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One month in, and my new blog has had a fair share of views. Looking at the most popular posts, the dominant topics have been the two archbishops, Msgr. Eijk and Msgr. Léonard. The translation of the interview with the latter is far in the lead, thanks to links to it from such well-read blogs as Fr. Tim Finigan’s The Hermeneutic of Continuity and New Liturgical Movement.
I am also quite pleased to see that my translation of Msgr. Marini’s address has now reached 120 views. It has also been published at Catholica (although it seems to have vanished from their website now) and I have also received a request from the Latin Liturgy Society to use an edited version of the translation in the Easter edition of their bulletin. This is exactly what I had hoped to achieve with this blog: that important documents, interviews, speeches and what have you be available – and read! - in Dutch.
This is the top ten as of today:
1: ”The Belgian Church has been too passive” 858 views
2: Introductie op de Geest van de Liturgie 120 views
3: Why Belgium needs Msgr. Léonard 103 views
4: Support the archbishop 52 views
5: Mass and snow 34 views
6: A poignant photo 31 views
7: Msgr. Léonard new archbishop of Brussels 31 views
8: ’A courageous bishop 29 views
9: Help Haiti 27 views
10: Cardinals, a game of numbers 26 views
In total the blog had 3,484 views this month.
Fr Tim and the New Liturgical Movement are also the main websites through which people find my blog. Dutch blogging priest Schoppenkoning is also among them, with well over 150 referrals. Like Fr. John Boyle, he lists me in his blogroll, with visible results. Lastly, regular links on Twitter and Facebook also help.
A fun statistic to take a look at are the search terms people use to end up on my blog. The title of the blog is the best way to do so, but the name of Pieter Delanoy, the Belgian priest who doesn’t really get it, was also popular. So were things related to the College of Cardinals, Medjugorje, the pope’s new year address, Msgr. Léonard, Rector Schnell of the Bovendonk seminary, Father George Paimpilil, Haiti, Cardinal Danneels and the pope’s visit to the Rome synagogue. One person found this blog by accident, it seems: he searched from 25-year-old Inge from Amsterdam…
For ‘Christian circles’, please read ‘certain Protestant circles’.
The company who did the soil studies is willing to include a paragraph in the final report that acknowledges the existence of different opinions, but they will not go so far as to say that the age of the Earth may be only 6,000 years. Different opinions are one thing, changing facts is something else altogether.
Science secretary Ronald Plasterk asserted that the Earth’s age of some 5 billion years is sadly non-negotiable.
Facts and faith sometimes do bump into each other, but in my experience rarely as blatantly as this. It’s almost like saying that the sky is green because you read that somewhere, despite all evidence to the contrary. But I suppose that this is the risk you run if you own one book, the Bible, and treat it like a science book.
Or if you let politicians dabble in science, for that matter.
Populist newspaper De Telegraaf published an extensive interview with Archbishop Wim Eijk today. Sadly, it’s not available online, but excerpts have been quoted on various websites and blogs. Obviously, the standard questions were asked: Ariënskonvikt, financial situation of the archdiocese, the criticism against his person and actions…
Some interesting tidbits from the interview:
On losing church buildings and their future functions:
“In the next decade we will close 1000 churches: 600 of the PKN (Protestant Church in the Netherlands) and 400 on the Catholic side. The coming ten years will be years of truth.”
“The bishops prefer these churches to be demolished. But in some cases that is not possible since they are monuments.”
“As Bishops’ Conference, we decided in the 1990s that churches can’t be used as mosques. It is a fact that, from the point of view of some Muslims, the use of a church as a mosque can be seen in the light of the mission people have, to convert everyone to Islam.”
“The church can get another function, but it must be a worthy function. [...] I can think of roles in health care or culture.”
“If a Catholic church gets a new function as a church, we prefer it to be used by a Christian community.”
About his decisions and his personal role:
“I think that we should continue on this way, quietly and decisive. Jesus said that the servant is not above the master. That means that you won’t be more comfortable than Jesus. You must dare to invest something in the preaching of the Gospel.”
“I am simply orthodox and I represent and preach the faith that the Church has preached for the past two thousand years, and I want to remain faithful to that. [...] In the 1960s and 70s there was a diminished sense of religiosity in society [To put it mildly]. We now see a reconsideration. In general, young people are more open to tradition. If they still go to church, they generally want to celebrate the liturgy according to Roman custom. They look for authentic Christian faith. I see myself as a representative of that younger generation. I may have become a bit more visible because of certain policy decisions I had to make as archbishop. But I don’t consider myself a victim. Not at all.”
