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Pope Benedict this morning ended his Lenten retreat. In a short address, he thanked Cardinal Ravasi for leading the retreat, as well as the other participants for being a “community of prayerful listening”. Below an excerpt of the address:
“The art of believing, the art of praying” was the theme. I was reminded of the fact that the medieval theologians translated the word “Logos” not only as “Verbum”, but also as “ars”: “Verbum” and “ars” are interchangeable. For the medieval theologians, it was only with the two words together that the whole meaning of the word “Logos” appeared. The “Logos” is not just a mathematical reason: the “Logos” has a heart, the “Logos” is also love. The truth is beautiful and the true and beautiful go together: beauty is the seal of truth.
And yet, starting from the Psalms and from our everyday experience, you have also strongly emphasized that the “very good” of the sixth day – expressed by the Creator – is permanently contradicted by the evil of this world, by suffering, by corruption. It’s almost as if wickedness wills permanently to spoil creation, to contradict God and make its truth and its beauty unrecognizable. In a world so marked even by evil, the “Logos,” the eternal beauty and the eternal “art”, must appear as a “caput cruentatum.” The incarnate Son, the incarnate “Logos” is crowned with a crown of thorns and nevertheless is just that: in this suffering figure of the Son of God we begin to see the deepest beauty of our Creator and Redeemer; in the silence of the “dark night” we can, nevertheless, hear the Word. And believing is nothing other than, in the darkness of the world, touching the hand of God, and in this way, in silence, hearing the Word, seeing love.
The Holy Father also thanked Cardinal Ravasi personally, in a letter. Among other things, he wrote that the theme chosen by the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture was particularly helpful in this time of silence and prayer: “We have been able to tap into the source of plenty and pure water that is God’s Word … from the Book of Psalms, the place par excellence where the Word of the Bible becomes prayer.” In closing, Pope Benedict XVI told Cardinal Ravasi that “the Lord will know to reward you for this effort”, a wish that gains special significance in the light of the coming conclave, in which Cardinal Ravasi will vote. Many outside the conclave consider him papabile, a likely successor of Pope Benedict XVI on the Chair of St. Peter.
But luckily that choice ultimately lies in the hands of 116 electors and most importantly, the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray for a fruitful final six days of this papacy, blessing and guidance or the cardinals in the conclave, and also for the new Pope, whoever he may be.
Every year at the start of Lent, the Pope and the Roman Curia go on a weeklong retreat. They don’t go anywhere, but remain at the Vatican in prayer and reflection, and all appointments and regular duties are postponed. Every retreat is led by a prelate personally chosen by the Holy Father, and this year the honour fell to the President of the Pontifical of Council of Culture, and a papabile himself, Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi (pictured at left, with the Holy Father in the background, in the seclusion of retreat).
What makes this retreat different is that Cardinal Ravasi not only offers reflections on the prayer of the Psalms to the prelates on retreat, but also to all the faithful. He has been tweeting short quotes and Vatican Radio has been posting summaries of his talks.
These days, leading up to the conclave, it is very interesting to be able to read and reflect on the theological thoughts of one of the cardinal electors, but, perhaps more importantly, it also offers us a guide through this important season of the Church year. A week in, it is perhaps good to ask: “How is your Lent going?”
Cardinal Ravasi’s tweets may offer us a hint of where to start. Short as they are, they can not offer very deep and detailed reflections, but they may point the way, so to speak. Let’s take a look at some and use them to reflect on our own life in the faith. I have put some tweets together, since they clearly form one line of thought.
“1st Meditation: breathe, think, struggle, love: the verbs of prayer. Prayer is not just emotion, it must be reason and will, reflection and passion, truth and action. Not just “speaking about” God, but “speaking to” God, in a dialogue in which we look lovingly at each other in the eye.”
“The longest of the Psalms (Ps 119) invites us to listen to the divine Word present in the Bible. In the verses of Ps 119 we can hear the love for this Word which shines even in the darkness of existence.”
“3rd Meditation: The song of the twofold sun: the Creator God. Psalm 19. The high and impressive silences of the starry heavens are symbolically broken by the song of faith. Biblical faith does not see space as a neutral thing, but as an epiphanic horizon, where God is present. Authentic ascesis is not only negation, it is also harmony between bodiliness and interiority; renouncing and practice for genuine fullness. The word of God irradiates its splendour in the horizon of the conscience, melting our coldness and spreading light and hope. Before creation in its richness, we can raise our thanksgiving to God for our existence and for so many marvels.”
“Our journey becomes a real pilgrimage towards the “meeting tent”, the sanctuary in its sacred culmination. The divine Person is there, manifesting himself, speaking and embracing the faithful. “As an eagle watching its nest, flying over its offspring, the Lord unfolded his wings, took him and raised him up” (Dt 32).”
“The great gestures of God’s love: creation; exodus from Egypt, sign of liberation and hope for a people experience of the desert guided by a pastor who protects from every natural and historical danger, and the journey towards freedom. We consider the Lord as an ally, a strong and loving companion on our journey.”
