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Like last week, there is a new set of questions to be answered. People came here in the past week to find answers, and I hope they found at least some indication of them, but if not: here is some more direct and detailed information. I will try my best to give useful and truthful answers, but in the case of some of today’s question it is really better to consult a priest, theologian or Church historian.
1. Is Roman Catholicism legal in the Netherlands?
Simple answer: yes. There is no prohibition on being Catholic or speaking and writing about being Catholic in the Netherlands. Article 6 of the Dutch Constitution protects every citizen to freely confess their faith within the limits of the law.
The Catholic Church is fully established in the Netherlands, with full diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and the Holy See, a resident Papal Nuncio and a bishops’ conference.
2. Explain why the Eucharistic liturgy is meant to be the source and summit of our spiritual lives.
This is one of those questions I referred to above. I will try to offer a basic explanation, but you are really best served with someone who is more knowledgeable about this.
The Eucharistic liturgy is the whole of rituals, words, gestures and actions we use to celebrate the Eucharist. That liturgy is a unity and reflects the content of what we celebrate: the Eucharist. And is that Eucharist that is the source and summit of the Christian life. By source we mean that everything we do as Christians has its origins in the Eucharist, and by summit we mean that that Eucharist is also the highest goal that we can achieve. Nothing exceeds or transcends it.
The Eucharist is Christ on the Cross, God who sacrificed Himself for us. The Eucharist is then a supreme act of love. For Himself, God need not have died, but He did so out of love for us. We needed it. He did not.
That sacrifice, that divine love, is the engine that drives our Christian life. Our love for God and our neighbours, our desire to be loved, flows from the divine love.
If we do not give the Eucharist, the Holy Mass, an important place in our Christian life, we take away the driving force, the nourishment for our Christian actions and words, our life. Christ gave Himself for us, now we need to accept Him in our hearts, and that is what the Eucharist does for us, and what we do in the Eucharist.
3. Who initiated transubstantiation in the Catholic Church?
Jesus Christ did. At the Last Supper, He gave bread and wine as His Body and Blood to His followers. And these followers were well aware of what Jesus had said about those things earlier:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert and they are dead; but this is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a person may eat it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Joh 6:48-51).
When Jesus then said, at the Last Supper, “This is my body” and ‘This is my blood”, the Apostles would have remembered the above passage. Although they had no way of understanding how, they would also have no doubt that Christ was serious: He is the living bread, and the bread He now brings is, as He says, His body.
But since when does the Church refer to this mystery as ‘transubstantiation’? A quick glance at Wikipedia shows us that the term appeared in the Middle Ages, and at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 the Church first used it in writing. But although they didn’t use the word ‘transubstantiation’, the fact of bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ had already been accepted by the earliest Church Fathers, such as St Ignatius of Antioch and St. Justin Martyr (both in the first half of the second century).
The answer to the question would then be: Christ initiated it, and the Church recognised the mysterious transubstantiation virtually from the very start.
4. Can I have an altar just for saints?
Well, depending on what you mean by ‘altar’, you either can or can not. If you are referring to the surface upon which the sacrifice of the Mass takes place, I don’t think you can. Such an altar is always for Christ, although it can feature images or statues of saints, of course.
However, if you are talking about a small ‘prayer table’ in your home, you most definitely can, although I would personally recommend that you also include Christ. A set place in the house where you can go and light a candle and pray is definitely a good thing, and such a place can include statues or images of saints to help us pray. Certainly when you have a special devotion to a certain saint, you may want to give that saint pride of place, and frequently ask him or her to intercede for your intentions with the Lord.
As long as there is no danger of your prayer table (ie. not an altar upon which the Eucharistic sacrifice takes place) becoming a site for idolatry, you may certainly use images of saints to help you focus on Christ and your relationship with Him.
It’s a week ago now, but I figured it would be nice to give an impression of how the Year of Faith was opened in the Netherlands. All dioceses marked the occasion with special Masses in either the cathedral or another major church in the diocese.
The Archdiocese of Utrecht played host to a national symposium on the four great Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. Some 250 people attended, a number that could perhaps have been higher if the symposium wasn’t open to clergy and pastoral workers only.