About the future:
“I am bishop for all Catholics. I go everywhere and try to be open for contacts with everyone. I am pointing out a more general trend. At the moment, some 16 percent of the Dutch population is still Catholic, but that will drop to 10% in 2020 [All the more need for us to become more visible, I would say]. The Catholics who practice their faith now are looking for the authentic faith.”
“Our goal is to bring people into contact with God via Jesus. The preaching of the Gospel is not dependant on enormous financial means. Jesus and the apostles also started out with nothing. In the end it comes down to God’s mercy and power. He gives the fruits. We are asked to sow, but the Lord must reap. So sometimes you simply have to go on sowing and see where it will flower.”
“The Church looks for dialogue. Dialogue is only worthwhile if it comes from the heart. [...] If you don’t agree with something you can voice that disagreement, but you should do it on a basis of reasonable arguments and knowledge of your own opinions and those of others. Well, there is a lot lacking on both sides, I think.”
About the trend to push anything religious out of the public sphere:
“That is also a form of dictatorship, which leads me to think that that is not the way to go.”
Had my plans worked out, I would have left for a few days’ retreat today. Sadly, things didn’t work out, but I have no doubt the future will hold ample opportunity to go.
I would have travelled south to the Franciscans in the town of Megen. The retreat would have been a simple one, aimed at exploring vocations. At the moment, I am quite ready for any kind of retreat, but this one specifically appealed to me, because of a question that any (future) seminarian or priest may ask himself: will I be a secular or religious priest?
The term ‘secular priest’ may seem like a paradox, but it simply indicates a priest who lives ‘in the world’, ie. works in a parish among the people. ‘Religious priests’ have made vows, are monks or friars, and usually live in communities. Of course, it’s not always as clear-cut as this. Religious priests may also work in parishes, and secular priests may live in communities. But essentially the difference is in the religious vows.
Either option is, I believe, one that requires a conscious choice. The secular priesthood may be the default form, at least in the Netherlands, but it need not be.
Discerning any vocation includes an analysis of who you are and what makes you tick, and what your relation to God is. If done well – there’s no guarantee – you will get a clearer idea of what your vocation is; is it to the pastoral care of parishioners and administring the sacraments, to increase people’s faith in size and depth? Or is it a contemplative life of prayer and study, or manual labour and education, or any combination of these and more, underpinned by the sacraments received and passed on?
A visit to a community of religious priests (although not all the brothers at Megen are priests) is, in my opinion, an essential addition to this discernment. Thinking and praying is all well and good, but a hands-on experience of the subject, however fleeting, would certainly do no harm.
I don’t know what I’ll be, say, ten years from now. I hope and pray that I may one day be ordained, and that’s as far as I’m willing to go right now. The rest will reveal itself in due course.
I’m not much up to date with current politics, mainly because, at best, it doesn’t really interest me and at worse the greed and stupidity depress me. That’s why I found out by chance that in March we’ll be having municipal elections. Since I do think it’s important to vote (even if it’s only to have the right to complain), I’ll have to take a good look at the myriad political parties and figure out who I can vote for.
In Costa Rica, there having presidential elections next month. The local bishops have released a statement to all Catholics in the country and told them to not leave their faith at the door of the poll booth. Elections are elections and Catholics are Catholics, so regardless of the origin, this statement also contains some good advice for Dutch voters. Some excerpts from the text, the original of which may be found here, in Spanish. Emphases mine.
“Before [the elections] the bishops want to recall the moral obligation to participate in the election.”
“In our Pastoral Exhortation Roads toward an authentic democracy, we affirmed that politics are a noble activity when it is geared towards the paths of justice, respect for human life, marriage, the family, religious freedom and the search for the common good.“
“As Pope Benedict XVI says: ”The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics” [Deus caritas est, 28].”
“We remind people who confess to the faith in Christ, especially the Catholic Christians, that our identity of disciples is not marginal and diluted in the exercise of our citizenship, and that the Christian faith has unavoidable implications in the field of political morality and public life.“
“We ask all people of good will to analyze ahead of time and to attentively discern, guided by reason and ethics, the proposals set forth by candidates, in order to cast a vote that is responsible and reasoned.”
