Mercy for all – in major letter, Pope Francis outlines the Jubilee

“This Jubilee Year of Mercy excludes no one,” could be the simple and rather accurate summary of the letter that Pope Francis sent to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, outlining some points he wishes to focus on during the Jubilee of Mercy which starts in December. That these are not just words becomes clear when we take a closer look at some of those points.

Of course, the Holy Father first speaks about the faithful, who are called to make a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Door, in every cathedral or other church designated by the local bishop, and in the four papal basilicas in Rome, in order to receive the Jubilee Indulgence. This pilgrimage is, the Pope writes, “a sign of the deep desire for true conversion”. The pilgrimage should also be linked to the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist, and feature  the profession of faith and prayers for the Pope and his intentions.

But there are also those who are unable to make this pilgrimage: the sick, the elderly, the lonely, even prisoners. God does not ask us for the impossible, so these people can obtain the indulgence by living their time of trial with hope and faith, by receiving Communion or attending Mass or community prayer, even through all forms of communication channels. Prisoners can receive the indulgence in prison chapels.

The Church as a whole is also called to perform the spiritual and corporeal works of mercy*. By making the mercy received from God visible as we extend it to others, the indulgence is surely also obtained, Pope Francis writes.

Even the deceased can obtain the indulgence, not through their own actions, of course, but through ours. We do this by praying for them in the liturgy of the Mass.

The big point, according to all media, has to do with abortion. Pope Francis has decide to give all priests across the world the faculties of giving absolution to all who have procured an abortion and who seek forgiveness for it. This does not mean that abortion is no longer a sin, or that it no longer leads to automatic excommunication. That is unchanged. But the mercy we receive calls us to be merciful to others, and to allow them to be forgiven. The door to that forgiveness has now been opened wider for the course of the Jubilee.

Lastly, this same forgiveness and absolution may now also be obtained from priests of the Society of Saint Pius X. While these priests remain in a sort of limbo, since their ordinations are valid but not licit (ie. they do not have permission from the Church to exercise their priestly faculties), they have now received a temporary permission to hear confession and offer absolution to the faithful. This in its own is a major step on the road to a future reconciliation.

The letter is an interesting piece of work, and one with major repercussions. Confession and absolution is what it’s all about: we receive Gods mercy when we acknowledge our sins and errors, and when we are contrite. God forgives readily those who ask Him. And once that mercy has been received, we are to share it, pass it on to those around us.

*Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, ransom the captive, bury the dead, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offences willingly, comfort the afflicted and pray for the living and the dead.

Not doctrine, but pastoral challenges – Cardinal Onaiyekan on the Synod

Catholic World Report features an exclusive excerpt of the 11 Cardinals Book*, in the form of Cardinal John Onaiyekan´s contribution, in which he discusses the challenges to marriage from an African perspective. His conclusion is a pertinent reminder to all who are interested or involved in the Synod of Bishops´ assembly on marriage and family. Too many still hold that doctrine is to be discussed there. Cardinal Onaiyekan disagrees:

onaiyekan“The synod has not been called to decide whether or not divorced and remarried couples can continue to receive Holy Communion. This is certainly not the purpose of the synod. Nor has the synod been called to discuss the issue of homosexuality and whether or not two Catholic men or two Catholic women can present themselves at the altar for marriage. That is not the purpose of the synod, nor indeed is it an issue in the Catholic Church. These are issues that are already clear in our doctrines. Synods are not called to change the doctrines or teachings of the Church. Rather, our synod has been called to confirm our faith, to study the pastoral challenges that face us, and to allow bishops to compare notes with each other so as to know how best to deal with these pastoral challenges. In this way, our people can be helped to live their Christian lives in marriage before God and as a witness before the entire community to the love, mercy, and fidelity of God himself to us. We hope that through the synod experience, the Catholic Church, through her pastors, with and under the successor of Peter, will emerge ever more powerful, vibrant, and vocal in proclaiming the truth of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The more the world of our day is sunk down in immorality, the more there is need for the Church to be a light to the world for all to see. The model of Christian marriage is the Holy Family of Nazareth: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We place all our efforts under its patronage.”

Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan is the Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria.

*Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family: Essays from a Pastoral Viewpoint, will be published by Ignatius Press on 15 September. It can be ordered here. Among the eleven cardinals is Cardinal Wim Eijk of Utrecht.