The Mass which started off the symposium was offered by Wim Cardinal Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht. In his homily he looked back at the fruits of the Council, but also the responses to it. The cardinal noted that, “On the one hand there are people who are disappointed, because the Council did not bring the fruits they had hoped for. And on the other hand there are people who make the reproach that the current crisis in the Church was caused by the Council.” He went on to say that both responses are unjust. The roots of secularisation were already laid well before the Council – as, for example, Blessed Titus Brandsma already noticed – and the discussion about celibacy and liturgy was already being held in the 1950s.
In Breda Bishop Jan Liesen, pictured at right during the symposium mentioned above, offered a Mass in the cathedral of St. Anthony. About the Year of Faith he said:
“The Year of Faith is a year in which to listen to God, to the spirit which has been poured out in our hearts. Put differently: our Church does not revolve around an organisation, but around a living person, Christ. The Gospels speak of how Jesus continuously presented people with the question, “Who do you say I am?” Other religions may have a book, a great way of life or something. We Christians do not have that, at least not as the heart of our faith: we have the person of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Liesen also spoke about our spiritual life, which we need to nurture in order to be evangelisers ourselves.
“To make work of your spiritual life – how do you do that? It is a matter of choosing, really choosing. In our time we have somewhat forgotten what choosing is, maybe or probably because we have such material wealth. We can walk past shop windows in long shopping streets and pick what we like. We then think that we have made a choice, but we haven’t. We were looking for something and left much where it was and brought that one thing home, but that is not choosing. There comes a time when we don’t like what we have brought home anymore and then we’ll get something else. That is not choosing: it is merely the satisfaction of a desire, whether it is real or imaginary. Because of such a materialistic way of life, which is being promoted in all manners imaginable and which we should not underestimate or make illusions about when it concerns ourselves – because of that way of life we sometimes deal with people in the same way, and we drop them when they no longer suit us. But really choosing when it concerns a person means: choosing that one as he or she is and not dripping them to choose another. That is the basis of true friendship, that is the basis of marriage and family, and that is also the basis of spiritual life, of the conversation with God.”
The final topic that Bishop Liesen touched upon was the Eucharist. He re-emphasised the central place that that sacrament has in our faith, and his desire (and presumably intention as well) to cut down the number of Communion service in his diocese. These services have, in many places, become more of a habit and a celebration of the community instead of a necessity when there is no priest available, and water down the valuable role of the Eucharist in our lives.
In the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the Year of Faith was opened at the shrine of Our Lady of Need in Heiloo. In his homily, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks spoke about faith, saying:
“Faith is a mercy and we can be grateful that we have received that mercy.
Faith requires surrender, giving up control, confidence that you are safe in the loving care of a heavenly Father, that everything will turn out alright, no matter how many setbacks and suffering you may find on your way.
No matter how much evil and how many problems there are: because of faith our life is an ascent to God. Without faith it would be nothing but decomposition, descent, a pointless event with a sad ending.
Faith also requires humility, because it entails us bowing down for a higher power, for someone who can dictate the law to you.
Our Catholic faith lets us know Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. It lets us understand the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts and gently leads us to the heavenly Father, who is source and purpose of all of creation.
Through our Catholic faith we also got to know and venerate Mary, who is our Mother through Jesus, as an example of faith, as intercessor and mediator.”
And about evangelisation, he added:
“Whatever we do in the Church, we must first be Christians.
Every priest, every believer must first be a Christian.
The work that we do in the Church can’t be an exterior job, but an expression of our love for Christ, expression of our faith.”
Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, who opened the Year of Faith in the cathedral basilica of St. John in Den Bosch, spoke about having faith in our time:
“Today every faithful is individually faced with a great challenge. The Second Vatican Council already foresaw this. This Council was intended to bring the Church up to date, a way of returning to the source. It again placed Holy Scripture at the heart. It looked for the vital sources of the Church of the future in the young Church of the Church Fathers. You and I, we are confronted with an increasingly secularised world. We shouldn’t want to walk away from that. We should be strong by resisting the difficulties of this time and witness of our faith in the world of today, with the sources of the Council. There are numerous difficulties. The Church in our part of the world grows smaller, we must dispose of church buildings. It’ll be increasingly difficult to pass on the faith to future generations. Acting according to the faith in marriage, in celibacy, in politics is increasingly at odds with what’s going on in society. What matters now is to believe or not: to entrust yourself to God. To travel the way with Him. When you have faith, confess this faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit openly. God will take care of you. He will give you life. Confess your faith in the Church. Do not stay alone. Participate, as the Council asks, in the life of the Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life. Be there, every Sunday. Immerse yourself in the liturgy, in Holy Scripture and never forget to serve the poor. Faith must be expressed in action.”
