“Precious in His eyes” – Cardinal de Kesel’s homily at the consecration of Bishop Aerts of Bruges

BRUGGE CONSECRATION BISHOP AERTSTaking a cue from the new bishop’s episcopal motto, Cardinal Jozef de Kesel spoke in his homily for the consecration of Bishop Lode Aerts of Bruges about the love of God, but also about the conversion needed to open ourselves for that love. And, with St. Augustine as an example, the newly-created cardinal emphasised that a bishop needs a second conversion.

“Dear friends, it is noteworthy that no Gospel begins with Jesus. It starts with John as a prophet in the desert. No Gospel comes straight to the point. Apparently, one can’t begin immediately. One has to be prepared. The terrain must be made made smooth. A inner transformation, a conversion, has to have taken place beforehand. And that is what John does: he calls for conversion. He calls people to the desert, which is traditionally the place of conversion. That is where everything began. That is where Israel found its vocation. There it became the People of God. There they found how valuable they were in God’s eyes. So that is where they have to return to. There is no way to Jesus than through that voice calling in the desert. Without that conversion, we won’t be able to hear Him.

Precisely for that reason, Jesus is so harsh for some Pharisees and certain Saducees. It is more about more about a mentality than about person. This mentality has lead to the conflict that made Jesus its victim. It is the mentality of those who do not conversion. Who are content with themselves and thank God that they are not like the others. The mentality of those who say, “There is nothing wrong with us, we have Abraham as our father!”

John’s call is also directed at us and the Church of today. We need conversion. We must get rid of self-assurance. It is a grace to us that Pope Francis continuously appeals to us for this. We must not fall back on ourselves. We must acknowledge our poverty and smallness. As long as we do not acknowledge this poverty, also in ourselves, Jesus has nothing to offer to us. They will also be Jesus’ first words: “Blessed are the poor of spirit!” It is the Spirit of the Messiah of which Isaiah speaks today. The Messiah, who is inspired by a spirit of deep humanity and sympathy. “He shall judge the poor with justice … strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth”. We must get rid of all complacency. Not a Church who is only occupied by herself, as Pope Francis requests. We have received the Gospel. It is our greatest treasure. But we did not earn it. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give”.

As long as you accept it is normal that another loves you, you do not know what love is. As long as you think that you have earned and have a right to that love, you do not know what you mean to another. Only when you have dropped all pretense and know you are being loved undeservedly, only then you know how valuable you are in the eyes of those who love you. That is what God asks of His Church and of us today, this conversion, this emptying and this poverty. It is what Charles de Foucauld searched for. Last Thursday it was one hundred years ago that he died. And Augustine also experienced it in his life. He searched God with all his heart. It took a long time. He had to give up certainties before being able to surrender himself. “Too late have I loved you, but then You called and shouted (!); You have broken through my deafness and touched my heart.” So he became a Christian and a great bishop.

But oddly enough, in order to become a bishop, Augustine had to convert also. A second time! He had to soul of a monk. Becoming a priest was not something he sought at all. When he finally was one, his fame spread. In one of his homilies he said to have had so much fear of becoming a bishop that he avoided going soemwhere where the seat was vacant. But in Hippo, which he passed, he did not take into account that Bishop Valerius was old and people were looking for a successor. There was no avoiding anymore: he became a bishop.

You are familiar with his writings. You know that, when he wrote or preached about being Christian, he always did so with great inspiration and enthusiasm. But when he discussed the office of the bishop, he was always somewhat more muted. He writes about very lively: about the burden and the weight and the pressure of that office. I am not telling you this to frighten you. It can also encourage and comfort you to know that Augustine also knew and experienced it. But most of all to tell you that these two can not be separated: being a Christian and being a bishop. One needs conversion for both. But they do spring from the same source: the faith that we are loved by God, “precious in His eyes”.

Christian and bishop. The latter can sometimes be a great burden. But the former always turns it into a great grace. For yourself and for the entire faith community of which you are now the shepherd. You will, as Pope Francis says, sometimes walk ahead, sometimes among the sheep, sometimes after them. But always together and united with them in love and suffering. Knowing that there are no rulers and servants, but that we are all brothers and sisters, friends of Jesus, children with God our Father. Paul says it today: “Accept each other as members of one community”. For you are called with your entire church community to proclaim God’s love. We will soon hear it on Christmas Eve: how God’s charity appeared when he shared our existence in Christ, man among men. He loved us so much. So precious in His eyes.”

