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eijkThe comments by Cardinal Eijk on the Council of Trent continue to cause a stir, chiefly in Protestant circles, but also among Catholics. Accusations that Trent was centuries ago and that times have changed are mostly heard, but these ignore that the cardinal was not speaking about current affairs. He spoke out of the assumption – which is the general Catholic one - that the dogmatic statements of a Council remain so, even as time passes. The implementation and even need of specific statements may change, and so there are texts which came out of Trent which are interesting, but no longer of much use beyond the theoretical study of them.

Cardinal Eijk spoke about the validity of – especially – the anathemas decreed at Trent, aimed at those who wilfully, freely and in full knowledge that they were doing so proclaimed untruths, even heresies, against the faith as taught by the Church. He also emphasised that people who today have a different image of God or understanding of the faith can’t be blamed for that: upbringing and tradition are not a reason to declare anyone cursed in the sight of God. That judgement, as the cardinal also said, lies with God anyway. The Church here on earth, however, can and should underline the faith she teaches and point out when someone is in error. That is what Trent did: she emphasised the truths of the faith and put an end to certain practices which were in contradiction to that, such as the trade in indulgences.

But that is not the level on which the debate is taking place. There is no discussion about the reason, mistakes or truths about what the Church teaches or what was decided and done at the Council of Trent. This was what Cardinal Eijk was talking about, but his critics focus on something else altogether: the tone.

arjan-plaisier-04Today the secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Arjan Plaisier, wrote an open letter to Cardinal Eijk asking him certain questions about his comments. Below are these questions, translated into English:

“Firstly: Is it in order to let tradition speak in such a way, outside the context of any ecumenical conversation or encounter? Does it fit in a time when much has taken place in the field of ecumenism, to make such a statement “about you, without you”? Isn’t this a denial of an ecumenical history which we have gone through together? Does this not block any further dialogue about fundamental faith topics which we can have, unilaterally or in the context of the Council of Churches?”

The progress of ecumenical relations does not take place in changing teachings or traditions (the latter word will have a rather different meaning for Catholics and Protestants anyway). Ecumenism is relational, a tool for increased understanding, not of abandoning truths. Whether the cardinal’s comments would block any further dialogue is not up to him. It is up to our ecumenical partners, who deserve to know what the Church teaches, in plain sight, not hidden under a blanket of “being nice to each other”. Sure, we should strive for cordial relations, but that can not be the final goal of ecumenism. It should be noted, in this context, that Cardinal Eijk has stated that he is fully behind ecumenism and agrees with Pope Francis on this topic.

The letter continues:

“Secondly: Do you have the opinion that the fundamental differences that exist between the Church of Rome and the Protestants, still need to be condemned in terms of “cursed” and “banned”?”

The cardinal never said anything of the kind. There are differences, and these must be addressed and named, but modern Protestants and the faith the proclaim are not addressed by Trent.

“Paul addressed that curse to the proclamation of a different Gospel, namely different than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Crucified. Various dialogues between Rome and the Reformation have concluded that we recognise and acknowledge each other in this Gospel. That recognition has everything to do what the patient and honest efforts to better  understand each other in this. Fundamental differences remain, especially concerning ecclesiology. But is it in order, especially in light of the recognition mentioned above, to speak about these differences in the language of “cursing”? How, by the way, is this related to the mutual recognition of  the others Baptism?”

The fact is that the various Protestant churches have different teachings about certain matters related to the Gospel than the Catholic Church has. Does this mean that they follow a different Gospel? No, but there are differences. Acknowledging that both the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church follow Christ does not change anything about that. And once more, the anathemas of Trent, as the cardinal has said, do not automatically refer to modern Protestants and certainly not to persons. The Gospel text from St. Paul  was not presented by Cardinal Eijk as a reason to curse anyone, but merely as a possible motivation for the work of the Council of Trent. What mutual recognition of Baptism has to do with that, is anyone’s guess. Recognising that the Church and the Protestant communities use the same valid means of Baptism is no reason to assume that they are the same in everything.

Secretary Plaisier invites Cardinal Eijk to discuss this further in a future meeting. Perhaps that would be a good opportunity to explain a few things. About Catholic tradition, the meaning of Councils, ecumenism, anathemas, identity and truth. This would be good, because the criticism has generally not yet transcended the level of emotion: it is not nice what the cardinal has said, so therefore we are hurt. That is an injustice to the cardinal and certainly also to the churches and faith of the critics themselves

Photo credit: [1] ANP

Following the example of some other bishops, Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam shares some of his thoughts on and experiences of the ad limina visit in a letter to the faithful of his diocese:

kn_705396_puntBrothers and sisters,

Returned from Rome after the ad limina visit, I felt the need to share some experiences with you about this remarkable week, on which I look back with inspiration and gratitude. With auxiliary bishop Msgr. J. Hendriks and emeritus auxiliary bishop Msgr. J. van Burgsteden s.s.s. we and the other Dutch bishops were, in the first place, on a pilgrimage to the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul. Together we celebrated the Eucharist in those special places, and also in the other great basilicas of Rome. We have prayed for the unity between the world Church and our Dutch Church, and for all who work in it and do their very best.