In Roermond Bishop Frans Wiertz referred to the collection of ten local Saints and Blesseds, from 4th-century St. Servatius to St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, who was killed in Auschwitz in 1942, who were gathered in the cathedral of St. Christopher as examples of the faith. The bishop said about this:
“We are gathered here as faithful from all directions of our local Church. And we are not alone, but in the presence of a number of prominent blesseds and saints from our area, men and women who represent the faith of many centuries, who represent all those people who preceded us in the faith.”
In the Diocese of Rotterdam, Bishop Hans van den Hende opened the Year of Faith in the Basilica of St. Liduina and Our Lady of the Rosary in Schiedam. In his homily he discussed Pope Benedict’s Apostolic letter Porta Fidei, in which the Holy Father announced the Year of Faith, and on the Second Vatican Council, but also on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. Summarising the Year of Faith, the bishops said:
“The Year of Faith, brothers and sisters, regards all aspects of our life in faith. To confess that God exists, that His Son became men, that the Holy Spirit always wants to inspire us. To celebrate our faith in the Eucharist and the other sacraments and to be careful with the Words of Scripture. We do so as true listeners to the message of God and also by truly living as Christians and to be recognisable in our words and actions as friends of the Lords, and fourth, to keep up the conversation with the Lord.”
In Groningen, Bishop Gerard de Korte also opened the Year of Faith, with a Mass at the cathedral of St. Joseph, but the text of his homily is sadly not available online.
Photo credit: ,  Ramon Mangold,  Peter van Mulken
There are many saints. And by many, I do main a lot. Such a lot, in fact, that the Church has a hierarchy of saints to decide which saint’s feast day has precedence on any given day. Last Sunday, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist took precedence over everything else, for example.
At the Second Vatican Council, this hierarchy was adapted. Some saints had their feast days changed, and others lost theirs completely as their veneration was suppressed at various levels. Some saints, which in the past were venerated worldwide, are now only marked locally. Many early saints, who lived in the first centuries of Christianity, underwent this fate. Among them, many Dutch saints who had local importance, but had left no tangible mark in the larger scheme of things. One of these is Saint Oda.
The 8th-century saint, who lived as a hermit at what is now the village of Sint-Oedenrode in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, gives her name to the parish which was established in 2010, and as a consequence, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans has asked the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to reinstate her feast on the liturgical calendar. That request has now been granted. Her reinstated feast day will be on the 27th of November.
As the notification reads, “once holy, always holy”, Saint Oda’s sanctity has never been abrogated, but her veneration merely limited. Those limitations have now been removed so that the faithful of St. Oda’s parish can now mark their patron saint’s feast day again. Whether or not her veneration has been returned to universal status is unknown, but, to be honest, unlikely. The request from the bishop has been of a local nature, so it would make sense that St. Oda’s veneration is now reinstated for the diocese alone.
Yesterday evening I attended an ordination. Although it wasn’t a person being ordained, and it wasn’t actually called an ordination, the Mass had the basic structure of a priestly ordination. The bishop did the honours, we prayed the Litany of All Saints, there was anointing and a first Mass. What ‘got ‘ordained’ then? A new people’s altar.
Together with a new ambo, it was a gift from the parish council to the parish on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the consecration of our cathedral, St. Joseph’s. The new altar replaces a fairly simple but heavy wooden table. This one is smaller and therefore makes the entire sanctuary appear bigger. With its flat stone surface and legs crafted into the symbols of the four evangelists, it matches the rest of the sanctuary well. The only distractions are the two candle holders. Blue appears nowhere else in the sanctuary, and although the candles are nice and big, there should be six of them. A minor complaint about an otherwise nice altar.
The smaller size of the new altar means that the number of concelebrants is practically limited. In yesterday’s Mass, the bishop concelebrated with his vicar general and the cathedral administrator, and other members of the cathedral chapter were attending in choir. It certainly makes the sanctuary look less crowded.
Why such an elaborate ceremony for what is, essentially, a piece of furniture, though? It shouldn’t be a surprise that in a Church, nothing is just a piece of furniture, especially when it’s in the sanctuary. That altar, in fact, is one of the most important elements in a church, perhaps second only to the tabernacle. It is where Christ becomes present for us, where His sacrifice and resurrection are made present again for us, from where we receive Him in communion. Everything we do, have and know in our faith comes from there. That is why a new altar needs to be changed from just a piece of furniture into a sacramental. It needs to be prepare for its holy service.