“We ask God for the gift of divine wisdom for our future rulers, with the words of the king Solomon: “So give your servant a heart to understand how to govern your people, how to discern between good and evil” [1 Kings 3,9].
“At this time in our history, we invite the entire People of God to invoke the help of the Lord and the maternal protection of Our Lady of the Angels, so that we may once again feel her intercessory presence and she may guide us to strengthen our democracy in peace, justice and freedom.”
I’ve been reading up a bit on the possibility for a consistory sometime this year. A consistory is a meeting of the College of Cardinals and the pope where new members are elevated to the cardinalate. The reason that one may be called this year is the relatively large number of cardinals to reach the age of 80 this and next year. Once they reach that age they can no longer participate in a conclave to elect a new pope. In 2010, 11 cardinals will turn 80 (one of them, Cardinal Ambrozic of Toronto, today actually), followed by 9 more in 2011 (among them the only Dutch cardinal, Cardinal Simonis).
This’ll bring down the number of electors to 92 at the end of 2011, unless a consistory is called before that. And that seems very likely, not least because it is more than two years since the last one. The identity of the new cardinals is anyone’s guess, but perhaps an indication may be found by taking a look at where the future octogenarians are from.
Hardest hit will be New Zealand, Lebanon, Cameroon, Latvia and the Netherlands, who will lose all their electors. Who will take their place?
In New Zealand, the see of Wellington has usually been occupied by a cardinal, so Archbishop John Atcherley Dew could be up for elevation there.
In Cameroon, any of the five archbishops seems likely. The country has a short history when it comes to cardinals, but looking at the diocesan connections of current Cardinal Tumi and the time in office of the other archbishops, we may see either Simon-Victor Tonyé-Bakot of Yaoundé or Antoine Ntalou of Garoua.
For the Netherlands there is really only one likely candidate, and that is Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht. Recent archbishops of Utrecht have all eventually been elevated to the cardinalate, but the relatively short time in office of Archbishop Eijk may be reason to wait for a future consistory.
As for Latvia and Lebanon, any guess is as good as the next. Latvian Cardinal Janis Pujats is still active as archbishop of Riga and has no clear successor yet, and in Lebanon the mix of various brands of Catholicism with their respective patriarchs and bishops offers a number of options.
In Asia, the Philippines and South Korea will lose half their electors.
With 16 archbishops, there are numerous options in the Philippines. Cebu Archbishop Vidal will turn 80 but is still active, and he has two auxiliaries, one of whom may succeed him.
The same goes for South Korean Cardinal Cheong Jin-Suk, who is still working as archbishop of Seoul. The country only has three archbishops, so the choices are more limited. Daegu is currently vacant, so maybe Archbishop Andreas Choi Chang-mou of Kwangju will be elevated.
Canada, France and Spain will each lose one-third of their electors, and Italy and the United States a little more than one-fifth. Any guess is as good as any with this approach, due to the sheer size and Catholic population of the countries.
Why is it important to keep the number of cardinals somewhat steady? Well, perhaps to maintain a relative decent representation of the world Church. That is the reason why, over the course of the past centuries, the maximum size of the College has been increased to 120 now (which is a relatively loose limit anyway). Small Church provinces, like the Netherlands, may be represented by a single cardinal, larger countries by more. The title of cardinal – it’s not an ordination or consecration - is also given as a sign of office: high members of the curia in Rome may be elevated, or bishops of important dioceses. In fact, the title of cardinal is not limited to bishops, although in practice it usually is. When a priest is elevated to the cardinalate, he is usually also consecrated to bishop.
A few weeks ago, during the founding of one of the first of the new parishes in the diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans spoke about the place of the parish priests.
“We could ask ourselves why the priests have such a singular place in the parish. Why can’t their duties be done by deacons, pastoral workers or lay people? There are so many professionals among us who can manage and lead. There are people who have also studied theology. Why are so many tasks the prerogative of the priest? Why must there be a parish priest?
The Church is not a human club with democratic rules. In dividing the tasks within the Church it is not primarily about knowledge or ability … As head of the Church, Christ lets Himself be represented by the priest within the Church. In leading the parish, the priest is working in Christ’s name. It is even clearer that the priest acts in Christ’s name in the celebration of the sacraments.
The Church being structured in such a way, giving a very singular place to the priest in his parish, is not aimed at diminishing the faithful.”