The week started with a high point: the meeting with Pope Francis. This was friendly and fraternal and the Pope urged us not to be discouraged by the problems of secularisation in the Netherlands. Instead of giving an address, he invited us to have a conversation. The current situation in the Netherlands places us before new challenges and according to the Pope we must find new pastoral ways to confront them. The Church has a missionary task, not only the bishops, but also the parishes, the entire faith community and every individual faithful. Our time demands a clear witness. The Pope also emphasised that caritas and diakonia can be ways for young people to find faith in Christ. Because, as people are no longer as open to God Himself, they may well be to their neighbours. In the neighbour they will eventually discover the face of Christ. Of course, the issue of church closings was also mentioned. In our diocese that is only a limited issue. The Pope did expressly call the bishops to sympathise well with the feelings of those involved in all necessary reorganisations.

Another topic was the problem of sexual abuse and the care for victims. The Pope proved to be very pleased with the way the bishops in the Netherlands addressed this. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given a temporary approval to the guidelines which the bishops have established to prevent sexual abuse in the future.

As in many other speeches and conversations, the Pope also emphasised to us the need of making the Sacrament of Penance and reconciliation accessible. Worldwide the number of confessions is on the increase, because the Pope continuously speaks about the need to reconcile ourselves with God and the other. No one can do without mercy, and in order to be merciful to others we must first be willing to receive it ourselves. The Church has a wonderful sacrament for that and people must be guided pastorally towards it in a new way. Mercy and seeing the person next to you as “image of God Himself” are terms that the Pope continuously repeats.

Finally, the Pope also asked us a sort of question of conscience. Where do you yourself, as bishops, find the strength, your hope and joy amid all the concerns and problems? The Gospel must always be visible as the Good News of forgiveness, salvation and redemption. He urged us to always quench our thirst from that and communicate it to others. The Church, the Pope indicated, grows from an authentically experienced faith and through honest attraction. She is being sent to awaken and plant faith, hope and love in people.

In the days that followed we heard much of what the Pope had said in our meeting with the Congregations and Councils. In more than a dozen meetings a great variety of topics was discussed. From youth to marriage and family, to the role of the bishops in social media. And also the issue of church closing and the pastoral approach to people who do not fully live according to the teachings of the Church. Interesting conversations which also showed how the Church approaches these topics worldwide.

Time and again we were asked to continue in the way we have, but with patience and always in open and positive communication with the faithful.

Finally we were able to inform the Pope that he is very popular in the Netherlands because of the way he acts. He told us to make use of that. At an earlier occasion I spoke with the Pope about a possible visit to the Netherlands. He seemed very interested. With the other bishops we have agreed to consider the possibilities.

On our website you can read in detail what we discussed and experienced in Rome. There are also many photos which paint a good picture of the relaxed atmosphere we enjoyed there together (www.bisdomhaarlem-amsterdam.nl).

In the new year we will certainly begin to work on the results of this ad limina visit, and first discuss it on the various levels of our diocese. Hopefully this will culminate in a real diocesan pilgrimage to Rome in 2015. You are all invited to take part in that, and information about it will be available via your parish in the course of January. It would be wonderful if we could be united then, as a diocese praying, celebrating and witnessing our faith, with young and old, around our Pope Francis.

Towards the feast of the Incarnation I wish you, also on behalf of both auxiliary bishops, a blessed continuation of Advent and a very blessed Christmas.

+ Jozef M. Punt
Bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam

Four bishops have written their thoughts and feelings about last week’s ad limina visit down and shared the resulting texts on the websites of their respective dioceses. Here, in full, are my translations, reflecting the encouragement that the bishops took home from their encounter with Pope Francis and the offices of the Curia.

mgr_de_Korte3Bishop Gerard de Korte, bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden:

“What did the ad limina visit bring me as bishop of the North? I think in the first place encouragement. Our report included many statistics which cause concern. The Church, after all, continues to shrink. But the Pope and also his coworkers in the various Congregations and Pontifical Council continuously warned the bishops against a sterile pessimism. The message was always: be patient, make contact, try to connect, don’t write anyone off, don’t blow up any bridges. Every bishop should after all be a ‘pontifex’, a bridge builder. I saw these words as a confirmation of my policy. In a recent article on the future of Roman Catholicism I summarised that policy in two words: clear and cordial. The Church of tomorrow can only thrive when she stays close to Jesus. God’s unconditional love and forgiveness in Jesus for every person and our entire world should be at the heart. God’s mercy should also make us merciful and mild in how we deal with one another.

At the same time that should happen in a heartfelt and inviting way. Not with a pointing finger or a frown, but with an open attitude and a smile. There are many stalls in the modern religious market. For religious searchers the choice for Christ and His Church is not always the obvious one. For many of our contemporaries, faith is a search, a process. Parishes and church communities are called to increasingly initiate people in the treasure of Christian tradition and bring them to Christ, step by step. For ultimately every person is called to live his or her life out of the friendship with the living Christ.

