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An excellent blog post on the website of the parish of Saints John and Clement in Waalwijk*, Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, titled, “It is not the Church that needs to change, but you and I”. Taking the recent bush fires in the diocese (Reusel, Liempde, San Salvator, and also Waalwijk, where the previous pastor was less than popular) as a starting point, the unnamed author takes a firm stand against liberal, often elderly faithful who consider themselves progressive and want to change the Church, or at least their parish, in a product of our times.
The ‘protestants’ are often supported by former priests who either resigned their office, or are married and no longer active in a parish belonging to the diocese, or religious priests. They loudly demand democratisation and ‘adaptation to the times’ from the leaders of the Catholic Church who, supported by her bishops and a new class of priests and faithful, all over the world keep to Catholic teaching, which they draw from the unchangeable Gospel of Christ. Those who demand structural change from the Church call their opponents conservative, old-fashioned and stupid. They feel supported by the media and millions of baptised Christians who never, or only at very special occasions, see the inside of a church. All these critics only see a future for the Catholic Church if she adapts to the wishes and ideas of the majority. According to them, the people are the Church, and so they want the people to call the shots in a ‘reformed’ democratic church. Literally and figuratively.
The text mentions some of the examples of incidents I mentioned above, and then continues:
These are all examples which indicate that the Church keeps holding on to the sanctity of the Eucharist and the other sacraments, against the wishes of the majority of the Dutch people, that not only demands that the Church lets people choose for themselves between life and death, fidelity and infidelity, self-sacrifice or self-gratification, charity or selfishness, but at the same time demands that the Church sanctifies, by administering the sacraments, practices that are unchristian according to the Gospels, like the ones mentioned above.
The conclusion of the piece is a serious one:
The only thing that all the protesters and troublemakers achieved since the 1960s, with their anticatholic and unchristian actions, is that the younger generations threw out the baby with the bathwater, i this case the Christ child sent by God. With the result that many young people never or rarely go to a church anymore: Today – 1,400 years after the Christianisation by St. Boniface – the Church of Christ is faced for the first time with a young generation which has hardly learned anything (positive) about our faith and our Church at home and in school, and for the most part no longer knows what the good news of Jesus Christ is.
The piece further refers to the aged ‘revolutionaries’ of the Mariënburg club and the 8 May movement which sprung up in the wake of Blessed John Paul II’s visit to the Netherlands in 1985, noting the disastrous results of decades of individualism and ill-informed protest. The final words of the article are attrubited to Blessed Teresa of Kolkata:
Blessed Mother Theresa was once asked what she thought should change first in the Church. He answer was, “You and I!”
*The parish of the intelligent, humble and over-so-sensibly Catholic Father Marcel Dorssers, a regular guest at the annual Credimus Bootcamp.
Photo credit: R.K. parochie St. Jan en St. Clemens
It’s been a good month here at the blog. Evidently, there have been several topics which drew much interest, since, numbers-wise, this his been the second-best month since I began. There have been 6,343 views, breaking the record of May and June of this year, when the numbers came close to 6,000. Still, this last month saw only a quarter of the views of that crazy July of 2010.
The top 10 of best viewed posts contains many local topics: the appointment of a new auxiliary bishop and the San Salvator soap opera which came to a conclusion this month. Older topics also remained of interest, with the previous archbishop of Berlin, the late Cardinal Sterzinsky, seeing some renewed interest. Let’s have a look.
1: Berlin is vacant: herald of things to come? 85
2: Bishop Mutsaerts vs San Salvator 67
3: A long expected appointment 58
4: Two years in the making, a new archbishop for Luxembourg 53
5: Twittering Cardinal Ravasi now turns to blogging 51
6: Het probleem Medjugorje 49
7: Assisi 2011, the official announcement, Bishop decline Mariënburg proposal to Protestantise Dutch Church 46
8: The artificial opposition of faith and dogma 45
9: Now official: San Salvator no longer Catholic 44
10 All Saints Day 42
While still seeming to pondering what they exactly believe, the liberal Mariënburg group of ‘concerned’ Catholics managed to come to some form of action. Early last month, they sent a letter to the Dutch Bishops’ Conference proposing local pastoral councils to get the bishops back in touch with the regular faithful. That letter has now been answered by the president of the conference, Archbishop Wim Eijk.
“The bishops hold the position that there are sufficient fora in the Dutch Church province and the Dutch dioceses which maintain good and intense contact with the faithful of the various dioceses. We think of the regular meetings of members of pastoral teams and workers in categorical pastoral care in the deaneries or vicariates, the Diocesan Pastoral Councils and of course the contacts that the bishops and their vicars have during their regular visits to the parishes. An extra pastoral council, the bishops expect, will not have any additional value.
“We have also discussed your point that the German Bishops’ Conference recently started a similar initiative to what you propose in your letter. We believe that this comparison is inaccurate. The German Catholic community, for one, is many times larger that the Dutch one. The Dutch Church province is characterised by the many very short lines between the curia of dioceses, deaneries or vicariates and the parishes.