BRUGGE CONSECRATION BISHOP AERTS

Bishop Aerts was consecrated on Sunday afternoon by Cardinal de Kesel in Bruges’ San Salvator Cathedral. Ghent’s Bishop Luc van Looy and emeritus Bishop Arthur Luysterman served as co-consecrators, a logical choice as Bishop Aerts was a priest of that diocese (and dean of Ghent for a month until his appointment to Bruges.

ceremonieel_wapen_website_internet%202Bishop Aerts’ motto is featured in his coat of arms and comes from the Book of Isaiah (a fitting choice for Advent, by the way). About it, the bishop writes:

“We are infinitely precious in God’s eyes. Everyone, believing or non-believing, exemplary or not, everyone is precious in the eyes of God. It comes from Isaiah, a passage about a people in exile. Somewhat comparable to today’s circumstances. A time of crisis, there is fear and insecurity. And there aren’t very many of them left, either. And precisely then God say, the prophet tells us, that they are precious in His eyes.”

Photo credit: [1, 2] Kurt Desplenter, [3] Bisdom Brugge

No fear in violent times – Bishop Wiertz’s letter for Advent

Bishop Frans Wiertz digs into the topic of fear and evil in his letter for Advent. His opinion of modern society is not overly positive, but he finds the antidote in the promise of the angel to the shepherds: “Be not afraid”.

Mgr. F.J.M. Wiertz“Brothers and sisters,

We are preparing ourselves for Christmas. At the heart of the celebration of this feast is of course the story of the birth of Jesus. Every time, we discover new facets in it which are worth reflecting on. This year, our attention is especially drawn to a verse from the song of the angel. The angel heartens the shepherds in their alarm and their fear: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy…” (Luke 2:10).

“Do not be afraid”. This encouragement appears frequently in Holy Scripture, in all kinds of variations. A zealous reader once counted how frequently. He made the surprising discovery that it was no less than 365 times! So you could say that the Word of God encourages us every day: “Have no fear. Do not be afraid”.

Perhaps this appeal is especially necessary in our time. Our society is contradictory. Never before did people have it this good. But still, many have a sense of great discontent. Research has established the presence of this discontent before. Many people individually call themselves happy, but as a society we are unsatisfied and insecure. Our lives are even permeated by a “culture of fear”. People have become afraid of each other.

The brutal violence of terrorism scares us. Our peaceful coexistence is threatened by it. We are worried about the coarseness and hardness of modern life. Normal social contact is disrupted by it. We are even starting to distrust each other. We lock our houses down with security systems and padlocks. “Who can I still trust?” is often heard.

We are undeniably at a crossroads in history. The core values of our coexistence have thoroughly changed in a very short time. Growing individualism is paralysing our common solidarity. Our common bond has become fleeting, loyalty a difficult task.

Does this make us feel good? Young people are looking for a handhold in all sorts of ways. The elderly are worried about their future. For young and old existence has become confusing. Uncertainty takes hold over us.

This uncertainty ultimately comes from the weakening or even the disappearance of the faith in God. God, revealed in Jesus Christ, the power of His Holy Spirit. Many hardly know what to do with it. People are trying to live without God in our time. Without any awareness of His care. Without sense for His love.

By extension, also often enough: without any concern for him or her who remains our neighbour. If God is no longer our Father, we are also no longer each other’s brothers and sisters.  This absence of God and neightbour, that frightens me.

Should we, as Christians, resign ourselves to this culture of fear? The call to ‘watchfulness’ resounds in many texts in the liturgy of Advent. As faithful we must not ignore the problems of this time. We must be on our guard, watch for the power of evil not conquering us.

With all people of good will, we are searching for a peaceful society. The Gospel asks for solidarity in fighting everything that stands in the way of a humane society. The faith in Jesus Christ is at odds with any form of indifference. Pope Francis continuously warns against what he calls a ‘global indifference’.

