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exaltatio of the cross“He said, ‘The Son of man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’

Then, speaking to all, he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will save it. What benefit is it to anyone to win the whole world and forfeit or lose his very self?”

Luke 9:22-25

A rather gloomy prediction of the future we hear today in our reading of the Gospel. Jesus gives a clear image of what His immediate future will hold; an image of pain and suffering, but certainly also of hope. His ressurection on the third day would have reminded his audience of the prophecies regarding the Messiah, even if most did not yet realise that the Messiah was the one telling them this. The rejection that Jesus foretells is by the hand of “the elders and chief priests and scribes”, the very leaders of the religious establishment and community. These are usually the ones that are trusted to do what is right, but their future betrayal of the ultimate truth that is God shows how deeply the salvation the Messiah brings is needed. This is more than the personal sins of individuals, but extends into the very heart of civilisation. Christ’s sacrifice will bring healing to all of society, to its individual members and to the relationships that unite them.

Christ does not only speak about Himself here, but also about us. The decision to follow Him is a big one, and just like His sacrifice and salvation, it reaches down to the very roots of our humanity and society. We must renounce ourselves, which means that we mustachieve a balance between respecting and making use of what has been given to us by God as His creation, and denying what distracts us from Him and His desire to brings us to Him. In other words, do not put yourself first, but always look at yourself as a being created by and wished by God. We must look at ourselves with His eyes, not our own. That is why Jesus speaks about losing our life “for His sake”. Just losing our lives is a shameful waste without any merit. But losing our lives for Him (in other words: handing over our lives to Him) is essentially the opposite of losing it. God gave us life, and He did not do so by accident. He has given us our very self, which is far more than the mere fact of being alive. Life has a greater meaning than that.

We are asked to lose our lives for God, which means we acknowledge the fact that our life, or being, was not ours in the first place. God will not take it and then ignore us. He will accept our very being and lead it on the path to fulfillment, to reach our full potential. And that path is hard. Jesus is the first to go that path, to show us the way. His death and resurrection foreshadows what he asks us to do. To die for ourselves and be reborn in God.

prayer, lent, art, bida, prayer in secretBe careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win human admiration. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room, shut yourself in, and so pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘When you are fasting, do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they go about looking unsightly to let people know they are fasting. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put scent on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.”

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

What better way to start the great season of Lent with some very direct instructions from the Lord Himself? In this passage, Jesus outlines the three main elements of Lent: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. These three are interlinked, as each one bleeds into the others and makes the others more fruitful. That is why it is important that we do not just pick one or two to focus on during Lent.

The general tone of the Gospel passage above is one of modesty and secrecy. Jesus basically tells us not to show off. The reason for this is that we do not fast, pray or give alms for ourselves; we do it for God and our neighbour. The benefit of our actions is theirs. Once we do it for the benefit of our own public image and social standing, the result of Lent will be strictly negative: we become concerned only with ourselves and ignore those around us. We become islands, egotistical human beings who only act for our own benefit, no matter the cost for others.

Christ also links such behaviour directly to our “reward from our Father in heaven”. Prayer, almsgiving and fasting all have their reward in this passage.  Jesus mentions it multiple times. He does not say what that reward will be, but we can gather from this that it is directly related to our actions.

Every action has a result or a consequence. When deciding to do something, we are often aware of that consequence, and the same goes for when we decide not to do something. This is a truth independent of our motivations. When we focus solely on ourselves, the consequence will be that we lose sight of others and become egotistical. When we focus on others and on God, the result will be that we grow in our relations with people and with God, and are able to flourish as human beings. We are, after all, not created as solitary creatures. From the very beginning, God created humans as beings in relation to all of Creation and ultimately in relation with each other and with Himself.

Our Lent must be secretive insofar that it must not become a goal in itself. If we make a show of how prayerful, how generous and how hungry we are, we are only seeking adoration for ourselves. Lent is a means to an end, and that end is what matters. God matters, our neighbour matters, and our relationship with both matters. God calls us to Him, and when we say yes to His invitation, we must prepare ourselves to meet Him. And that means striving for the holiness with which He created us in the beginning, a holiness which must not remain locked up in our hearts, but must be set free to create the links that will make all of Creation holy.