Encouraged by the ad limina visit I continue my work as bishop. In turn, I hope to be able to encourage Catholics and other Christians to live the life of their Baptism. Pope Francis continuously asks us to be brave and to live out of hope. Let us grab the plough, out of the joy of the Gospel!”

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkWim Cardinal Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht:

“The preparations for the ad limina visit of the Dutch bishops were preceded by numerous speculations. What would the new Pope Francis think of the Dutch bishops? Wouldn’t they be strongly chastised for their policies? In that context, many think of the mergers of parishes and the closing of churches, which the bishops would be deciding upon out of ideological motives and because of a shortage of priests. What was striking was that the approach of sexual abuse by Church workers was now getting less attention.

In my article for the November issue of the diocesan magazine Op Tocht, which was also spread to the parishes as a letter, I discussed in detail the painful necessity of parish mergers and church closings in several locations. The archdiocese does not take the initiative to close a church. That is in the first place the responsibility of the parish councils, which then request the archbishop to remove a church from service. But in the end neither the archbishop nor the parish council make the decision, but the people who decide to no longer take part in worship and no longer support the Church financially.

In the 1950s ninety percent of the Catholics attended Church on Sunday. Today that is five percent and that percentage is still dropping. Anyone can see that church closings then become unavoidable. The same goes for parish mergers. Parishes which can no longer survive alone, can join forces with other parishes and form a new thriving faith community. We must now take our responsibility for the future. Our children who still believe must have the opportunity to celebrate and share the faith. It would be irresponsible to try and maintain everything we have now and use up all available means doing so, leaving future generations empty-handed.

The Pope understands this, and so does the Roman Curia. In other parts of the world, for example in the United States, the need for parish mergers and church closings becomes apparent. Between 2000 and 2011, 121 churches in the Diocese of Essen, Germany, were removed from use and closed.

Many other topics were also discussed. The Pope and his coworkers received, for example, detailed information from the Dutch bishops about the situation around the sexual abuse of minors. In the last months, fruitful cooperation has come into being between the chairmen of the Bishops’ Conference, the KNR (Conference of Dutch religious) and KLOKK, the major umbrella organisation for victims of sexual abuse. They jointly established a final date of 1 July 2014 for the reporting of claims of sexual abuse concerning deceased perpetrator and cases of sexual abuse that fall under the statute of limitations. Said chairmen also presented a joint report to Secretary Opstelten on 5 November of this year, the so-called base-measurement, in which the implementations of the recommendations of the Deetman Commission of 2011 were investigated. The report includes a number of solid pieces of advice to improve the approach to claims of sexual abuse. The Bishops’ Conference, the KNR, KLOKK, and the management and overview foundation for sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands have enthusiastically begun implementing this advice. The base-measurement was translated into English and sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Dutch bishops and the KNR coupled the announcement of the final date with a call to all to supply supportive evidence for claims of sexual abuse where possible. We also called all to – contrary what sadly sometimes occurs elsewhere – not oppose victims in any way when they make a claim, or blame them for it, but support hem as much as possible. They suffered enough under the sexual abuse. We called all to help the Church clean her slate in the interest of the victims. The Pope encouraged us to continue on this road. At the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith we were also told that we chose a “good direction”.

The way in which Pope Francis replied to the Dutch bishops’ policies was heartwarming for them. He was visibly moved by the difficulties we face. His biggest fear was that we would become discouraged because of the problems we are struggling with, and that we would succumb to feelings of sorrow. He impressed upon us not lose hope, hope in the promises of Christ: “This hope never disappoints.” The message which he repeatedly drew our attention too was, “Do not look back, try not to keep what you once had, but look ahead.” A word that he continuously repeated was, “avanti, avanti, sempre avanti.” Keep going forward than do not look back at the past. In the past the Church may have had great buildings and structures, but we live in the present. In the present, you must take your responsibility.

As Dutch bishops we feel very much confirmed and encouraged by the Pope and his coworkers to go “avanti”, that is to say, forward on the path we are on. What we take with us from this very successful ad limina visit is that we should not Always look back nostalgically to a rich past, but that we must go “avanti”, forward, with our task to proclaim Christ and His Gospel. We must now take our responsibility and take the necessary measures, even if they are not always popular, to make sure that there are enough means and opportunities to also in the future proclaim the faith in Dutch society. If we don’t do anything now and maintain everything, we take away from our children the means to share the Gospel and celebrate the faith.

For the bishops it was also a special experience to be together for an entire week in Rome. In addition to unity with the world Church, the ad limina visit has also strengthened our mutual unity. Many concrete questions from the bishops have been answered by workers in the Roman Curia. We will get to work with the advice we received, in courage and enthusiasm.

