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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].
 Reuters/Claudia Daut
 Reuters/Osservatore Romano
 Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images
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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.
“Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap; because the standard you use will be the standard used for you.”
A classic text, this one from today’s Mass, often cited under the “do unto others” banner. It’s closely linked to what the scribe told Jesus in the Gospel of Mark: “To love [God] with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice” (12:33). In the following verse Jesus confirmed this.
The love of God and the neighbour is therefore closely connected, not least because we see the face of the Lord in the people around us, especially the poor, the sick and the needy. What we do for others, we therefore essentially do for God. Jesus further expounds on this when He speaks of the return of the Son of God in glory, in Matthew 25:31-46, saying “In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (v. 40).
The service to others is then very important to God and also to ourselves. It can in fact safely be considered the very basis of our Christian life in the context of the the ultimate return of Christ.
As for the passage from Luke itself: does Christ forbid us to judge and condemn? No, but we must remember that we too will be judged and, possibly, condemned for our misdeeds. That must always be in the back of our minds, when we judge something that someone did or did not do (we have no business judging or condemning the person anyway). The passage is also an invitation to forgive. While we may condemn an action or inaction, we should also forgive people for what they did wrong and give them a chance to do better.
“The standard you use will be the standard used for you”: having a standard to measure the world and the people around us is not a bad thing, as long as we also use it on ourselves. We are not above others, and equally prone to do wrong and make mistakes. We too want to the opportunity to overcome our failings. We should give others that opportunity too.
Art credit: “The greatest commandment”, from an unknown illustrator of a children’s Bible
Released yesterday, Pope Benedict’s Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is one of those texts which builds upon the rich source of Sacred Scripture, with the Holy Father throwing out references to specific Bible passages like only he can. The main topic is the twofold divine love, love of God and love of the neighbour. It is a topic that the pope has written about before, not least in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est.
This love, the pope writes, “must be lived with a particular intensity and purity of heart by those who have decided to set out on the path of vocation discernment towards the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life; they are its distinguishing mark. Love of God, which priests and consecrated persons are called to mirror, however imperfectly, is the motivation for answering the Lord’s call to special consecration through priestly ordination or the profession of the evangelical counsels. Saint Peter’s vehement reply to the Divine Master: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15) contains the secret of a life fully given and lived out, and thus one which is deeply joyful.”
The text of the message is also available in Dutch.
Like many holidays and feasts in the west, today – Valentine’s Day – has its roots in the Catholic Church. But in this case the roots are thin and fragile. Extremely little is known about the Saint Valentine who gave his name to today. In fact, he may be any of as few as three or as many as fourteen different Valentines. But the celebration of his unknown exploits and example is not completely without foundation.
The fifth-century Pope Saint Gelasius I established St. Valentine’s feast day, and alleged relics of the saint are to be found in various location in Europe; among them Rome, Dublin, Glasgow, Vienna and Birmingham. Also, starting in the tenth century, churches started to be dedicated to St. Valentine, and at the same time, two late-Roman men, one a priest and the other a bishop, started to be identified with St. Valentine. They are buried in two different locations along the Via Flaminia, which runs from Rome to modern Rimini.
Still, even though there may have been a man name Valentine who was venerated for his holy life, even St. Gelasius I acknowledged that his name was “justly reverenced among men, but [his] acts are known only to God.”
Because of his anonymity, the Church no longer includes Saint Valentine on the calendar of saints, although local celebrations still take place where his alleged relics are kept.
Literary flourishing in the Middle Ages turned the day into a celebration of courtly love, and later into a day to express love in general to whomever one pleases. Geoffrey Chaucer, in his Parlement of Foules from 1382, wrote: For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make. But he may well have been referring to May 2, the feast day of St. Valentine of Genoa, somebody else altogether.
It’s a murky business, trying to figure out who did what when and why we celebrate those things now… But the fact remains: despite rampant commercialisation, today is a day to celebrate the love between people – the greatest Christian virtue.
As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13)