Art credit: “The prayer in secret”, by Alexandre Bida.

victoria fenderThe Diocese of Trier has come with some sort of explanation for Bishop Stephan Ackermann’s confusing comments on the Church’s moral teaching, which I wrote about before. The response comes in a response to a long letter by Austrian student Victoria Fender (pictured). In it, she expresses her concern for Bishop Ackermann’s reasoning, stating that while reality is one thing, a bishop has a duty to share and promote the Church’s ideal of Christian marriage and sexuality, not give in to what society thinks it is today (and maybe something else altogether tomorrow). And, she adds, there is a very real desire among young people for this countercultural teaching, if only they heard about it.

Part of the response to Ms. Fender’s letter goes as follows:

As Ms. Fender writes, she is personally very enthused by the message of the Gospel and is generally respected for her witness of faith and life by her fellow students. One can only rejoice about that. The responses to the Synod survey have also clearly indicated that the great majority of Catholics shares the basic values of what the Church teaches about marriage and sexuality: lifelong fidelity, openness to the transmission of life, respect for one’s partner… But it also an undeniable truth that every person’s life needs a very personal development to come nearer and nearer to the goal of Christian truth. This way is not always linear.

All nice and true, but the fact that different people come to the truth in different ways does of course not mean that the truth is different for everyone. Marriage is still marriage. Human sexuality still has the same nature and purpose. The letter continues…

In his service a bishop is both teacher and pastor. In her letter, Ms. Fender herself referred to the words of Jesus about the Good Shepherd. For a bishop that means that he is also responsible for those who do not particularly live up to the ideals of Christian morality. Should he, like the Good Shepherd, also not go after the sheep that got lost, to show it, in the mercy of Christ, the way to full community? In his words, Pope Francis reminds us time and again not to discourage people, but to help them to discover the beauty of the faith, so that they can grow in that faith. Bishop Ackermann is committed to this task. In more than a few responses that have come to us in the last few days, this is perceived gratefully.

bischof-stephan-ackermann-trier-hoch_full_pTo me, this sounds like a classic mistake. Of course, bishops and priests (and all faithful) should do their best to find the lost sheep and bring them back to the herd. But we can’t do so by telling those sheep that they were right to get lost or purposely leaving the herd. We can’t change the truth in order to bring them back. Rather, we should show them ever more clearly the beauty of that truth, of the faith, not adapt it to what some think it should be. A bishop has the duty to shepherd and teach, but also to communicate the faith and make sure it is represented truthfully. By saying, as Bishop Ackermann did, that homosexuality is not intrinsically disordered, that contraception is not a problem because it is hard to understand, or that the indissolubility of marriage is no longer valid, he basically admits that the truth that the Church has been teaching for centuries is not set, that it can be changed according to the wishes of the people. That is not good shepherding, that is confirming people in their error, that is telling sheep to get lost and stay away because they think it is best for them.

A bishop should teach the truth, lead people to that truth and show the fullness and beauty of that truth. Even when it is difficult or when people need time to understand and achieve it. That last part is only human, and we should give people all the time and support they need. Telling them that it takes too long, so it must be wrong, is the road to disaster.

Someone pointed out to me that bishops are teachers, so we must let them teach. But what if we find problems with their teaching? Should we not ask for clarification, or even share our concerns. Ms. Fender did the best thing anyone can do. She sent a letter to the bishop, pointing out what she found hard to understand about what he taught. It is a shame that the response is quite unsatisfactory.

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkCardinal Eijk just can’t win. In an interview for the Reformatorisch Dagblad, which was published yesterday, he explained that the Council of Trent is still current. The statements of that Council, which aimed to put an end to certain practices which had caused the Reformation, but also wanted to emphasise the content of the faith and the consequences thereof in daily life for those who professed it, has not been scrapped in any way in the centuries after. What was said there still goes.

Protestant faith leaders in the Netherlands are none too happy with the cardinal’s clear and open explanation. The chair of the Protestant National Synod claimed that Cardinal Eijk “would give the faithful a burn-out some day”. “The claim that the church is always right is not in line with the Bible”, Gerrit de Fijter said. Well, that’s  right, if you have a Protestant understanding of what a church is. The Catholic definition of the Church, the body of Christ which enjoys the promised inspiration of the Holy Spirit, can make certain dogmatic statements (which is not the same as saying she’s always right…). Former head of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Bas Plaisier (who himself is not too concerned with ecumenical respect for other churches) “does not understand what the cardinal is doing”, calling the statements “formal and hard”. Even Catholic professor Marcel Poorthuis had his reservations. While agreeing that Cardinal Eijk is correct in his statements about the Council and the heresies it addresses, he puts Pope emeritus Benedict XVI opposite to the cardinal, referring to the retired Pope’s statement that Martin Luther was a man of the Church. He even goes so far as to say that he expects Luther to be rehabilitated by the Church.