The ad limina visit was closed with a celebration of the Eucharist at St. Mary Major. Here, at the end of the celebration, we answered Pope Francis’ call to us in the address he gave us in writing at Monday’s audience, to dedicate our Church province to Mary. This we did, and we confirmed it by praying the Hail Mary together. We asked Mary to pray for us to God to make our beautiful ad limina visit fruitful for the proclamation of the Catholic faith in the Netherlands.”

hoogenboomBishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht:

“What is the homework that Pope Francis gave the Dutch bishops during the ad limina visit?” I was asked in the preliminary conversation before a radio interview… My answer was that an ad limina visit, since its establishment in the 16th century, is first and foremost a pilgrimage of the bishops to the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul. And that is how I look back on it as well: the ad limina visit was a precious week in which we, the Dutch bishops, prayed in the four great basilicas (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls), in the Church of the Frisians and in the Santa Maria dell’Anima (where Pope Adrian VI, from Utrecht, lies buried). The fact that, on 2 December, we could first celebrate Holy Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter in the catacombs and shortly afterwards meet the personal successor of this Apostle on the see of Peter, Pope Francis, was for me without doubt the high point of our ad limina visit.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus calls the Apostle Peter to strengthen his brothers, the other Apostles, in their faith. And that is exactly what Pope Francis did towards us as Dutch bishops. Aware of the situation in which the Dutch Roman Catholic Church finds herself, the Pope directed words of hope and encouragement to the bishops and all Roman Catholics in our country. In the ‘group talk’ with the Pope I could ask him, referring to Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper (John 13), how he sees the relation between liturgy, especially the Eucharist, and diakonia. Pope Francis’ answer was that the worship of God and the service to the neighbour, especially the neighbour in need, are inextricably entwined. He also mentioned practical examples from the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires where he was archbishop. We can mirror the practical examples from our archdiocese to that; for example the food collection for the Food bank during the Chrism Mass in Apeldoorn.

That we could start the ad limina visit with a fraternal meeting with Pope Francis, despite original plans,  is to me a gift from God’s providence. During our visits to the Congregations and Pontifical Councils we reported on the developments in the Dutch Church province since the last ad limina visit in 2004. But on those occasions we also looked ahead, and time and again we heard words which referred to the joy of the Gospel, to Christian joy and the trust in God about which Pope Francis had earlier spoken with us so warmly and inspirational. A joyful message which I continue to carry with me in my life and works as auxiliary bishop of Utrecht. It was not about getting homework assigned and which you reluctantly start, but about confirmation and encouragement in performing a joyful duty for life.”

woortsBishop Herman Woorts, auxiliary bishop of Utrecht:

We continue encouraged, with hope and joy, amid the concerns and responsibilities. The Pope and the Curia, people with their inspiration, it has all come much nearer for me. I am grateful for having experienced this and also grateful that we are part of that one world Church, led by the Pope, above all of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by Mary, Peter and Paul and all those other saints and blesseds. It has strengthened me, not least the daily Masses and prayer and sympathy of many at home. That does good.

What will also stay with me: when we left the room after the conversation with the Pope, I spoke with him about the contact with rabbis and Jewish organisations. He squeezed my arm and indicated: continue with that. He was happy about it.”

Also released yesterday, the full text of Cardinal Eijk’s address to Pope Francis at the start of the meeting of the bishops with the Holy Father on Monday. As reported earlier by several bishops, the talk is mainly a summary of the general report for the ad limina, and does not contain much we don’t know already. As an introduction, though, it suffices, and for the sake of completeness I share my translation below.

bishops with pope francis

Holy Father,

We, the Dutch bishops, have looked forward eagerly to this personal meeting with you, the current vicar of Christ on earth, and we consider it the high point of our ad limina visit, after the Masses at the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul and in the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and of St. Mary Major. For the major part of the Dutch bishops this will be their first meeting with you, which adds a special tone to this moment.

The ad limina visit is in the first place a pilgrimage to the graves of the Apostles here in Rome and the personal meeting with you. It is also a chance to report on the religious, cultural, social and pastoral developments and some problems and special questions regarding our Church province. About all of this we have sent you a report from our Conference which, except for the report of each diocesan bishop, has also been published. In the general report we want to paint a clear and honest picture of the current situation in our Church province and we say clear-cut that it is not in every aspect optimistic.

The number of Catholics in the Netherlands continues to decrease rapidly. This mostly concerns the number of practising Catholics, which means that the number of financial means available is decreasing rapidly. Since the Church in the Netherlands is not subsidised by the state, she depends on voluntary donations from the faithful. Although these are very generous towards the Church, they are unable to collect sufficient financial means to maintain their parish churches. We expect that one third of the Catholic churches in our country will have to be closed by 2020 and two-thirds before 2025. In recent years the Dutch dioceses were forced, for the same reason, to reorganise their curia and let employees go. In the case of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, this was also necessary to avoid bankruptcy.

As in other countries, the Church in the Netherlands also has to deal with the problem of sexual abuse of minors by workers in the Church. The Dutch Bishops’ Conference and the Conference of Dutch Religious closely cooperated in having this issue investigated by an independent committee, with an institution were such cases can be reported, a commission to investigate them, a committee for recompense and a platform for psychological support of the victims. We are determined to recognise the problems of the victims, compensate the damage done and help them heal as much as possible. Regular meetings between the chairmen of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference, the Conference of Dutch religious and a top down organisation of victims has led to increased mutual confidence. Together they determined the final date of 1 July 2014 for the reporting of sexual abuse by deceased person and abuse that is under the statute of limitations. We urge everyone to present evidence, insofar as it can support the claims of victims, and help them report the claims, as far as possible, so that the Church can make a fresh start in this area, in the victims’ interest.