That is why it is anointed., which may be seen in the photo below: Bishop de Korte is anointing the surface of the altar. That is why we pray for the intercession of all the saints, just as we do when a man is ordained to the priesthood. Our prayers will aid in receiving and benefitting from what we receive from the altar. In the surface of the altar, relics are embedded, as an altar exists in connection with the graves of the martyrs and, eventually, with the altars that Abel, Noah, Abraham and other Old Testament Fathers erected. The consecration of an altar is also a public act, since the use of the altar is public: it will allow the community of faithful to receive the Eucharist, and thus be united in faith.
The altar is no longer just a piece of furniture. It is a tool towards our salvation.
A short bit of footage without much sound (to be found at the end of this post), courtesy of RKK, and a report on the Archdiocesan website are among the few news items concerning Cardinal Eijk’s taking possession of his title church in Rome, Last Thursday. There is also a photo report available here.
The small church of San Callisto was completely filled and the congregation included a large number of journalists. Cardinal Eijk called his reception “heartwarming”. Assistant Papal master of cermeonies Msgr. Konrad Krajewski presented and read out the papal bull granting the title church to Cardinal Eijk at the start of Mass. It was subsequently signed afterwards. The arrival of its new cardinal protector, prompted the caretakers of the San Callisto to install a new altar and refurbish the throne. In his homily, Cardinal Eijk spoke about Pope Saint Callistus I, to whom the church is dedicated. He called it:
“a magnificent place. The church lies in Trastevere, the beating heart of Rome the old city centre. But also because of the fact that Pope Callistus died a martyr’s death here – the well [in which he was thrown to his death - ed.] lies here in the church underneath the altar. So it is really a historical place. I consider Callistus an inspiring figure; in the lives of the saints there are parallels with our own lives, there are always things in their lives which can encourage you in your faith.”
Photo credit: Aartsbisdom.nl
Every day in the Church is some saint’s day. There are so many of them, that not a day goes by or we don’t commemorate a handful, and that’s not even counting all those who we don’t know, but who lived no less holy lives. These feast days of saints are neatly structured according to the Martyrologium Romanum: each saint his own day (unless you’re the Blessed Virgin Mary, for example; she gets a bunch of feast days throughout the year).
Leap years are a bit problematic. According to the general logic of the martyrology, the saints whose feast falls on 29 February are commemorated only once every four years. And that won’t do, of course. A cursory search of the Internet reveals at least four saints whose feast day falls today, but they are all transferred from either yesterday or tomorrow. The Church seems to abhor a vacuum of saints on any given day, it would seem. Moved back from yesterday are, for example, St. Hilarius, pope from 461 to 468, and Saints Romanus and Lupicinus, two fifth-century hermit brothers in eastern France. Moved forward from tomorrow are, for example, Saint Albinus of Angers, sixth-century monk and bishop from Britanny, and St. Oswald of Worcester, tenth-century archbishop of York.
The Church may have been the instigator of our modern calendar with its leap years, but even she has to be creative when it comes to the feast days of saints.
After a state visit which was also a pastoral visit and an opportunity to address issues in both Church and state, during which protesters – once again – failed to leave much of an actual impression (despite media efforts to place them firmly center stage) and politicians who stayed away out of protest made a right fool of themselves, it’s perhaps best to focus on what the pope came to say. The texts of the various addresses and homilies are online, and I have paid attention to a mere two of these.
Here is my selection of the most interesting and important passages from the texts, all according to me, of course. It’s by no means complete, and I recommend reading the full texts to get a sense of context and further development of the points touched upon.