Cardinal Eijk called the Council of Trent a sign of the Catholic Church’s “capacity to purify herself” from errors and sinful practices. Examples of these are “the trade in offices, the unbiblical understanding of the priesthood en the lack of discipline in monasteries. In that regard, Trent has put things in order. The Council has also been very fruitful. When all the decrees had been implemented this led to a restoration of order in the Church.” The Council also delineated certain truths of the faith, which are still unchanged and valid.

The cardinal relates the anathemas that the Council issued to the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, which says, “Anyone who preaches to you a gospel other than the one you were first given is to be under God’s curse” (1:9). “If someone does not share the faith of the Church in the Eucharist,” the cardinal explained, “he can’t receive it either. This curse or anathema essentially means you are blocked from receiving the sacraments, and in that sense it is still applicable.” But, the cardinal continues, these anathemas apply to people who refuse the truths of the Church “in full knowledge, aware of the truth and with free will”. “In a way that is a theoretical question. There are many people who have an incorrect image of the Catholic Church because they were raised that way, or they have another idea of God. You can not directly blame someone for that. You can therefore not understand the anathemas of Trent as being eternally damning for someone. God is the judge; you can and may not make that judgement as a human being.”

A clear explanation of what the Council taught about those who do not adhere to what they know to be the truth of the faith. Does this mean, as the critics I mentioned and quoted above assume, that modern Protestants are damned by the Catholic Church? No, it does not, because to be damned you must know and be aware that the Catholic Church teaches the truth and decide freely to not follow that truth. Clearly, that is not what most Protestants do: they do not believe that the Catholic Church teaches truth. If they did, why remain Protestant? Are they damned by the Council? No. Can they receive all the sacraments? Also no, but for different reason: the sacraments are also a profession of faith and an expression of the desire to belong to the community of faithful that is Christ’s Body. If you don’t share that faith, well…

Yes, all this may not be nice to hear, but it is certainly worthy of being taken seriously and read carefully before being commented on. But, seeing the cardinal as the big bully is perhaps the easier and more comfortable way…

In ecumenical relations with other church communities there is one thing that must always be at the centre: the truth. The truth that the Church, or any other community, claims, must not be hidden for the sake of “being nice to each other”. Cardinal Eijk’s explanation is not a nice one, but it is true. It is what the Catholic Church continues to profess and uphold as truth. Ecumenism is a good thing, but it can never be a reason to ignore who we are and what we hod to be true.

tomasi scicluna“Church slammed by UN, grilled about sexual abuse, heavily criticised…”

Just a sample of some of the headlines I came across yesterday and today. All because of the regular report that the Holy See has to make to the United Nations because it signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child back in 1990. The Holy See joined such countries as Germany, the Congo and Yemen in reporting yesterday, but was the single signatory singled out in the media. In a way that is understandable. After all, no country or international body has been so heavily scrutinised for its sexual abuse record in recent years, and no country or international body has been so open about it or active in fighting this horrible crime and sin. Not even the United Nations itself can boast about that.

As Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (pictured above at left), the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, explained in his opening statement yesterday, recent years have seen a major effort on the part of the Holy See to fight the scourge of sexual abuse. This has happened in sharpening laws, but also in continuous reminders by Popes Benedict XVI and Francis (the latter did so as recently as yesterday). Local Churches have also been called to strengthen their efforts and create extensive programs to root out the evil of sexual abuse and to assist the victims. A good example mentioned by Archbishop Tomasi is the one of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (this week, the Diocese of Stockton became the tenth American diocese to file for bankruptcy because of financial compensation to victims of abuse – an example of how far they are going to aid the victims). Other bishops’ conferences, among them the Dutch, are also undertaking unprecedented efforts to address the problem. This indicates where the fight is taking place: not in the higher echelons of the Vatican, but primarily on the ground, in the local communities, where the victims and perpetrators may be found. And also the place, as Bishop Charles J. Scicluna (pictured above at right), also present at the meeting yesterday, says, where the laws of specific countries must be enacted and followed.

The question of the efficiency of these measures, as John L. Allen Jr. explains, is a matter of debate. It will take time to find that out. But the fact that steps are being taken is a clear sign that the Holy See is taking its obligations seriously.