Our report is realistic but not pessimistic. We notice that the practicing Catholics which remain are taking their faith increasingly serious, are more positive towards the Church and have an increasingly close personal relationship with Christ. We hope to be able to maintain a number of churches which can then serve as centres of  communities of faith with a living faith, which is visible in the liturgy, the catechesis of children, youth and adults and diaconal activity, which is so important in our modern society. These faithful will support the Church in the Netherlands and be the leavening of the coming Kingdom of God.

We are very much delighted to be able to meet with you today, and we want to say that we feel deeply united with you. Yu may be assured of our prayer for you, that God may richly bless you for your task to lead the Church in the world in this time. From our side, we ask you to pray for us and grant us your Apostolic Blessing.

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

palliumTomorrow we celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Stone and the Apostle, and, as always, the Church invests the newly appointed metropolitan archbishops with the sign of their office and authority: the pallium. This year 34 archbishops have travelled to Rome to receive their white band of lamb’s wool, while a 35th, Vietnamese Archbishop Le Van Hong, will receive his at home.

In alphabetical order they are:

  1. Archbishop Antonio Carlos Altieri, S.D.B., of Passo Fundo, Brazil
  2. Archbishop George Antonysamy of Madras and Mylapore, India
  3. Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera Lopez of Monterrey, Mexico
  4. Archbishop Sérgio Eduardo Castriani, C.S.Sp., of Manaus, Brazil
  5. Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas, Canada
  6. Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of Suva, Fiji
  7. Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone of San Francisco, USA
  8. Archbishop Alfonso Cortes Contreras of Leon, Mexico
  9. Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto of Delhi, India
  10. Archbishop Claudio Dalla Zuanna, S.C.I., of Beira, Mozambique
  11. Archbishop Ramon Alfredo Dus of Resistencia, Argentina
  12. Archbishop Joseph Effiong Ekuwem of Calabar, Nigeria
  13. Archbishop Carlos Maria Franzini of Mendoza, Argentina
  14. Archbishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Ravenna-Cervia, Italy
  15. Archbishop Gintaras Linas Grusas of Vilnius, Lithuania
  16. Archbishop Sergio Alfredo Gualberti Calandrina of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
  17. Archbishop Duro Hranic of Dakovo-Osijek, Croatia
  18. Archbishop Michael Owen Jackels of Dubuque, USA
  19. Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Lodz, Poland
  20. Archbishop Jesus Juarez Parraga, S.D.B., of Sucre, Bolivia
  21. Archbishop Jozef Piotr Kupny of Wroclaw, Poland
  22. Archbishop Francois Xavier Le Van Hong of Hue, Vietnam
  23. Patriarch Manuel Jose Macario do Nascimento Clemente, patriarch of Lisbon, Portugal
  24. Archbishop Prakash Mallavarapu of Visakhapatnam, India
  25. Archbishop Fabio Martinez Castilla of Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico
  26. Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga, C.S.Sp., of Bangui, Central African Republic
  27. Archbishop Giuseppe Petrocchi of L’Aquila, Italy
  28. Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli of Buenos Aires, Argentina
  29. Archbishop Carlo Roberto Maria Redaelli of Gorizia, Italy
  30. Archbishop Alexander King Sample of Portland in Oregon, USA
  31. Archbishop Moacir Silva of Ribeirao Preto, Brazil
  32. Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow, Great Britain
  33. Archbishop Joseph William Tobin, C.Ss.R., of Indianapolis, USA
  34. Archbishop Rolando Joven Tria Tirona, O.C.D., of Caceres, Philippines
  35. Archbishop John Wong Soo Kau of Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Last year, the order of the liturgy was changed somewhat to remove any suggestion that the imposition of the pallia is a sacrament, and that change remains in effect. For Pope Francis this first feast of Sts. Peter and Paul as Pope will see him meeting several of his erstwhile brothers from the Argentine bishops’ conference, including his own successor in Buenos Aires, one of his very first appointments as Pope, Archbishop Mario Poli.

The full texts of the liturgy, which starts at 9:30 tomorrow morning, can be found here.

At Mass today, Pope Francis reminded us to “do as Paul did and begin to “build bridges and to move forward”, because “the LORD made bridges”. Tomorrow we mark one of those bridges, the tallest, longest and most important of them all.

The Feast of the Ascension of the Lord marks the completion of a bridge which only the Lord could build. Try as we might, on or own we can never bridge the gap that exists between us and God. But God can, and He did. With the Incarnation of Jesus the first part was built, and in His earthly life Jesus Christ showed us how to walk the bridge to God. With his death and resurrection the bridge was completed and with the Ascension, Christ leads us across.

The bridge is permanent, for God has established it. It is ever open to us, who do our best to walk the Way that is Christ.

“Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and raising his hands he blessed them. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; and they were continually in the Temple praising God.”