On being part of the Church
“I would say it is important to know that being in the Church is not like being in some association, but it is being in the net of the Lord, with which he draws good fish and bad fish from the waters of death to the land of life. It is possible that I might be alongside bad fish in this net and I sense this, but it remains true that I am in it neither for the former nor for the latter but because it is the Lord’s net; it is something different from all human associations, a reality that touches the very heart of my being.” [Interview during the flight to Berlin, 22 September]
The link between freedom and religion
“Freedom requires a primordial link to a higher instance. The fact that there are values which are not absolutely open to manipulation is the true guarantee of our freedom. The man who feels a duty to truth and goodness will immediately agree with this: freedom develops only in responsibility to a greater good. Such a good exists only for all of us together; therefore I must always be concerned for my neighbours. Freedom cannot be lived in the absence of relationships.” [Welcome ceremony in Berlin, 22 September]
The pope’s responsibility
“[T]he invitation to give this address was extended to me as Pope, as the Bishop of Rome, who bears the highest responsibility for Catholic Christianity.” (Address to the Bundestag, 22 September]
On what should ultimately matter for a politician
“His fundamental criterion and the motivation for his work as a politician must not be success, and certainly not material gain. Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace. Naturally a politician will seek success, without which he would have no opportunity for effective political action at all. Yet success is subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right. Success can also be seductive and thus can open up the path towards the falsification of what is right, towards the destruction of justice. “Without justice – what else is the State but a great band of robbers?”, as Saint Augustine once said.” [idem]
The limitations of the majority vote
“For most of the matters that need to be regulated by law, the support of the majority can serve as a sufficient criterion. Yet it is evident that for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough: everyone in a position of responsibility must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws.” [idem]
The limitations and dangers of positivism
“A positivist conception of nature as purely functional, as the natural sciences consider it to be, is incapable of producing any bridge to ethics and law, but once again yields only functional answers. The same also applies to reason, according to the positivist understanding that is widely held to be the only genuinely scientific one. Anything that is not verifiable or falsifiable, according to this understanding, does not belong to the realm of reason strictly understood. Hence ethics and religion must be assigned to the subjective field, and they remain extraneous to the realm of reason in the strict sense of the word. Where positivist reason dominates the field to the exclusion of all else – and that is broadly the case in our public mindset – then the classical sources of knowledge for ethics and law are excluded.
“In its self-proclaimed exclusivity, the positivist reason which recognizes nothing beyond mere functionality resembles a concrete bunker with no windows, in which we ourselves provide lighting and atmospheric conditions, being no longer willing to obtain either from God’s wide world. And yet we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that even in this artificial world, we are still covertly drawing upon God’s raw materials, which we refashion into our own products. The windows must be flung open again, we must see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this.”[idem]
A strong condemnation of Nazism
“The Nazi reign of terror was based on a racist myth, part of which was the rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ and of all who believe in him. The supposedly “almighty” Adolf Hitler was a pagan idol, who wanted to take the place of the biblical God, the Creator and Father of all men. Refusal to heed this one God always makes people heedless of human dignity as well. What man is capable of when he rejects God, and what the face of a people can look like when it denies this God, the terrible images from the concentration camps at the end of the war showed.” [Meeting with Jewish community representatives, 22 September]
The relationship between Judaism and Christianity
“For Christians, there can be no rupture in salvation history. Salvation comes from the Jews (cf. Jn 4:22). When Jesus’ conflict with the Judaism of his time is superficially interpreted as a breach with the Old Covenant, it tends to be reduced to the idea of a liberation that mistakenly views the Torah merely as a slavish enactment of rituals and outward observances. Yet in actual fact, the Sermon on the Mount does not abolish the Mosaic Law, but reveals its hidden possibilities and allows more radical demands to emerge. It points us towards the deepest source of human action, the heart, where choices are made between what is pure and what is impure, where faith, hope and love blossom forth.” [idem]
Jersus’ identification with the oppressed Church
“On the road to Damascus, Christ himself asked Saul, the persecutor of the Church: “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). With these words the Lord expresses the common destiny that arises from his Church’s inner communion of life with himself, the risen one. He continues to live in his Church in this world. He is present among us, and we with him. “Why do you persecute me?” It is ultimately at Jesus that persecution of his Church is directed. At the same time, this means that when we are oppressed for the sake of our faith, we are not alone: Jesus Christ is beside us and with us.” [Homily during Mass at the Olympic Stadium, 22 September]
Christ takes our suffering on His shoulders