What we see in the criticism, however, is that it generally wants to change the past. Time and again we hear about serious mistakes that the Holy See made in dealing with past abuse cases, mistakes the Holy See fully acknowledges and regrets. We see little to no recognition or understanding of the current efforts, in which the Holy See is leading the way for many other countries and international institutions. The past can’t be changed, but how we relate to people today and in the future can.

Sexual abuse of minors by clergy and members of the Church is an enormously painful and shameful affair for all Catholics. Pope Francis has rightly said we should be ashamed as a Church. We owe it to the victims to recognise their pain and to do our utmost to prevent it from ever happening again. I think that that is now being undertaken on the various levels of the Church. But in considering pain and attempting prevention we must always adhere to the truth. The truth that the past can’t be changed, that for a good number of years already the Church is taking her responsibility and taking effective steps in rooting out the evil of sexual abuse.

hurkmans audienceOn Wednesday, the traditional day of the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, all bishops continued with meetings. All, except for Bishop Antoon Hurkmans (pictured at right, seated at centre and discoursing with an unidentified bishop), who attended the audience and once again met the Pope, this time to give him an icon on behalf of the Dutch faithful. The meeting may be briefly seen here, at the 55:30 mark, the very end of the general audience. Afterwards, Pope Francis blessed and venerated the icon of the Year of Faith, that Bishop Hurkmans had also brought and which he will bring with him back home. It will subsequently go on a  tour to various parishes.

The other bishops, in the mean time, were received at the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care to Health Care Workers, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Bishop Jan Hendriks, part of the group visiting the latter two dicasteries, shares some words about the relations with Muslims, that Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran shared during the meeting at the Interreligious Dialogue office:

“…we need a strong Christian identity, which is open at the same. The three great starting points of the dialogue are:

  1. You must confess your faith clearly, without hiding anything: Jesus is the Son of God.
  2. Accept the other as being different.
  3. Accept that God is at work in every person.

Christians often have too little conviction, and that is problematic for the dialogue; Because of it Muslims often experience society as Godless and resist it. Conversation is often difficult: a meeting is often good and cordial, and afterwards they retreat anyway.”

20131204_ad_limina_tauran-xl^Bishops Mutsaerts, van den Hende, Hendriks, van Burgsteden, Cardinal Tauran, Bishops de Korte and Woorts

Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden also attended that meeting, and in his daily “diary entry” he writes:

“The Roman Catholic considers positively the true, good and beautiful which is found outside the Christian community. She considers, after all, truth, goodness and beauty to be the work of God’s Spirit. Hence the willingness to enter into dialogue with other religions. Which, by the way, does not lead to relativism. Because in addition to every respect for non-Christian religiousness, the Church continues to proclaim Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

Mass on Wednesday was offered at the grave of Saint Paul, in the Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls. Bishop Jos Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam was the main celebrant and also gave the homily. All homilies during the ad limina are available at this page of the Church province’s website, but since Bishop Punt usually speaks from memory (as shown in the photo below), his text is not yet available. It is said he spoke about the topic of mission.

punt homily st. paul-outside-the-walls

Photo credit: [1] RKK – Christian van der Heijden, [2] Bishop Jan Hendriks, [3] Ramon Mangold

First, now that all bishops have arrived in Rome, the group shot:

bishops st. peter's  square

As is typical of Pope Francis, the Dutch bishops were not treated to his prepared speech, but to a 90-minute heart-to-heart. This audience, which for the Holy Father was preceded by a meeting with the Israëli prime minister, and for the bishops by one with Archbishop Beniamino Stella, the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy (of which Cardinal Eijk is a member), was widely anticipated by the bishops, and that anticipation was justified, considering their reactions afterwards (more on that in a later post).

While Pope Francis chose not to give his talk, he did hand the text out to the bishops at the end of their meeting. I present it below in English:

Dear brothers in the episcopate,

In these days in which you are making your ad limina visit, I greet each of you with affection in the Lord, and assure you of my prayers, so that this pilgrimage may be full of mercy and fruitful for the Church in the Netherlands. Thank you to the dear Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk for the words he addressed to me on behalf of you all!