The religious basis of the Relief of Groningen, or why bishops should not be princes

Tomorrow he city where I live, Groningen, marks the end of the siege of 1672, when the bishop of Münster had to give up his attempts to defeat the protestant inhabitants of the city and so reconquer those parts of his diocese that he had lost in the Dutch revolt against the Habsburgs. On his side, if not in the form of pratical support, he knew France and England, as well as the bishop of Cologne, who also had territorial interests around Groningen.

bommen berendMany people are no longer aware of what it exactly is that is being celebrated, or even that the colloquial name of the day, Bommen Berend (Berend of the Bombs) (pictured), refers to the city’s enemy, Bishop Christoph Bernhard von Galen. That bishop was not only the spiritual head of the Diocese of Münster, but also the worldly ruler of the Prince-Bishopric of Münster (not the same thing), which until shortly before 1672 had included the eastern parts of the province of Groningen. He wanted those parts back and saw the presence of Protestant rebels in the sole major city in that area of the Dutch republic as a threat. The siege of the city was the final act of a successful campaign across Drenthe to the south and the eastern parts of the province of Groningen. But this success would prove to be temporary as Bishop Bernhard could not take Groningen.

There is still some evidence of the siege and subsequent victory visible in the city. City commander Carl von Rabenhaupt has a modest statue on the main square, and the best-known café in the city is named after the cannon that, legend has it, was so accurate that it shot a plate of cabbage and bacon away from Bishop von Galen, as he sat down for dinner at a convent south of the city. Said convent is long gone (I was at its location a few days ago), the city has long since expanded to where the bishop’s troops had their trenches (as I am typing this, I may be sitting not too far from them), but the celebration of the victory over the foreign prince-bishop has continued.

Today, the Relief of Groningen is a cultural and secular day, but it marks an event with deeply rooted religious undertones, even if that was often overshadowed by secular concerns of power. Thje inevitable consequence of having men be both bishops and princes.

Catholics, Creation and Ecumenism

prayerPope Francis recently declared that the date of 1 September would from now on be the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. The Dutch bishops followed suit and called for all fatheful and people of good will to pray for the protection of and care for creation. Not only does this emphasise the place of humanity, and especially Catholic Christians, in the whole of creation, but it also sheds a light on the ecumenical priorities of Pope Francis.

The start with that last fact, Pope Francis has long been cultivating his personal relations with the Orthodox Church in the persons of its highest-ranking prelates. This new World Day of Prayer is the Catholic version of an Orthodox day of prayer for the same purpose: creation. So he has established yet another day on which Catholics and Orthodox share prayers and goals, and it is hard not to see this is a prelude to a common date of Easter, which I personally believe may not be that far off. Easter is the most important event for the Church of both West and East, and an important waypost on the road to future unity.

And why Creation? It is impossible not to see this in relation to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ (the official Dutch translation of which is available for preorder now), which discusses our responsibility for the world around us. Some consider this to be a bad thing, but it is of course a perfectly reasonable and important topic for a Pope to talk about. After all, we are stewards, not just of ourselves and our relationship with God, but of the entire world around us. And as such we have a responsibility to protect and take care of Creation. And not only we, but everyone in the world, Christian or not. That makes Creation a perfect ecumenical topic.

Facebook knows better, even when it’s your name

fb-unlikeIs Facebook going too far by demanding you stick to their rules regarding your name? Over the past months I have seen more than a few people being forced to change the name they use on the social media network, because they are Catholic priests or religious who include their title (Father, Deacon, Brother or Monsignor) in their name on Facebook. The most recent example is noted blogging priest Msgr. Charles Pope, who was locked out of his account and asked to submit multiple pieces of evidence that he is really called that. Or, as Facebook’s rules have it, that that is the name people know him by. It need not be one’s official name, then.

Deacon Greg Kandra, himself a victim of the Facebook name policy, has more details.

Msgr. Pope refuses to accept Facebook’s demands, but others have changed their name, removing the Father, Deacon or Brother from their name, despite the fact that people know them as Father X, Deacon Y or Brother Z.