“Christ himself came into this world through his incarnation, to be our root. Whatever hardship or drought befall us, he is the source that offers us the water of life, that feeds and strengthens us. He takes upon himself all our sins, anxieties and sufferings and he purifies and transforms us, in a way that is ultimately mysterious, into good branches that produce good wine. In such times of hardship we can sometimes feel as if we ourselves were in the wine-press, like grapes being utterly crushed. But we know that if we are joined to Christ we become mature wine. God can transform into love even the burdensome and oppressive aspects of our lives. It is important that we “abide” in Christ, in the vine.” [idem]
God’s most beautiful gift
“The Church, as the herald of God’s word and dispenser of the sacraments, joins us to Christ, the true vine. The Church as “fullness and completion of the Redeemer”, as Pius XII expressed it (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, AAS 35  p. 230: “plenitudo et complementum Redemptoris”), is to us a pledge of divine life and mediator of those fruits of which the parable of the vine speaks. Thus the Church is God’s most beautiful gift.” [idem]
Evil is no trivial matter
“[I]nsofar as people believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. The question no longer troubles us. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter.” [Meeting with the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, 23 September]
The development of a shallow Christianity
“Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon – that bishops from all over the world are constantly telling me about – poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.” [idem]
In the face of secularisation
“Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task in which we have to help one another: developing a deeper and livelier faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God.” [idem]
The fundamental unity of Christians
“Our fundamental unity comes from the fact that we believe in God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth. And that we confess that he is the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The highest unity is not the solitude of a nomad, but rather a unity born of love. We believe in God – the real God. We believe that God spoke to us and became one of us. To bear witness to this living God is our common task at the present time.” [Address during the ecumenical prayer service, 23 September]
Man’s need of God
“Does man need God, or can we do quite well without him? When, in the first phase of God’s absence, his light continues to illumine and sustain the order of human existence, it appears that things can also function quite well without God. But the more the world withdraws from God, the clearer it becomes that man, in his hubris of power, in his emptiness of heart and in his longing for satisfaction and happiness, increasingly loses his life. A thirst for the infinite is indelibly present in human beings. Man was created to have a relationship with God; we need him.” [idem]
Why faith is not subject to negotiations
“A self-made faith is worthless. Faith is not something we work out intellectually and negotiate between us.” [idem]
Mary, our mother
“When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our mother – a mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us and ponders in a maternal way how to overcome them.” [Marian Vespers, 23 September]
Mary as a channel of grace
“Looking down from the Cross, from the throne of grace and salvation, Jesus gave us his mother Mary to be our mother. At the moment of his self-offering for mankind, he makes Mary as it were the channel of the rivers of grace that flow from the Cross. At the foot of the Cross, Mary becomes our fellow traveller and protector on life’s journey. “By her motherly love she cares for her son’s sisters and brothers who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home,” as the Second Vatican Council expressed it (Lumen Gentium, 62). Yes indeed, in life we pass through high-points and low-points, but Mary intercedes for us with her Son and helps us to discover the power of his divine love, and to open ourselves to that love.” [idem]
The quality of the saints
“Still today Christ comes towards us, he speaks to every individual, just as he did in the Gospel, and invites every one of us to listen to him, to come to understand him and to follow him. This summons and this opportunity the saints acted on, they recognized the living God, they saw him, they listened to him and they went towards him, they travelled with him; they so to speak “caught” his contagious presence, they reached out to him in the ongoing dialogue of prayer, and in return they received from him the light that shows where true life is to be found.” [Homily during Mass in Erfurt, 24 September]
“Faith always includes as an essential element the fact that it is shared with others. No one can believe alone. We receive the faith – as Saint Paul tells us – through hearing, and hearing is part of being together, in spirit and in body. Only within this great assembly of believers of all times, who found Christ and were found by him, am I able to believe. In the first place I have God to thank for the fact that I can believe, for God approaches me and so to speak “ignites” my faith. But on a practical level, I have my fellow human beings to thank for my faith, those who believed before me and who believe with me. This great “with”, apart from which there can be no personal faith, is the Church. And this Church does not stop at national borders.” [idem]
The hope of union with our closest brothers
“[A]mong Christian Churches and communities, it is undoubtedly the Orthodox who are theologically closest to us; Catholics and Orthodox have maintained the same basic structure inherited from the ancient Church; in this sense we are all the early Church that is still present and new. And so we dare to hope, even if humanly speaking constantly new difficulties arise, that the day may still be not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together (cf. Light of the World. A Conversation with Peter Seewald, p. 86).” [Meeting with representatives of Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Church, 24 September]
What the seminary is for