Let me first express my gratitude for the service to Christ and the Gospel which you perform, often in difficult circumstances, for the people entrusted to you. It is not easy to maintain hope in the challenges that you are facing! The collegial exercise of your office of bishop, in union with the bishop of Rome, is necessary to grow in this hope, in true dialogue and effective cooperation. You are doing well to consider with confidence the signs of vitality which appear in the Christian communities in your dioceses. These are signs of the active presence of the Lord amid the men and women in your country, who expect authentic witnesses of the hope which gives life to us, the hope which comes from Christ.

With maternal patience the Church continues her efforts to answer to the needs of many men and women who, confronted with the future, experience anxiety and discouragement. With your priests, your co-workers, you want to be near to people who suffer from spiritual emptiness and who are searching for meaning in their lives, even if they do not always know how to express this. How else could you fraternally accompany them in this search, than by listening to them and share with them the hope, the joy and the means to go forward which Jesus Christ gives us?

That is why the Church wants the present the faith in an authentic, understandable and pastoral way. The Year of Faith was a good opportunity to show how much the content of faith can unite all people. Christian anthropology and the social teaching of the Church are part of the heritage of experience and humanity at the root of European civilisation, and they can help to reaffirm the primacy of man over technology and structures. And this presupposes openness to the transcendent. When the transcendent dimension is suppressed, a culture becomes impoverished when it should display the possibility of a constant and harmonious unity between faith and reason, truth and freedom. The Church, then, does not only offer unchanging moral truths and attitudes that go against the ways of the world, but offers them as keys to good human and social development. Christians have a special mission to answer this challenge. The formation of conscience becomes a priority, especially through the formation of the ability to judge critically, all with a positive approach to social truths, so that you avoid the superficiality of judgement and the withdrawing movement of indifference. So this requires that Catholics, priests, consecrated persons and laity, are offered a thorough and high quality education. I strongly encourage you to join forces to answer to this need and so enable a better proclamation of the Gospel. In this context the witness and dedication of lay people in the Church and society are important; they have an important role and should be strongly supported. All baptised Christians are invited to be disciples, missionaries, wherever they are!

I encourage you to also be present in public discourse in your society, heavily characterised by secularisation, in all fields where it is suitable for man to make Gods mercy and His grace for all creatures. In today’s world the Church has the task to repeat the words of Christ without ceasing: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:38). But let us ask ourselves: whom of those we meet, meets a Christian, sees something of Gods goodness, of the joy of having found Christ? As I have said often, the Church grows through an authentically experienced episcopate, not through proselytising, but through attraction. She is being sent all over the world to shake up, shake up and maintain hope! Hence the importance of encouraging your people to grab the chances for dialogue, by being present in the places where the future is decided; where they can contribute to the debates about the great social crises concerning, for example, family, marriage and the end of life. Today more than ever we feel the need to go forward on the way of ecumenism and to invite to a true dialogue seeking the elements of truth and goodness, giving answers inspired by the Gospel. The Holy Spirit encourages us to go beyond ourselves and towards others!

In a country that is rich in so many ways, poverty affects a growing number of people. Increase the generosity of the faithful to bring the light and grace of Christ to the places where people are waiting and especially to those most marginalised! The Catholic school, offering young people a decent education, will continue to promote their human and spiritual formation in a spirit of dialogue and companionship with those who do not share their faith. It is important, therefore, that young Christians receive quality catechesis which maintains their faith and brings them to an encounter with Christ. Sound education and an open mind! That is how the Good News continues to be spread.

You know very well that the future and vitality of the Church in the Netherlands depends also on the vocations to the priesthood and religious life! It is urgently needed that an attractive vocations ministry be set up, and the road towards human and spiritual maturity of seminarians be guided, so that they can experience a personal relationship with the Lord which is the foundation of their priestly life! Let us also feel the urgency to pray to the Lord of the harvest! The rediscovery of prayer in many forms, and especially in Eucharistic adoration, is a source of hope for the Church to grow and take root. How important and essential it is that you are close to your priests, available to support them and lead them when they need it! Like fathers, take the time to welcome them and listen to them when they ask for it. And also do not forget to find those among them who do not come; some of them have sadly forgotten their obligations. In a  very special way, I want to express my sympathy and assurance of my prayer to everyone who is a victim of sexual abuse, and to their families; I ask you to continue supporting them on their painful road to healing, which they are travelling bravely. Be considerate in responding to the desire of Christ, the Good Shepherd, have the intention to protect and increase the love for the neighbour and the unity, in everything and among everyone.