Gospel of Luke 24:50-53

Particularly seen in the context of Christ’s entire ministry here on earth, the Ascension is a truly remarkable, even awe-inspiring event.

Ascension

Art credit: The Ascension of Christ, by Salvador Dali (1958)

In his letter for the 2013 World Youth Day, which was published yesterday, Pope Benedict urged all young people to be missionaries, wherever they find themselves. This as an answer to Jesus’ call to “Go, and make disciples of all nations!” (Matt. 28:19) which is the theme for this 28th World Youth Day.

These nations are not only to be understood geographically:

“Some people are far away geographically, but others are far away because their way of life has no place for God. Some people have not yet personally received the Gospel, while others have been given it, but live as if God did not exist. Let us open our hearts to everyone. Let us enter into conversation in simplicity and respect. If this conversation is held in true friendship, it will bear fruit. The “nations” that we are invited to reach out to are not only other countries in the world. They are also the different areas of our lives, such as our families, communities, places of study and work, groups of friends and places where we spend our free time. The joyful proclamation of the Gospel is meant for all the areas of our lives, without exception.”

The letter is a clear call against the silence of so many faithful, especially young people who no longer have the words to speak about the faith. It is most definitely a counter-cultural move, and perhaps for many in the west even a step too far just yet.

Pope Benedict identifies several steps in the way to becoming missionaries. The first and most important is to become a disciple of Christ:

“A disciple is a person attentive to Jesus’ word (cf. Lk 10:39), someone who acknowledges that Jesus is the Teacher who has loved us so much that he gave his life for us. Each one of you, therefore, should let yourself be shaped by God’s word every day. This will make you friends of the Lord Jesus and enable you to lead other young people to friendship with him.”

A missionary then has to go out, into the world, but also out of himself, out of his own little world, habits and comforts. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are essential in this. Missionaries then have to take what they have received, Christ’s love and mercy, out into the world, to the “nations”. Here, the Holy Father emphasises two specific areas: travel and migration and social communications, especially the internet.

“As I mentioned to you on another occasion: “I ask you to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which you have built your lives. [...] It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this ‘digital continent’” (Message for the 43rd World Communications Day, 24 May 2009). Learn how to use these media wisely. Be aware of the hidden dangers they contain, especially the risk of addiction, of confusing the real world with the virtual, and of replacing direct and personal encounters and dialogue with internet contacts.”

One of the direct and challenging questions follow then. A young missionary has to make disciples, and that means an active engagement with their contemporaries.This can happen through words, but in the first place through our sharing of Christ’s love, which is our own love.

“The main way that we have to “make disciples” is through Baptism and catechesis. This means leading the people we are evangelizing to encounter the living Christ above all in his word and in the sacraments. In this way they can believe in him, they can come to know God and to live in his grace. I would like each of you to ask yourself: Have I ever had the courage to propose Baptism to young people who have not received it? Have I ever invited anyone to embark on a journey of discovery of the Christian faith? Dear friends, do not be afraid to suggest an encounter with Christ to people of your own age. Ask the Holy Spirit for help. The Spirit will show you the way to know and love Christ even more fully, and to be creative in spreading the Gospel.”

The questions that I have highlighted in bold are, in our modern secularised and relativist culture, the most difficult to ask. It is so counter-cultural and can be so easily and automatically perceived and an attempt at indoctrination or condemnation of a person’s current lifestyle. It is anything but that, of course, but there is an innate hostility towards any expression of faith in our culture, if that expression can’t be easily relegated to a mere opinion or a private matter. But if we take our faith seriously we can’t do nothing but share it. As the pope writes in an earlier paragraph:

“When we forget God, we lose hope and become unable to love others. That is why it is so necessary to testify to God’s presence so that others can experience it. The salvation of humanity depends on this, as well as the salvation of each of us. Anyone who understands this can only exclaim with Saint Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).”

To be able to do this, we must stand firm in the faith, and we need prayer and the sacraments for that. “We must first speak with God in order to be able to speak about God,” the Holy Father writes. The sacraments of Confirmation and Confession and Eucharistic Adoration (pictured) are also valuable means to be able to become firm enough in the faith to be able to proclaim the Gospel, to evangelise.

And we can’t do so alone, by our own standards or morals. We need the Church.

“Dear young people, if you are to remain firm in professing the Christian faith wherever you are sent, you need the Church. No one can bear witness to the Gospel alone. Jesus sent forth his disciples on mission together. He spoke to them in the plural when he said: “Make disciples”. Our witness is always given as members of the Christian community, and our mission is made fruitful by the communion lived in the Church. It is by our unity and love for one another that others will recognize us as Christ’s disciples (cf. Jn 13:35).”

Lastly, for those interested, read my Dutch translation of this letter here.

Art credit: [1] Harold Copping, “Jesus at the House of Martha and Mary” (1927).

Trying to stay up to speed with the news is a task and a half, especially if it needs to be done in any free time available. Hence the relative silence yesterday and the double coverage of the Synod of Bishops today.