The frightening situation of a violent world wakes us up. We often close our eyes for the power of evil in our superficial world. Let us open our hearts for the many who have fled the misery of their destroyed homes.

The fear of people in our time is really not unfounded. We can not deny that an evil power is working among us. This should be fought with all virtuous means. Saint Paul still presents us with a very simple and very effective measure: “Conquer evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

We must not allow ourselves to be paralysed by fear. Fear is, after all, a poor counselor. That is why the angel of Christmas warns us, “Do not be afraid.” And he adds, “For behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy… For today … a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Luke 2,10-11).

God did not remain a stranger to us. No distant absentee. From the silence of His mystery He came intimately close to us in Jesus. He broke through His silence. Opened heaven that was closed. The Word of God became man and lives among us.

Faith in the Christ child always gives us new confidence and hope in our sometimes frightening situation. It has become a hard task to give these virtues a stable place in our lives. In order to break the spiral of our fear, we need courage. The courage of a persevering witness of faith. As the Reverend Martin Luther King said, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear”. May the birth of Christ give us that strength of His peace and salvation!

+ Franz Wiertz,
Bishop of Roermond”

Alarm over the new translation of the Lord’s Prayer? Not so much.

prayerLast Wednesday LifeSiteNews published an article, which was later also published on Aleteia, about the new Dutch translation of the Lord’s Prayer, introduced in the dioceses of the Netherlands, Flanders and Suriname on the first Sunday of Advent, 27 November. Claiming that Dutch Catholics are “raising the alarm” over an ideological adaptation of the text of the Our Father, the article gives the impression that Catholics are up in arms about it across parishes everywhere. The truth is rather different.

The LifeSiteNews article draws mainly on the opinions of Vox Populi, a fairly extremely orthodox Catholic group from Flanders, which thus does not speak for the vast majority of Catholics. The fact that they are up in arms, does not mean that the bishops have a full-scale revolt to deal with. Furthermore, the new translation is linked to developments in the Church of the Netherlands that date back to the 1960s. What it fails to acknowledge is that we no longer live in the 60s (or 70s, 80s or 90s, for that matter). Accusing the bishops of enforcing ideological changes simply does not hold up any longer. None of the Dutch bishops comfortably fits in the liberal bracket, and some are even outspoken orthodox.

What the article also overlooks is that the new translation is not the sole endeavour of the bishops of the Netherlands and Flanders. It has actually received the approval of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, so it can not be presented as something done independently from Rome. In reality, the new translation of the Lord’s Prayer is part of the long overdue project to create a new, more accurate, translation of the entire Roman Missal.

It may be appealing to present an image of ruin when it comes to the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, and it is true that in many respects, things are not good, but to ignore the positive developments that also exist is a disservice to the truth. In fact, it underlines the ideological trends at LifeSiteNews.

The issue that Vox Populi raises, and which, in itself, is an issue worth discussing, revolves around two words: “bekoring” (used in the old translation) and “beproeving” (used in the new translation). One can be translated as “temptation”, the other as “test”, but, although we are talking about one language area, these words have different connotations in different parts. In the northern half of the Netherlands “bekoring” is now generally considered positively, while in the Southern half and in Belgium it is more negative and thus draws nearer to the meaning of “beproeving”: being tempted by something can become a test. These changes in meaning and understanding have prompted the bishops to change the translation. Not to introduce a new concept which wasn’t there in the original, but to stay closer to that original meaning.

Shortly before the introduction of the new translation, then-Archbishop De Kesel, who sat on the translation committee on behalf of the Flemish bishops, wrote:

de kesel“Until now this word (temptationis) has been translated as “bekoring” [temptation]. The Greek has peirasmos. This can be translated as both “bekoring” and “beproeving” [ordeal/test]. Most often this is translated as “beproeving”. So “beproeving” is the more concordant translation of the Greek basis. Translating it as “bekoring”, furthermore, presents a theological problem. “Bekoren” means to incite to evil. In Scripture this is said of the devil, not of God. God does not try and encourage man to commit evil. In that sense it is not God who tempts us, as the Letter of James (1:13) explicitly says. James responds here to an incorrect understanding of temptation or testing. It is not God, but, “when a man is tempted, it is always because he is being drawn away by the lure of his own passions”.