Lastly, I want to thank you for the signs of vitality with the Lord has blessed the Church in the Netherlands, in that context which is not always easy. May He encourage and strengthen you in your delicate work of leading your communities on the road of faith and unity, truth and love. Be assured that the priests, religious and laity are under the protection of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. I gladly impart to you my Apostolic Blessing as a sign of peace and spiritual joy, and ask you in fraternity not to forget to pray for me!

Catholic TV station RKK supplies the following footage of the bishops meeting with Pope Francis, Cardinal Eijk’s address, and the end of the meeting.

Photo credit: Bisdom Roermond on Facebook

Bischof Gebhard FürstMarx, Zollitsch, Ackermann… and now Fürst? A string of names which reflect the opposition to the statement (not a request: the language is pretty clear that it expects to be followed) from the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith ordering a withdrawal of the Freiburg document on divorced and remarried Catholics and their access to the sacraments.

The first three names are those of the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich, the Apostolic Administrator (and retired Archbishop) of Freiburg and the Bishop of Trier, who have all responded to Archbishop Gerhard Müller’s statement with a reminder that he can’t stop the debate. Bishop Gebhard Fürst (pictured at left) of Rottenburg-Stuttgart has said no such thing, but has been exploring options to allow divorced faithful to hold official functions in the Church, and stated that the German bishops will release a statement on the topic of the sacraments and the divorced after their spring meeting in March (perhaps not coincidentally, the last one during which Archbishop Zollitsch will act as president). Per the current draft, Bishop Fürst says, these faithful will be allowed to receive the sacraments in individual cases, and after careful discernment of conscience and a conversation with a pastor.

MüllerThere is a  serious problems with this scenario. It shows both the misunderstanding and the disregard of an authoritative statement from the Church. Archbishop Müller (at right) does not intend to stifle debate, but wants to present the current state of affairs. That has not changed, despite the wishes of many, and the solitary actions of a diocesan official in Freiburg. The pastoral approach to divorced faithful may certainly be changed and adapted to existing situations, but that is not what Archbishop Müller is writing about. He discusses the doctrinal teaching of the Church on the sacraments and marriage. And that may not be changed by a solitary bishop, or even a bishops’ conference. Church doctrine can certainly be changed… or, rather, be adapted according to a developing understanding of truth. But this can be done by the Pope, in full accordance with the bishops. Bishops can’t  do it alone, and nor can the Pope do it alone.

Pope Francis seems to be having a clear idea of what a Pope and the Curia should do. He teaches by example, while the Curia reminds and, where necessary, enforces. A dirty job, perhaps, but an essential one, as it protects the truth of our faith in all its aspects. What these German bishops are doing is putting the Pope against Archbishop Müller, creating an opposition where there is none. In my opinion, the path they are following will eventually lead to a confrontation with the Holy Father directly. The bishops of Germany are due for an ad limina at any time between 2014 and 2016, but of course he can call them to Rome earlier. Benedict XVI did it in 2009 with the Austrian bishops…

For now, this situation seems to be developing into a rebellion of sorts, and that can never end well. It’s bad for the faith, for the bishops themselves and most of all for the faithful, divorced and otherwise.

Photo credit: [1] KNA

benedict christmasBold headlines in the news yesterday. A brief selection from the ones I came across: “Pope wants to unite religions against gay marriage“, “Pope: Homosexuals destroy human nature“, “Pope: Gay marriage bad for future of family” and “Pope considers gay marriage threat to world peace“.

What was the reason for this flood of headlines? Pope Benedict XVI’s annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, often considered to be the Holy Father’s ‘State of the Church’ address. In it, he looks back on the past year, summarising some of the high points and expounding on the general trends and topics that he considers significant. This year, the pope spoke about his visits to Cuba, Mexico and Lebanon, the International Meeting of Families in Milan, the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelisation and the Year of Faith. The bulk of the text, however, is a reflection of gender and the family, and how the understanding of both is interconnected and how they have changed in recent years. Rather than the male and female nature of humanity as a God-given reality, gender is now treated as something we can decide for our own. “Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will,” the Holy Father writes.

A second topic is that of the dialogue between religions and what form it should take, and a third issue is that of the proclamation of the Good News. Especially the latter passages can be considered good food for meditation and prayerful reflection.

Upon reading the text, something which I strongly suggest you do (be it in English via the link above, or in Dutch) you will find that not once does the pope raise the topic of homosexuality or marriage, or any combination of both. The headlines I mentioned above are therefore strongly deceptive, the product of willful ignorance, laziness or suggestive reporting.