“Son of God, priest and just: these three features of the messianic figure at the centre of the psalms we meditate. The prophets criticised the prevarications of power and indifference in the face of injustice. God is the advocate for the undefended, the “father of the poor and defender of widows” (Ps 68,6). Before us shines the face of the Messiah, the Christ of God.”
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).”
Aside from blogging about Catholic things, another of my interests is history. Today I visited an exhibition of Viking artefacts, so why not share a view photos showcasing the Christian element in some of those artefacts.
The head of a crozier, depicting the Old Testament story of Jonah and the whale.
A large reliquary which once contained a relic of the Cross, the story goes. It ended up in Poland and was destroyed in the Second World War. This is therefore a replica.
Another reliquary, if much smaller, designed to be carried around on a necklace or in a pocket.
Silver thread on linen, an image of a deer. Deer were often used in Christian Viking imagery, no doubt based on Psalm 42.
“At the moment of adoration, we are all on the same plane, kneeling before the Sacrament of Love. The common and ministerial priesthoods are united in Eucharistic worship. It is a very beautiful and significant experience, which we have experienced several times in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and also in the unforgettable vigils with young people – I recall, for example, those of Cologne, London, Zagreb, Madrid. It is evident to all that these moments of Eucharistic vigil prepare the celebration of the Holy Mass, prepare hearts for the encounter, so that it is more fruitful. To be all together in prolonged silence before the Lord present in his Sacrament, is one of the most genuine experiences of our being Church, which is accompanied in a complementary way with the celebration of the Eucharist, listening to the Word of God, singing, approaching together the table of the Bread of life. Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go together. To really communicate with another person I must know him, I must be able to be in silence close to him, to hear him and to look at him with love. True love and true friendship always live of the reciprocity of looks, of intense, eloquent silences full of respect and veneration, so that the encounter is lived profoundly, in a personal not a superficial way. And, unfortunately, if this dimension is lacking, even sacramental communion itself can become, on our part, a superficial gesture. Instead, in true communion, prepared by the colloquy of prayer and of life, we can say to the Lord words of confidence as those that resounded a short while ago in the Responsorial Psalm:
“O Lord, I am thy servant; I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid.
Thou hast loosed my bonds.
I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the Lord”
Pope Benedict XVI
Homily for Corpus Christi, 7 June 2012
Photo credit: author’s own, Father Hans Pauw displays the Blessed Sacrament for Adoration during a meeting of young people of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, 10 June 2012.
A late reflection today, in part because we’re looking at part of the Scripture reading from today’s Vespers. Here, in the Letter to the Romans (12:1-2), we are reminded of the kind of worship that we as people should perform.
“I urge you, then, brothers, remembering the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God; that is the kind of worship for you, as sensible people. Do not model your behaviour on the contemporary world, but let the renewing of your minds transform you, so that you may discern for yourselves what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and mature.”
We have already learned earlier that we are to be our own sacrifices (our “broken and contrite hearts” – Ps. 51:17), as this passage’s first line repeats. The text now adds that our sacrifice is in fact our way of worshipping God. It is fitting for us as “sensible people”.We may ask ourselves of our worship – our prayer, our Mass attendance – is anything like that. Or is our worship perhaps more based on what we do? If we lead a prayer group perhaps, are especially pious in our prayer, or if we are lector, acolyte or sacristan at Mass? All these duties, fine and necessary as they are, are exterior features and have nothing to do with being “dedicated and acceptable to God”. Before anything else, we must remember “the mercies of God”. This opens us up to God, and, as later lines of the text tell us, this “is good and acceptable and mature”.
“Sacrifice gives you no pleasure, burnt offering you do not desire.
Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, a broken, contrite heart you never scorn.”
Two lines from Psalm 51 (16-17) which we will be hearing rather frequently during Lent. In poetic words they indicate what lies at the heart, if you’ll pardon the pun, of our Lenten sacrifice. Not outward signs of piety and sacrifice, but our offering of our broken, contrite hearts. In other words, ourselves.
This goes well with the reading from the Gospel of Matthew (6:1-6,16-18) that we heard on Ash Wednesday. Here too, Jesus tells us not to make a show of your piety: give alms quietly, pray in the privacy of your room, fast with a cheerful face. By actively preventing showing how well we give alms, pray and fast, we are looking inward, confronting ourselves, our “broken, contrite hearts”.
We are what we are. Imperfect people, with all our good or bad intentions, our good or bad tendencies, sins and virtues. And that, however strange it may seem to us, is the offering that God will accept. We give ourselves to Him, willingly, in the knowledge that we are imperfect, and with the desire to change, to better ourselves. And for that, we need the Lord’s help.
Give yourself to God in Lent, so that we may rise with Christ at Easter.
Four-and-a-half years into his retirement as Archbishop of Utrecht, Adrianus Johannes Cardinal Simonis - Ad in conversation – reaches another milestone today: his 80th birthday. A respectable age for anyone, of course, as the Psalmist acknowledges: “The span of our life is seventy years — eighty for those who are strong” (90:10a), but for a cardinal it is something of a further step back from the intricacies of the Curia, locally and in Rome. Upon reaching his 80th birthday, a cardinal can no longer vote in a conclave, to elect a new pope.
