything about the validity, the “ordered-ness” or the superiority of the one over the other. They do tell us that love, or the lack thereof, must be acknowledged. That does not change anything about the natural law or how one thing or another relates to it. That, we can argue, is set.
With the first half of the ongoing apostolic journey to Mexico and Cuba virtually behind us, it is time to take a look at some of the things that Pope Benedict XVI said to the faithful of Mexico, Latin America and the entire world, as the Church and the faith she teaches is never limited to geographical borders. Later today, the Holy Father will arrive in Cuba, and once that visit is wrapped up on Wednesday, we’ll take a look at the speeches and homilies given on the largest Caribbean island.
Pilgrim of faith, hope and love
“I come as a pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of love. I wish to confirm those who believe in Christ in their faith, by strengthening and encouraging them to revitalize their faith by listening to the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and living coherently. In this way, they will be able to share their faith with others as missionaries to their brothers and sisters and to act as a leaven in society, contributing to a respectful and peaceful coexistence based on the incomparable dignity of every human being, created by God, which no one has the right to forget or disregard. This dignity is expressed especially in the fundamental right to freedom of religion, in its full meaning and integrity” [Welcoming ceremony, Guanajuato, 23 March].
“Confidence in God offers the certainty of meeting him, of receiving his grace; the believer’s hope is based on this. And, aware of this, we strive to transform the present structures and events which are less than satisfactory and seem immovable or insurmountable, while also helping those who do not see meaning or a future in life” [idem].
An instrument of good
“The disciple of Jesus does not respond to evil with evil, but is always an instrument of good instead, a herald of pardon, a bearer of happiness, a servant of unity. He wishes to write in each of your lives a story of friendship. Hold on to him, then, as the best of friends. He will never tire of speaking to those who always love and who do good. This you will hear, if you strive in each moment to be with him who will help you in more difficult situations” [Meeting with young people, Guanajuato, 24 March].
A new heart
“The history of Israel relates some great events and battles, but when faced with its more authentic existence, its decisive destiny, its salvation, it places its hope not in its own efforts, but in God who can create a new heart, not insensitive or proud. This should remind each one of us and our peoples that, when addressing the deeper dimension of personal and community life, human strategies will not suffice to save us. We must have recourse to the One who alone can give life in its fullness, because he is the essence of life and its author; he has made us sharers in the same through his Son Jesus Christ” [Homily at Expo Bicenternario Park, Léon, 25 March].
Devotion to Mary
“Dear brothers and sisters, do not forget that true devotion to the Virgin Mary always takes us to Jesus, and “consists neither in sterile nor transitory feelings, nor in an empty credulity, but proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to recognize the excellence of the Mother of God, and we are moved to filial love towards our Mother and to the imitation of her virtues” (Lumen Gentium, 67). To love her means being committed to listening to her Son, to venerate the Guadalupana means living in accordance with the words of the blessed fruit of her womb” [Angelus, Léon, 25 March].
“Human evil and ignorance simply cannot thwart the divine plan of salvation and redemption. Evil is simply incapable of that … There is no reason, then, to give in to the despotism of evil. Let us instead ask the risen Lord to manifest his power in our weakness and need” [Vespers, Léon, 25 March].
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On the eve of my baptism, now almost five years ago, I and the others who were to be baptised that Easter were gathered in the office of our parish priest. Seated behind his desk with a big book in front of him, he wrote down our names and the baptismal names we chose. After some deliberation, I had decided on the name of the saint who, fittingly, is also the patron of our cathedral: Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus and spouse of the Blessed Virgin.
Why St. Joseph? There are several reasons, several characteristics of him that appeal to me. First there is his familiarity: I had been coming to the cathedral that bears his name for some 18 months already. Secondly, although not a single word spoken by him is recorded in the Bible, his actions speak to me: his all too human doubts, which are then taken away by his overruling faith and confidence in the Lord. His personal doubts and questions are ultimately less important than his faith and love, expressed in the care he takes for his family.
St. Joseph’s faith and love are things that I want to try and copy in my own life. He is an inspiration to me and an example, hence my choice of him as my baptismal saint. I pray that he may continue to pray for me to the his foster Son, that his intercession may always be a shelter and guiding light in my life, as he has been time and again.
O glorious St. Joseph, you were chosen by God to be the foster father of Jesus, the most pure spouse of Mary ever Virgin, and the head of the holy family. You have been chosen by Christ’s Vicar as the heavenly patron and protector of the Church founded by Christ. Therefore it is with great confidence that I implore your powerful assistance for the whole Church on earth. Protect in a special manner, with true fatherly love, the Pope and all bishops and priests in communion with the See of Peter. Be the protector of all who labor for souls amid the trials and tribulations of this life, and grant that all peoples of the world may follow Christ and the Church He founded.
Dear St. Joseph, accept the offering of myself which I now make to you. I dedicate myself to your service, that you may ever be my father, my protector, and my guide in the way of salvation. Obtain for me great purity of heart and a fervent love for the spiritual life. May all my actions, after your example, be directed to the greater glory of God, in union with the divine Heart of Jesus, the immaculate heart of Mary, and your own paternal heart. Finally, pray for me that I may share in the peace and joy of your holy death.