Yet it is an undeniable Biblical concept that God can test someone’s faith. For example, Abraham was tested, and so Jesus was tested also. “Thereupon, the Spirit sent him out into the desert:  and in the desert he spent forty days and forty nights, tempted by the devil” (Mark 1:12-13). The wording is striking and to the point: it is the Spirit who sends Jesus to the desert to be tested for forty days by Satan. The Spirit of God does not lure us into doing evil and test us in that way, but He can bring us into situations in which our faith is being tested. These are situations in which we are presented with the unavoidable choice: for God and thus against evil, or for evil and thus against God. Only in and through the testing we know whether or not we really believe in God. Whether we, like Abraham, trust Him unconditionally, even in the darkest hour. This is also the meaning of the forty years in the desert. As Deuteronomy 8:2 says: “the Lord thy God led thee through the desert, testing thee by hard discipline, to know the dispositions of thy heart”.

Hence the meaning of the final prayer in the Our Father. We do not ask God not to tempt us. He doesn’t. But we do ask Him not to test us beyond our abilities. And this is not just any test. It is about whether or not, when it really matters, we won’t deny our vocation as Christians. That, as happened to Simon Peter, we would say, when things get dangerous, “No, I do not know Him.” That is what we ask God earnestly in the last prayer of the Our Father: do not lead us to that ordeal.””

So, no, there is no revolt brewing, and neither is there an ideological agenda being pursued. A case can certainly be made for either translation of the word ‘temptation’. But, although the Dutch language area is small, it is home to a range of cultural and linguistic differences. When drafting a translation that can be used for the entire area, some changes must be made that will be understood differently in different places. That is why proper catechesis was and remains necessary. The explanation offered by Cardinal De Kesel is not automatically understood by all Dutch-speaking faithful, so it must be explained. Not by ideological groups like Vox Populi, but by the ones who commissioned the new translation: the bishops and with them the priests in the parishes.

Lastly, change is always difficult. It will take time for the new translation to take hold. But take hold it will, and I expect sooner rather than later.

A short reflection on the critics of the four cardinals

Bishop Papamanolis, President of the Greek Bishops’ Conference, says they are guilty of apostasy, sacrilege and heresy and their actions will lead to schism. Msgr. Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota, suggested that the Pope should take their titles away. What have the targets of such strong accusations done, and who are they?

They are the four cardinals who, earlier this month, published a letter to Pope Francis, asking for clarification on several points from his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia, which I wrote about two weeks ago. Apparently, sincere and honest questions deserve such mindless reactions.

Cardinal Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner went out of their way to prevent contributions like this to the debate. They acknowledged not just their own duty as cardinals, but also the authority and respect due to the Holy Father, and hoped “to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect”. Well, Bishop Papamanolis, Msgr. Pinto, and more than a few others, your contributions are about as far removed from calmness and respect as possible.

Any scandal in this affair does not come from the four cardinals. Their letter flows from their duty as cardinals and reflects Pope Francis’ clear and frequent request for an open and honest debate. That other prelates (and not only prelates) resort to namecalling and unfounded claims of heresy and threats of punishment is a scandalous denial of their own pastoral and fraternal obligations, and can only detract from what the Church needs and the Pope so clearly desires.

Wake up! – Bishop Oster’s letter for Advent

Passau’s Bishop Stefan Oster takes St. Paul’s words as his own in his letter for Advent, urging us to wake up from sleep. We must wake up to actively pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ, in the knowledge that the most important commandment is to love Him. And we can, as the bishop says, “it is really possible to love Jesus”.

oster“Dear sisters and brothers,

It is time to rise up from sleep! So goes the urgent admonition from St. Paul to the Christians of Rome in today’s reading. It is time to get up from sleep. Paul lives in a very deep inner unity with Christ. And it is characteristic of people like Paul, throughout history, that they see their own time as broken, superficial, threatened. As lulled to sleep. This in comparison to what they themselves experience inwardly, which has grasped them within, what is to them to true, a reality: the closeness to Christ. And, like Jesus Himself in the Gospel, Paul sees the danger that we people become inwardly deaf and blind to His presence, that we no longer have any sensitivity for His being near to us, that He wants to transform us from within, every day and every hour. It is time to get up, Paul says. In the Gospel Jesus says: be watchful, be prepared. You do not known the hour at which the Son of Man comes.