On to Day 3 then, which coincided with Wednesday. In the morning the Synod fathers split of in the several working groups, which are divided by language group. First on their agenda was the election of moderators and relators, or presiding prelates and communication officers, a list which was presented at the start of the afternoon session. The list of groups, with their moderators and relators is as follows:

  • Anglicus A: Moderator: Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Archbishop of Durban, South Africa. Relator: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville, United States.
  • Anglicus B: Moderator: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Ireland. Relator: Archbishop Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, United Kingdom.
  • Anglicus C: Moderator: Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, India. Relator: Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow, United Kingdom.
  • Anglicus D: Moderator: Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia. Relator: Bishop Kieran O’Reilly, Bishop of Killaloe, Ireland.
  • Gallicus A: Moderator: Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Relator: Bishop Dominique Rey, Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, France.
  • Gallicus B: Moderator: Archbishop Yves Patenôtre, Archbishop of Sens, France. Relator: Archbishop Claude Dagens, Archbishop of Angoulême, France.
  • Germanicus: Moderator: Bishop Ägidius Zsifkovics, Bishop of Eisenstadt, Austria. Relator: Bishop Ladislav Nemet, Bishop of Zrenjanin, Serbia.
  • Hispanicus A: Moderator: Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, Archbishop of Tlalnepantla, Mexico. Relator: Archbishop Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, Archbishop of Valladolid, Spain.
  • Hispanicus B: Moderator: Bishop Julio Terán Dutari, Bishop of Ibarra, Ecuador. Relator: Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, Auxiliary Bishop of Valparaíso, Chile.
  • Italicus A: Moderator: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Relator: Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.
  • Italicus B: Moderator: Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa, Italy. Relator: Archbishop Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Italy.
  • Italicus C: Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. Relator: Father Renato Salvatore, Superior General of the Clerks Regular of the Ministers of the Sick (Camillians).

In the afternoon, the Synod continued with the interventions of 16 fathers. The first speaker, Cardinal Tauran (pictured at right), said some interesting things about interreligious dialogue, which is, of course, his area of expertise. In that dialogue, he said,

“there is no room for syncretism or relativism! Faced with adepts from other religions with a strong religious identity, it is necessary to present motivated and doctrinally equipped Christians. This makes the new evangelization a priority to form coherent Christians, capable of demonstrating their faith, with simple words and without fear.”

About the situation in Turkey, Bishop Louis Pelâtre, the Vicar Apostolic of Istanbul, had some important words to say about the use of the Internet by the Church, words which are equally valuable for other parts of the world. The bishops said:

“The young generation learns about the faith through the internet. Having practically no access to public radios or televisions, we can however use these private networks used more by the evangelical Protestants than by the Catholics. From this the need for well-prepared and qualified workers for the harvest that awaits us. This specific apostolate cannot be satisfied by good will and improvisation alone.”

The most noted contribution, at least in social media, to this day’s session came from the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, pictured at left during his intervention. His theological address focussed on contemplation, and how that needs to be a first step before we present our faithful face to the world:

“To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative is to be open to all the fullness that the Father wishes to pour into our hearts. With our minds made still and ready to receive, with our self-generated fantasies about God and ourselves reduced to silence, we are at last at the point where we may begin to grow. And the face we need to show to our world is the face of a humanity in endless growth towards love, a humanity so delighted and engaged by the glory of what we look towards that we are prepared to embark on a journey without end to find our way more deeply into it, into the heart of the trinitarian life. St Paul speaks (in II Cor 3.18) of how ‘with our unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord’, we are transfigured with a greater and greater radiance. That is the face we seek to show to our fellow-human beings.”

And this, Dr. Williams said, is the goal of that contemplative attitude:

“[I]t is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

In that contemplation, we allow ourselves to be transformed by God, to be more and more conformed to His Trinitarian identity. This means that we can’t be bound any longer by our own selfish desires.

“To learn to look to God without regard to my own instant satisfaction, to learn to scrutinise and to relativise the cravings and fantasies that arise in me – this is to allow God to be God, and thus to allow the prayer of Christ, God’s own relation to God, to come alive in me. Invoking the Holy Spirit is a matter of asking the third person of the Trinity to enter my spirit and bring the clarity I need to see where I am in slavery to cravings and fantasies and to give me patience and stillness as God’s light and love penetrate my inner life. Only as this begins to happen will I be delivered from treating the gifts of God as yet another set of things I may acquire to make me happy, or to dominate other people.”

There is more, and I coud just post the entire text here. But that will just make this blog post far too longer, so check the day’s Bulletin for the texts, both of Dr. Williams’ address and the summaries of the other interventions.

Almost 62 years ago, on the first of November 1950, Pope Pius XII published Munificentissimus Deus, the Apostolic Constitution by which he declared what we celebrate today to be a dogma. It became a binding teaching, something that we are required to hold as Catholics. It goes so far that if we don’t agree with it, we can’t properly call ourselves Catholics. It’s like claiming that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God and still calling oneself Catholic. One of the identifying markers of one’s ‘Catholicity’ is missing, so whatever the person in question is, he is not Catholic [MD 45, 47].