“As Saint Bonaventure once said: the angels, wherever they go, however far away, always move within the inner being of God. This is also the case here: as priests we must go out onto the many different streets, where we find people whom we should invite to his wedding feast. But we can only do this if in the process we always remain with him. And learning this: this combination of, on the one hand, going out on mission, and on the other hand being with him, remaining with him, is – I believe – precisely what we have to learn in the seminary.” [Meeting with seminarians, 24 September]
Learning about the present from the past
“In exegesis we learn much about the past: what happened, what sources there are, what communities there were, and so on. This is also important. But more important still is that from the past we should learn about the present, we should learn that he is speaking these words now, and that they all carry their present within them, and that over and above the historical circumstances in which they arose, they contain a fullness which speaks to all times. And it is important to learn this present-day aspect of his word – to learn to listen out for it – and thus to be able to speak of it to others.” [idem]
“Faith comes from hearing”
I sometimes say that Saint Paul wrote: “Faith comes from hearing” – not from reading. It needs reading as well, but it comes from hearing, that is to say from the living word, addressed to me by the other, whom I can hear, addressed to me by the Church throughout the ages, from her contemporary word, spoken to me the priests, bishops and my fellow believers. Faith must include a “you” and it must include a “we”. [idem]
Faith in a scientific world
“Our world today is a rationalist and thoroughly scientific world, albeit often somewhat pseudo-scientific. But this scientific spirit, this spirit of understanding, explaining, know-how, rejection of the irrational, is dominant in our time. There is a good side to this, even if it often conceals much arrogance and nonsense. The faith is not a parallel world of feelings that we can still afford to hold on to, rather it is the key that encompasses everything, gives it meaning, interprets it and also provides its inner ethical orientation: making clear that it is to be understood and lived as tending towards God and proceeding from God.” [idem]
The light of Christ
“While all around us there may be darkness and gloom, yet we see a light: a small, tiny flame that is stronger than the seemingly powerful and invincible darkness. Christ, risen from the dead, shines in this world and he does so most brightly in those places where, in human terms, everything is sombre and hopeless. He has conquered death – he is alive – and faith in him, like a small light, cuts through all that is dark and threatening. To be sure, those who believe in Jesus do not lead lives of perpetual sunshine, as though they could be spared suffering and hardship, but there is always a bright glimmer there, lighting up the path that leads to fullness of life (cf. Jn 10:10). The eyes of those who believe in Christ see light even amid the darkest night and they already see the dawning of a new day.” [Vigil with young people, 24 September]
“Dear friends, Christ is not so much interested in how often in our lives we stumble and fall, as in how often with his help we pick ourselves up again. He does not demand glittering achievements, but he wants his light to shine in you. He does not call you because you are good and perfect, but because he is good and he wants to make you his friends. Yes, you are the light of the world because Jesus is your light. You are Christians – not because you do special and extraordinary things, but because he, Christ, is your life, our life. You are holy, we are holy, if we allow his grace to work in us.” [idem]
Power and freedom
“There are theologians who, in the face of all the terrible things that happen in the world today, say that God cannot possibly be all-powerful. In response to this we profess God, the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth. And we are glad and thankful that God is all-powerful. At the same time, we have to be aware that he exercises his power differently from the way we normally do. He has placed a limit on his power, by recognizing the freedom of his creatures. We are glad and thankful for the gift of freedom. However, when we see the terrible things that happen as a result of it, we are frightened. Let us put our trust in God, whose power manifests itself above all in mercy and forgiveness. Let us be certain, dear faithful, that God desires the salvation of his people. He desires our salvation, my salvation, the salvation of every single person. He is always close to us, especially in times of danger and radical change, and his heart aches for us, he reaches out to us. We need to open ourselves to him so that the power of his mercy can touch our hearts. We have to be ready freely to abandon evil, to raise ourselves from indifference and make room for his word. God respects our freedom. He does not constrain us. He is waiting for us to say “yes”, he as it were begs us to say “yes”.” [Homily during the Mass in Freiburg, 25 September]
Our personal relationship with God
“So let us ask ourselves, in the light of today’s Gospel, how is my personal relationship with God: in prayer, in participation at Sunday Mass, in exploring my faith through meditation on sacred Scripture and study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Dear friends, in the last analysis, the renewal of the Church will only come about through openness to conversion and through renewed faith.” [idem]
The exchange between God and man
“The Fathers explain it in this way: we have nothing to give God, we have only our sin to place before him. And this he receives and makes his own, while in return he gives us himself and his glory: a truly unequal exchange, which is brought to completion in the life and passion of Christ. He becomes, as it were, a “sinner”, he takes sin upon himself, takes what is ours and gives us what is his. But as the Church continued to reflect upon and live the faith, it became clear that we not only give him our sin, but that he has empowered us, from deep within he gives us the power, to offer him something positive as well: our love – to offer him humanity in the positive sense. Clearly, it is only through God’s generosity that man, the beggar, who receives a wealth of divine gifts, is yet able to offer something to God as well; that God makes it possible for us to accept his gift, by making us capable of becoming givers ourselves in his regard.” [Meeting with active Catholics, 25 September]