Luckily, it would seem that Pope Benedict XVI is still in reasonably good health for a man his age (even if the rumours of his suffering arthritis in his legs are true), so a conclave is still in the semi-distant future. I would be surprised, therefore, if Cardinal Simonis still harboured any hopes of participating in another one.
As the Psalmist continues about the years of our life: “their whole extent is anxiety and trouble, they are over in a moment and we are gone” (90:10b), Cardinal Simonis certainly had his share of anxiety and trouble. Ordained a priest in 1957, the dentist’s son from Lisse first made Catholic headlines at the Pastoral Council of Noordwijkerhout, where the young priest, then in his late thirties, was a voice for orthodoxy and thus soon placed by many in the camp of the bad guys. Rome, however, thought otherwise, as Father Simonis was appointed to be the second bishop of Rotterdam. His appointment there, as well as that of Bishop Gijsen to Roermond in 1972, is often considered to have been Pope Paul VI’s response to the new liberalism in the Dutch Catholic Church, especially considering that the name of Fr. Simonis appeared on none of the ternae supplied to Rome.
Bishop Simonis would remain in Rotterdam for 13 years, until 1983, when he was appointed to be Coadjutor Archbishop of Utrecht under Cardinal Willebrands. At the end of that year, on 3 December Archbishop Simonis succeeded the cardinal, who continued for six more years as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
As Utrecht’s archbishop, Msgr. Simonis was the principal host of Blessed Pope John Paul II during his cold reception in the Netherlands in 1985. Because of the hostility of many Dutch Catholics towards the bishops and especially Rome, personified in the pope, Archbishop Simonis was put under police protection for ten days. His elevation to the College of Cardinals in the consistory of 25 May 1985 is often seen as a way to strengthen the archbishop in his difficult position.
That difficult position did get easier over the years, as the climate in the Church mellowed, and Cardinal Simonis moved from being a voice of orthodoxy to one speaking for all Catholics, something that he considered to be an important attribute for all bishops.
In April of 2007, Cardinal Simonis retired and took up residence in a Focolare community in Nieuwkuijk. But even after his retirement, the cardinal remained a well-known face of the Church. His name appeared several times concerning abuse cases under his jurisdiction in the archdiocese, as well as ill-advised comments on national television. In recent year, many seemed to prefer to depict him as an evil genius, but the worst accusation that may, in my opinion, be brought against Cardinal Simonis is a naive attitude.
As shown by his motto, Ut cognoscant te, Cardinal Simonis is driven by the desire to let people know Christ, doing so as a humble and friendly prelate who tends to first see the good in people.
The paths of the cardinal and I have crossed several times, although we never formally met. As chief celebrant at the Catholic Youth Day of, I think, 2007, during the installation of Bishop de Korte, and most recently in Spain during the World Youth Days, a constant was the cardinal’s health. In the years immediately following his retirement, his figure turned ever more stooped, but that seems to have reversed itself in later years. The quiet life seems to have done Cardinal Simonis good.
But now, as the Dutch Church Province is left without a cardinal elector, eyes turn to Cardinal Simonis’ successor in Utrecht, Archbishop Wim Eijk. With a consistory rumoured to be scheduled for this time next year, he is now among the chief candidates for the red hat, considering the fact that Pope Benedict tends not to appoint new cardinals in a country which still has an elector.
We will see how that turns out, but in the mean time, the only suitable way to wrap up this post, is with a heartfelt birthday wish to Cardinal Ad Simonis: ad multos annos!
 NRC Handelsblad / Rien Zilvold
 Bisdom Den Bosch
 Ramon Mangold
Alleluia! Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.
Let the House of Israel say, ‘His faithful love endures for ever.’
Open for me the gates of saving justice, I shall go in and thank Yahweh.
This is the gate of Yahweh, where the upright go in.
I thank you for hearing me, and making yourself my Saviour.
The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
This is Yahweh’s doing, and we marvel at it.
This is the day which Yahweh has made, a day for us to rejoice and be glad.
We beg you, Yahweh, save us, we beg you, Yahweh, give us victory!
Blessed in the name of Yahweh is he who is coming! We bless you from the house of Yahweh.
Yahweh is God, he gives us light. Link your processions, branches in hand, up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, I thank you, all praise to you, my God. I thank you for hearing me, and making yourself my Saviour.
Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good, for his faithful love endures for ever.
Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
“The next day the great crowd of people who had come up for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took branches of palm and went out to receive him, shouting: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel.’
Jesus found a young donkey and mounted it — as scripture says:
“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion; look, your king is approaching, riding on the foal of a donkey.
“At first his disciples did not understand this, but later, after Jesus had been glorified, they remembered that this had been written about him and that this was what had happened to him.
The crowd who had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead kept bearing witness to it; this was another reason why the crowd came out to receive him: they had heard that he had given this sign.”
Gospel of John, 12: 12-18