This may all sound negative, focussing on what we must and what the consequences are if we don’t, but in essence a dogma is a positive. A reading of Munificentissimus Deus shows that the dogma we mark today, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grew organically from the heartfelt desires of many faithful and from the earlier dogmatic teaching of her Immaculate Conception, as defined by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854 [MD 6-9]. This dogma is then not something imposed from above, but a confirmation of what many had long held to be true. It is also a confirmation that the Assumption of Mary has always been “contained in the deposit of Christian faith entrusted to the Church” [MD 8].

The Venerable Pope Pius XII offers an extensive list of historical examples of this faith, even conviction, that the Blessed Virgin was assumed into heaven [MD 14-38], and then presents the official declaration of the dogma as such:

For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. [MD 44]

Once more, the positive nature of this dogma, and others as well, is outlined a bit earlier in the Apostolic Constitution:

We, who have placed our pontificate under the special patronage of the most holy Virgin, to whom we have had recourse so often in times of grave trouble, we who have consecrated the entire human race to her Immaculate Heart in public ceremonies, and who have time and time again experienced her powerful protection, are confident that this solemn proclamation and definition of the Assumption will contribute in no small way to the advantage of human society, since it redounds to the glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, to which the Blessed Mother of God is bound by such singular bonds. It is to be hoped that all the faithful will be stirred up to a stronger piety toward their heavenly Mother, and that the souls of all those who glory in the Christian name may be moved by the desire of sharing in the unity of Jesus Christ’s Mystical Body and of increasing their love for her who shows her motherly heart to all the members of this august body. And so we may hope that those who meditate upon the glorious example Mary offers us may be more and more convinced of the value of a human life entirely devoted to carrying out the heavenly Father’s will and to bringing good to others. Thus, while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals that follows from these teachings threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined. Finally it is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective. [MD 42].

And in the meantime, a happy feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin to all!

I don’t know about the custom in other parishes and churches, but I find that homilies often focus on the first reading and the Gospel reading, but tend to skip over the second one. Not to say that the first reading, usually from the Old Testament, or the Gospel reading are not worth spending many thoughts and words on, but the second reading, often from one of the letter of St. Paul, is also usually a rich treasure of devotion and knowledge of our faith. Take yesterday’s second reading for example, from the Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14):

“Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Thus he chose us in Christ before the world was made to be holy and faultless before him in love, marking us out for himself beforehand, to be adopted sons, through Jesus Christ. Such was his purpose and good pleasure, to the praise of the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved, in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins. Such is the richness of the grace which he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight.

He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, according to his good pleasure which he determined beforehand in Christ, for him to act upon when the times had run their course: that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth. And it is in him that we have received our heritage, marked out beforehand as we were, under the plan of the One who guides all things as he decides by his own will, chosen to be, for the praise of his glory, the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.

Now you too, in him, have heard the message of the truth and the gospel of your salvation, and having put your trust in it you have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance, for the freedom of the people whom God has taken for his own, for the praise of his glory.

Such an intricate text, which constantly doubles back in on itself, qualifying what came before, setting up what comes next. Saint Paul is surely not always an easy read, but one very much worth reading and reflecting upon.  It’s food for thought, and an inspiration that invites to delve ever deeper into our own relationship with God, to understand it, and Him, and ultimately ourselves as well. Faith, a relationship with God and living life accordingly, is not simplistic or backward. On the contrary, it is challenging and progressive. Just as the Holy Father said at yesterday’s Angelus, “[T]he work of Christ and the Church never regresses, but always progresses”, so our faith life always progresses, propelling us forward towards the ultimate realisation of who we truly  are, “adopted sons, through Jesus Christ”.

Art credit: “St. Paul reading and writing,” attributed to Guercino.

About this blog

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

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

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

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A complete list would be prohibitively long, so I'll limit myself to mentioning The Anchoress, Anton de Wit, Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam, The Break/SQPN, Caritas in Veritate, Catholic Culture, The Catholic Herald, EWTN, Fr. Ray Blake's Blog, Fr. Z's Blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, Katholiek Gezin, Katholiek.nl, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, New Liturgical Movement, NOS, Protect the Pope, Reformatorisch Dagblad, The Remnant, RKS Ariëns, Rorate Caeli, The Spectator, Vatican Insider, Voorhof and Whispers in the Loggia.

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Latest translations added:

4 April: [English] Pope Francis - Interview with Belgian youth.

25 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Brief aan de Gezinnen.

24 February: [Dutch] Raymond Kardinaal Burke - De radicale oproep van de paus tot de nieuwe evangelisatie.
De focus van Paus Franciscus op liefde en praktische pastorale zorg in de grotere context van de Schrift en de leer van de Kerk.

21 February: [Dutch] Aartsbisschop Angelo Becciu - Brief aan de Nederlandse studenten.
Namens paus Franciscus reageert de Substituut van het Staatsecretariaat op pausgroet.tk.

20 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Welkomstwoord op het Consistorie.
De paus begroet de kardinalen voor het 11e Buitengewone Consistorie, en vat de doelstellingen kort samen.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

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

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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