This is a very serious issue. When the media so easily chooses pandering to what they perceive the masses should think about a topic, in this case the pope, over reporting what was actually said and done, they have become unreliable sources, little better than paparazzi and gossip magazines. The text of the address in question was available online on the very same day it was read out, in seven languages no less, and although it requires some concentration, it is not a difficult one to understand. There is really no excuse for reporting these untruths. Sadly, many readers will accept what these media write without question, assuming they write what is true.

It is up to as, as Catholics faithful to the Church and the magisterium, to correct these wrongs, because, quite simply, no one else will. That is why I worked hard to present a Dutch translation so soon, and publish it quite visible on Facebook on Twitter. The truth not only deserves, but also must be known. What the media failed to do yesterday not only hurts us and the Church, but also the truth.

More than two years ago, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, suggested in a different context that we should not rely on what the secular media tell us if we can read what the pope himself actually said. That is no less true in this case.

In a short message to the Pontifical Bible Commission (translation), Pope Benedict XVI addresses the topics of inspiration and truth in the Sacred Scriptures, and how both these elements are “constitutive characteristics of [their] nature”. He makes some very interesting points which we should keep in mind when reading the Bible and studying or applying the texts in it.

Photographed on the day he released his message, the Holy Father is seen, very fittingly, with the words "Verbum Domini" in the background.

First, there is the following statement:

“[T]he topic of inspiration is decisive for the appropriate approach to the Sacred Scriptures. In fact, an interpretation of the sacred texts that neglects or forgets their inspiration does not take into account their most important and precious characteristic, that is, their provenance from God.”

Essentially, what the pope seems to be saying here, is that the inspiration of a Biblical text, that is its origin and source, as well as the process by how it came into being, should dictate how we read those texts. Sacred Scripture ultimately finds its source in God. That is not the same as saying that He personally dictated the words to whichever scribe first committed them to paper, but He is behind it, so to speak. His truth is in those words. They are His Word, written down by man. It is not a thesis by which someone tried to defend his position or ideas. It is not a human construct, and neither is it academic. The texts in the Bible are grounded in historical reality, a reality in which God played an important part. The texts, in their nature, are characterised by that reality.

“Because of the charism of inspiration, the books of Sacred Scripture have a direct and concrete force of appeal.”

Their inspiration gives the books of the Bible their living authority. The Holy Father writes that their relevance did not end at the death of the last Apostle, but it continued through the constant proclamation and interpretation through the ages.

“For this reason the Word of God fixed in the sacred texts is not an inert deposit inside the Church but becomes the supreme rule of her faith and power of life. The Tradition that draws its origin from the Apostles progresses with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and grows with the reflection and study of believers, with personal experience of the spiritual life and the preaching of Bishop.”

This process of interpretation occurred within the framework of the Tradition of the Church which, the Holy Father notes, has progressed with the assistance of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost, and grows via four means: reflection, study, experience and preaching. ‘Reading the Bible’, then, engages the entire person, not just the intellect. We read or hear, we feel, think and, certainly not least, we experience.

The reference to “the preaching of the Bishop” is interesting in its own right. Just as the Apostles were the first to proclaim the Word of God in the Tradition that we still enjoy. This work was later performed by their successors: the bishops. Our Tradition is so much more than a collection of old habits and customs: it is a living organism built around the Word of God that we find in the Bible, but also in the Tradition, in its interpretation and truth.

“[I]t is essential and fundamental for the life and mission of the Church that the sacred texts are interpreted in keeping with their nature: Inspiration and Truth are constitutive characteristics of this nature.”

Photo credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

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?

Copyright

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Netherlands License.

The above means that I have the right to be recognised as the author of both the original blog posts, as well as any translations I make. Everyone is free to share my content, but with credit in the form of my name or a link to my blog.

Blog and media

Over the years, my blog posts have been picked up by various other blogs, websites and media outlets.

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.

All links to, quotations of and use as source material of my blog posts is greatly appreciated. It's what I blog for: to further awareness and knowledge in a positive critical spirit. Credits are equally liked, of course.

Blog posts have also been used as sources for various Wikipedia articles, among them those on Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Archbishop Sergio Utleg and Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki.

Latest translations added:

20 April: [English] Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki - Easter message.

15 April: [English] Bishop Frans Wiertz - Homily on sexual abuse.

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.

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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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