We thank you for your letter containing your proposal, which we consider to be a sincere sign of your concern for the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, but for the aforementioned reasons, we will not be adopting your proposal.”
The Dutch Church province has a short history with the kind of pastoral councils that Mariënburg proposed, the most infamous being the Pastoral Council held in Noordwijkerhout between 1968 and 1970. That council, organised by the bishops’ conference in response to the Second Vatican Council, brought the abolition of priestly celibacy and various other liberal pet topics perilously close.Pope Paul VI warned against the developments in this council and, in 1980, Blessed Pope John Paul II convened a Special Synod to return the conference to unity and bring them back in line with the world Church. The appointment of orthodox bishops such as Simonis in Rotterdam (1970) and Gijssen in Roermond (1972) was a direct response to the Noordwijkerhout Council.
The Mariënburg society being a manifestation of the exact same sentiments that were put into words (and almost became reality) there, their proposed councils (leading to a National Council in 2014 or 2015) runs the high risk of being the same threat to internal and external unity that Noordwijkerhout was. It was only because of the appointments by Pope Paul VI and the prudent actions of the then newly-elected Pope John Paul II, who announced a Special Synod only six months after his election to the papacy, that worse was prevented. I don’t blame the current bishops for not wanting a repeat exercise…
And besides, the Catholic Church does not run on democratic principles, and nor should it. After all, we don’t derive our authority from a mandate of the masses, but from the once founder of the Church, Jesus Christ. And that’s just the way it works.
Photo credit: Ger Dijkstra & Zonen
Over the past week or so, I have come across a number of instances in which the faith of the average churchgoing people is put in opposition to the rules or dogmas which are handed down from Rome. Some examples:
- The ongoing dispute between the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch and the parish of San Salvator (they have now claimed to be expecting a break with the diocese, looking for alternative locations to continue their ‘services’, and they will bar Auxiliary Bishop Mutsaerts from entering the church through passive resistance (although he is invited to attend one of their priestless Masses – what Masses?!)).
- An announcement of the Mariënburg-old-codgers’-club-of-’critical’-Catholics’ upcoming annual symposium centered around the question of what they still believe (judging from the words of chairman Erik Jurgens, who said he doesn’t need to believe in the Trinity or take the Creed seriously to be a good Catholic, they don’t believe in anything much).
- Retweets by the Dutch Dominicans of an article by a one of their own warning us against believing that Christ is, in fact, God.
- And, lastly, an assurance from theological publishers’ Berne Heeswijk that one of their new publication “will not be going the way of dogma, but the way of the faithful”.
Just some examples, but indicative of a trend that, although often not very visible, is still well alive. To me, the division between the faithful on the one hand and dogma on the other is an artificial separation, which is potentially very dangerous. It’s not as if these are not related or connected in any way.They are, and we need both.
Faith is our answer to God. As the Catechism tells us: “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life” . God takes the first step, we respond. The faith is our response to God’s active revelation and gift. Since it comes from God, this gift is perfect, but our faith is not automatically perfect: it is, after all, our response, and we are merely human. Were our response perfect, the relation between God and us may have been something like that between a programmer and a computer: the programmer inputs something and the outcome of his input is perfect and predictable. We’d be mindless automatons when it came to faith. But we are not. God created us with free will, we are free to act and to choose in all we do, including our quest for God or our denial of Him.
A consequence of that free will is that we have to be active partners in our relationship with God, in our faith. God helps us, but we need to do some of the work ourselves as well. Otherwise, again, we’d be left without choice and freedom. God offers his assistance in that through the Church he founded (Matthew 16:18-19). In the Church we find the means to develop our faith, to allow it to grow.
In the Gospel of John we read the Parable of the Vine (15-1-11). Jesus tells us there: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch — and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt” And later: “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”
Jesus asks us to remain in Him, to keep His commandments and His teachings, lest we be thrown away and come to nothing. Now, Jesus’ teaching includes some very clear dogmas, so to speak: He is God, there are various things we need to do and understand to be able to follow Him. In other words, there are certain rules we need to follow. Just like the sabbath was made for us, and not we for the sabbath (Mark 2:27), the rules are there for us, not we for the rules. They allow us to grow in faith, to reach our full potential. The rules are also educational: they teach us about God and His identity, and likewise about ourselves, through the things we say do and believe.
What’s the consequence of we do not follow the rules that Christ gave us, and which were later given to us by the Church with the authority given to her by Christ? We need only to look at San Salvator, Mariënburg, the Dutch Dominicans, Berne Heeswijk… and so many others. Places were faith is a matter of mere feelings and nice thoughts. We will wither and come to nothing.
There is no opposition between the dogmas and the faith of the common man, so to speak. The former helps the latter achieve his full potential, which does require a conscious effort and desire to achieve in us.
An interesting related question to this whole matter is what comes first: our conscience or the teachings of the Church? Father Juan R. Vélez offers an interesting article about that very question, offering answers based on the teaching of Blessed John Henry Newman. The article is also available in Dutch.