Dear sisters and brothers, I would most of all like to call you and also myself and all of us in a similar way: it is time to rise up from sleep. Jesus is coming, Jesus is near. Am I willing? Is my heart open to Him, who wants to come in glory, wants to come again in the fullness of love, of truth, of light and power. And who now already wants to enter our hearts every day, so that we may truly know Him, from heart to heart, when we meet Him face to face. Or are we perhaps not also often in a situation in which we should basically fear His coming, after having forgotten Him for so long?

You know that we are occupying ourselves in the diocese with a great topic: how can we help each other to find a new faith, to deepen it anew? What does “new evangelisation” mean? How do we open our faith in such a way that it touches people of today, with their questions of today? That they sense that this is really a source of life, healing, depth, beauty and truth? I am convinced that we can only find the answers to such questions when we also ask ourselves again: Do I know Jesus? Am I really interested in Him? Do I really believe that He can touch and transform my life here and now? Has He already touched it? Have I, for example, ever been moved in my heart by what we celebrate at Easter, namely that Jesus lives?! And do I believe that He also lives in our Church, in the celebration of the sacraments? And do I also believe that He also lives in me, and wants to enable me to become like Him, to love and trust like Him?

Dear sisters and brothers, it is really possible to love Jesus. And in the Gospel Jesus tells us very clearly that we should try. And He even tells us that loving Him is the most important commandment of all. Our ability to love our fellow men, our neighbours like ourselves, but also the poor, the marginalised, this ability comes from Him, from our relationship with Him, from remaining with Him. He wants us to become more like Him. And I earnestly believe, dear sisters and brothers, that our ability to help other people come to faith also depends on our relationship with Jesus. From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks, He tells us. And all that once conquered your heart will make you act differently than before this conquest. Does our behaviour show that Jesus has conquered our hearts? Do we rightly bear His name, when we call ourselves Christians?

I am well aware that these questions are challenging for all of us. For me as well, of course. And of course, a relationship with Jesus is also a path, a process, a maturing and ripening, often with highs and lows. It is never cut and dry. Often one feels like a beginner. But my question to us is this: have we already begun the journey? Have we understood how important this relationship is for our lives, for our salvation? Or don’t we believe too often: being a Christian means not doing anything to anyone, and trying to be reasonably nice?! This would be a great misunderstanding, because being a Christian is in the first place a relationship, a relationship that transforms. New evangelisation is therefore, for example: learning to pray anew, alone and together. Look for people with whom you can regularly come together, to pray together; to read Scripture together – and to tell each other what role Jesus plays in your lives. And when you think that you would have nothing to say, let yourself be strengthened by the stories of others. In this way you will learn to become more sensitive to Jesus’ presence in your life. Dear sisters, dear brothers, Jesus is looking for people who will passionately live with and for Him, regardless of where and how old they are. He is looking for people who can speak, who can speak about their faith and their lives with the Lord. The Church therefore needs individuals, but also groups and communities, to put this into practice – and also help other people to find words – to speak of our faith anew.

What do you think, dear sisters and brothers, is it not time to get up? And, as Paul says, to rise from sleep? Form a sleep which wants to convince us that the faith is self-perpetuating? From the inertia which wants us to consider everything else more important than the most important relationship of our lives! Is it not time to return to Jesus again and ask Him to recoginise us? The time of Advent before is a good opportunity for that! We prepare ourselves for His coming. We celebrate the greatest event in world history. And we Christians have the privilege to believe that it is and remains true, and that it happens also today! In and among us! Do we believe it? Or do we rather remain in bed? I am in favour of waking up and allowing ourselves to be touched anew by His love, who is for me personally, who knows me, who wants to come to my heart and who is eternal. I very much wish, dear sisters and brothers, that you will be touched anew by it in this Advent. And I am grateful for all who help to introduce others to this mysteries. God bless you all.

Given on the first Sunday of Advent 2016

Dr. Stefan Oster SDB, Bishop of Passau.”