Facebook, as an independent company, has of course every right to make its own rules. But that does not make them right. The basic rule that people should use their own name(s) is logical, but also very limited. As Deacon Greg points out, Native American users run into the same problems as Catholic priests and religious, and also see their names judged to be not their real ones. The case of a man named Oglala Lakota Brown Eyes who Facebook decided should be called Lance Brown is particularly striking… The entire process of deciding which names are real and which are not seems quite arbitrary and limited.

But, even despite this, the titles of priests and religious are not exactly that. Unlike, say, a doctor, a priest’s title of Father indicates not a profession, but a state of being. This state of being began with his ordination and is forever. Sure, some priests may choose not to use their title, but many do, and rightly say that that is how people know them and relate to them, as Father X (or Deacon Y or Brother Z, as the case may be).

Facebook has a concern for their users’ conduct which may be justified, but goes about it in a heavy-handed, even insulting way for those involved (as, for example, the burden of proof lies with them, not with whoever decides that a name may be inaccurate or even false).

At Warfhuizen, the Lord comes home

warfhuizen assumption, brother hugo father jellemaI was struck by this wonderful photo when it appeared on Facebook a few days ago. It was taking at the Mass for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin at the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed in Warfhuizen, and it shows the heart of our faith: Our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine elevated before his faithful. Holding the consecrated host is Father Arjen Jellema, while Brother Hugo, the deacon hermit of the shrine, looks on.

Brother Hugo and the shrine of which he takes care are currently preparing for his ordination to the priesthood, scheduled for 6 September. For the shrine it means construction work: the altar has been made wider and it will also receive a fresh layer of paint. For the brother it means learning to say the Mass. He will be offering Mass in both forms of the Roman Rite and ad orientem for those parts of the Mass that call for it. Next Saturday, Brother Hugo will begin his retreat in preparation for his ordination. For now, Masses at the shrine are scheduled on weekdays at 7pm, on Saturdays at 5pm (a pilgrim’s Mass for Mary) and on Sunday at 8am.

The Blessed Sacrament has been no stranger at the shrine, of course, but with the celebration of the Eucharist the very centre of our faith and Church has now found a home there.

Photo credit: Marjo Antonissen Steenvoorden

Cardinal Eijk joins ten other cardinals in a new book on marriage and family

staatsieportret20kardinaal20eijkUsually rather tight-lipped about the proceedings at and his own contributions to the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Wim Eijk is now said to be contributing to a book about marriage and family in the runup to the Synod assembly of October. He is joined by ten other prelates, cardinals all, and as such this new book can be compared to the five-cardinals book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Eijk’s contribution will be based on his work at the previous Synod assembly last year.

Like the earlier book, this will take a position which underlines the role of doctrine in addition to mercy, contrary to some who consider the latter overruling the former. In truth, both are needed and can’t survive without the other.

In addition to Cardinal Eijk, the other contributing cardinals are:

  • Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop of of Bologna
  • Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Major Archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankar Church
  • Paul Cordes, President emeritus of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”
  • Dominik Duka, Archbishop of Prague
  • Joachim Meisner, Archbishop emeritus of Cologne
  • John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja
  • Antonio Rouco Varela, Archbishop emeritus of Madrid
  • Camillo Ruini, Vicar General emeritus of Rome
  • Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
  • Jorge Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas

The book is said to be criticising the “protestantisation” of the Church. What that means will remain to be seen, but we may expect a focus on the desire to adapt teaching to the wishes of interest groups and individual faithful under the guise of mercy, as we continuously see in the debates surrounding the Synod and its topics.

Immediate local reactions to the news (which for now is mostly hearsay, it has to be said) of Eijk’s involvement were not overly positive. Some see this as proof that the cardinal is in direct opposition to Pope Francis. If that’s true, the same must be said of the other contributors, some of whom were appointed by the Pope (Cardinal Sarah) or are known to enjoy his appreciation and esteem (Cardinal Caffarra), while others are not directly known for overly orthodox attitudes (Cardinal Duka). Pope Francis has asked for discussion, which includes opposing points of view. This is that discussion, and the Pope knows that full well. If his attitude towards the Curia is anything to go by, he is happy to let it do the work it exists for, and that includes defending the unpopular elements of the faith.

I am happy to see a high-profile contribution from a Dutch prelate on this topic, which has already made so many headlines in the blogosphere and Catholic media. We need more of that.

The book, titled Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family: Essays from a Pastoral Viewpoint, can be pre-ordered from Igantius Press here.