Detaching the Church from the world
“[I]t is time once again to discover the right form of detachment from the world, to move resolutely away from the Church’s worldliness. This does not, of course, mean withdrawing from the world: quite the contrary. A Church relieved of the burden of worldliness is in a position, not least through her charitable activities, to mediate the life-giving strength of the Christian faith to those in need, to sufferers and to their carers.” [idem]
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It’s the 6th of December, the feast day of Saint Nicholas of Myra, but for many people in the Netherlands, Belgium, parts of Germany and central Europe, his celebration is already over. The old tradition of giving gifts on the eve of the saint’s feast day still exists, and despite heavy secularisation and commercialisation, his imagery is still enormously Catholic. Depicted as a bishop with mitre, staff, alb and something approaching a chasuble, the heavily-bearded saint still makes an official arrival in the Netherlands in mid- to late-November, when he is welcomed in a different city or town each year, with members of the local authorities and the royal family in attendance. Well-choreographed children shows and tv-programs are centered around St. Nicholas, or Sinterklaas in Dutch, as he promises presents to children who have been good and, now less frequently, punishment for bad children (often in the form of being taken to Spain, where tradition tells us St. Nicholas lives during the year).
In reality, the person of St. Nicholas of Myra, in modern Turkey, lies at the foundation of the tradition of Sinterklaas. The abbot and bishop may have been an important player at the Council of Nicaea in 325, where he defended Catholic teaching in the face of heresy, and victim of persecution under Emperor Diocletian: first and foremost a Christian, a Catholic shepherd and example then.
The media attention to Sinterklaas will now lie dormant for another year, but how fantastic would it be if this regal person with all his Catholic regalia and symbolism were officially welcomed by the bishops of the Netherlands next year? Sure, he may be the great friend of children and giver of gifts, but in the end he is the abbot and bishop who is an example to us all in his Christianity. Maybe it’s time we all get to know him as such again.
Seeing the crowds, he went onto the mountain. And when he was seated his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:
“How blessed are the poor in spirit: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Blessed are the gentle: they shall have the earth as inheritance.
Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness: they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
Blessed are the pure in heart: they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognised as children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
from the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 1 to 12a
On this day commemorating all those men and women who have died and entered into the glory of God, Jesus reminds us , in the Gospel, of our blessings, even in the face of antagonism and persecution. The faith in God and His love and mercy towards us is far greater than earthly adversities. They can turn these adversities into blessings, even.
The Christian faith flies into the face of the times, but is no less true for that. It is a divine truth, which supersedes all follies and urges of people. This truth is love.
The saints, both known and unknown, are shining examples of that. They are the Church triumphant, one with the Church here on earth and the Church in Purgatory. They pray for us, for all the Church, and they guide us towards where they already are. They are in our future, with God.
Yesterday the monumental and historical buildings in the city of Groningen were open to the public, since it was National Heritage Day (although other places organise that today). Among those buildings was the cathedral of St. Joseph. I was involved in the activities as a tour guide: I conducted three 45-minute tours which were pretty well received. Not too bad for a first-timer.
The above photo does not do the attendance justice: all in we welcomed some 380 visitors which, considering that the promotional material for the Heritage Day failed to include our cathedral and its opening times, is not bad at all…
I especially enjoyed the questions and comments from non-Catholics, some of whom were surprised how close the Catholic faith is to their own Protestant Christianity. I think the ubiquitous Biblical reference sprinkled throughout the cathedral may have contributed to that: the nave, for example, features the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Beatitudes on the walls and pillars, not to mention the Stations of the Cross and depictions from the life of Saint Joseph and the Holy Family.
The opportunity for people who were interested to go on up to the choir loft, where our titular organist Sjoerd Ruisch was playing, was also very popular. Mr. Ruisch enjoyed himself as well, having the chance to explain all about the intricacies of the century-old Maarschalkweerd organ.
The tour I had come up with (essentially on the day before…) was not just a tour of the building, but also a very basic introduction to the Catholic faith. That was not by accident: the appearance and history of a Catholic church is – or should be – dictated by the fact that Jesus Christ is physically present. So I didn’t just discuss architecture and local history, but also various sacraments, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, the practice of receiving Communion and much more like that.