Waiting for God – Bishop Bonny’s letter for Advent

In the first of this year’s traditional Advent letters that most bishops write, Bishop Johan Bonny speaks about waiting. Waiting for our friends or loved ones, but also waiting for God. And about God’s waiting for us.

8579640“Good friends,

“I have been waiting for you!” That short sentence can sound business-like or emotional. It depends on who says it and when. And especially to whom it is being said. “I have been waiting for you!”. It sounds different when a teacher says it to a student who is late for class. Or when an office worker says it to a colleague with whom he takes the morning train to Brussels. Or when a prisoner says it to his girlfriend who comes to visit him every week at the prison. Or when a boy says it to the girl who did not show up for their date. Or when a mother says it to her daughter who returns home from a party in the early hours. Or when a woman says it to her husband who is married more to his work than to her. Or when a man says it to his wife who has been visiting with her friend  for too long again. Of when parents say it to their child who is finally coming home after surgery. “I have been waiting for you!” It can convey joy or gratitude or misunderstanding or anger.

“I have been waiting for you!” We do not say it to each other when there is no friendship or love involved. It makes us recognise friends and loved ones: they wait for each other, they consider the other’s  presence, they become impatient or distrustful when the other does not show up, the absence of the other at an appointment hurts. When friendship or love cools, waiting for each other disappears. Appointments become more business-like. Waiting becomes less personal and less emotional. Do you want to know who your friends are or who loves you? This question is the test. Who would say to me now, “I have been waiting for you!”?

Soon it will be Advent again in the church community. It is a time of looking forward and waiting in preparation for Christmas. “I have been waiting for you!” Precisely this sentence befits this time in the Church’s year. Remarkably enough, we will often be hearing these words from the mouth of God during Advent: “I have been waiting for you!” The entire Bible speaks of God’s waiting for man. God does not coolly follow humanity from a distance. On the contrary. He is involved, full of friendship and love, with man and the people He has chosen. He desires to be their God and they His people. How often was God not alone in that desire? How often was He not left in the cold? But God continued searching to be close to man. Jesus is the full revelation of that divine search.

At the same time man thirsts for the coming of God. Waiting is a two-way street. But even if a deep desire for God’s friendship and love is alive in man, it is not easy to come close to God. God is so completely different. He is so completely unpredictable. It is not easy to make an appointment or arrange a meeting with Him. He transcends our plans and our agendas. So man, too, is sometimes left alone in his search for God. Someone who loves God must have patience, precisely because it is about God and no one less than Him. Advent is about that patient desire. Patiently looking forward to the coming of Jesus, to be able to say to Him at Christmas, “I have been waiting for you!”

+ Johan Bonny, Bishop of Antwerp”

After death threats, Archbishop Schick invites to prudence during Advent

A bishop’s reflection on Advent is nothing new, but it becomes more interesting when the author is personally invested in what he says. For Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg, his appeal for prudence and calmness comes after a period in which he himself has been the target of verbal and written attacks – and even death threats – after he said in an interview that he saw no problem with the legal election of a Muslim president of Germany.

erzbischof-dr-ludwig-schick-portaet-001“The past months were dominated by many populist utterances, verbal and even brutal attacks, insults and distractions. There were violent shitstorms on social networks. Many words and actions in the Year of Mercy were very merciless. Prudence had disappeared. Many people suffered and have been damaged because of that, human relationships have been disrupted and the social atmosphere was poisoned. Personally, I also suffered from it.”

In a public debate, Archbishop Schick had said that the Church was obliged to accept the election of a Muslim president of Germany. “Anything else would not be supported by the Basic Law [the German constitution]”. The archbishop was subsequently misquoted in social media and so became the target of verbal abuse and even death threats.

In his message, which was addressed to friends and followers, but also strangers and enemies, Archbishop Schick speaks about Advent as a new beginning, or at least the start of the road towards a new beginning.

“Advent is in the first place the invitation to all of us to forgive and to reconcile; without forgiveness and reconciliation there can be no new beginning and no better future; that is true for all areas of life.

Advent then invites us to reflect, to start anew and to continue in a different way. Slowing down and silence are necessary in speaking and judging, and also when typing, posting or sending.”

Fifteen minutes a day, if possible more, to quietly listen to the voice within us is a good way to uncover the essence of our being again, the archbishop concludes his message.