Although the bishop does not mention it specifically, the difference between priests on the one hand and laity on the other comes from the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It does not make the recipient superhuman or somehow more capable, but it is an outward sign of an inner change: this man can now act in persona Christi as he performs his duties. This happens by mutual agreement of both the priest and Christ. Christ’s agreement is made manifest by the acceptance of the candidate priest by the bishop and confirmed by the physical laying on of hands during the ordination.
Since Christ, although not present in the same way as He was for the apostles, continues to be the head of the Church, actually giving authority and capability to that Church, He must be made visible during the very core of the Church’s life: the Eucharist. At first glance we may just see a man, but through his ordination and the life he leads, we can see a glimpse of the Person who actually offers the sacrifice on the altar: Christ.
In part it is our human nature, our need to have visual and sensory confirmation of facts, that dictates the role of the priest in the parish. He is just a man, but he represents Christ, very tangibly so in the Sacraments, when he literally is a vessel, a means for God to communicate His grace.
Bishop Hurkmans ended with a warning: “Keep them from activism. Know that the celebration of the Sunday with the Eucharist is the most important meeting of the parish.”
I had to act to make sure the archdiocese would not go bankrupt. That creates room to work on our assignment.
There has been a lot of discussion these past weeks about the archbishop’s removal of a volunteer who publically misbehaved. Both orthodox and more liberal faithful have the obligation to behave normally. The impression was almost created that I did not value volunteers. I certainly do!
The archdiocese would not work without numerous volunteers. I greatly value their input. Amidst all the bickering, the main goal of the archdiocese has almost been lost: how are we doing? For an answer we need to go back to the Founder of the Church: “You are the salt of the earth.” With these words Christ gave his disciples a definitive and and at the same time temporal assignment: Christians must ‘spice up’ society, they must give it taste. In our time and culture, though, the Catholic taste is rare.
The reason for this is twofold.
1. On the one hand the process of people leaving the Church plays a part. In the middle of the 20th century we were the greatest ‘job agency’ of missionaries in the world, now we have a shortage of priests, extinct religious orders and congregations and tons of people for whom the Good News means nothing. That has made the faithful more modest..
2. On the other hand, society considers religion with distrust. In that context it is hard to add taste – mockery and disapproval are always present. I sometimes get the feeling that the more fanatical atheists would like to add warning stickers to Bibles: “May seriously damage the spiritual health”. Or: “Faith is addictive, don’t start.” Pointless claims, but indicative of our times, when faithful are regularly considered ‘retarded’.
That is why churches look for other ways to show their relevance. At the start of the Kerkbalans Actions, the annual fund drive of several church communities, the voluntary contribution of church members was published. With their social and cultural activities volunteers in Roman Catholic parishes and protestant communities contribute some 400 million euros to society annually.
An impressive amount, but the greatest contribution of the faith is the personal connection to Jesus Christ. How to communicate that in a time in which faith is no longer apparent? How to involve people at the periphery? How to make an offer they can’t refuse to people outside the church?
These are urgent question: currently 16 percent of the Dutch population considers themselves Roman Catholic. In 2020 it is expected to have dropped to 10 percent – the number of new Catholics is a little bit higher.
Broad people’s church
That requires organisational adaptations. Too long, the archdiocese of Utrecht had a structure that was based on the broad people’s church of the past. A result was an annual deficit of 1.7 million euros on a budget of 5 million.
At the time of my appointment in 2008 it became clear that we were racing towards bankruptcy. That called for immediate intervention. That reorganisation has given me the image of a bishop who only thinks about money. I did indeed have to make a number of very difficult decisions, most recently the closing of the seminary in Utrecht.
Our former accountant referred, recently in Trouw, to the eating of millions into our own capital as a form of ‘investing in the future’. But, looking back, it was more like a game of poker with the spirit of the times, that the latter has one: that investment has not decreased the number of people leaving the Church and the archdiocese has almost run out of chips.
But I didn’t jut bring the diocesan structure ‘up to date’. I also continuously envisioned a pastoral cause: giving the Church at the local level the power to grow. If the Church wants to appeal to modern people, she should be present in daily (parish) life. We need vital faith communities for our future and let’s be honest: some parishes were far from vital.
That is why we implemented major changes on the parish level, changes that had already begun under my predecessor. Until recently the archdiocese consisted of 316 parishes, soon that will be only 50. The former parishes will continue to exist as faith communities, but under an overall parish council. Without the effort of many parishioners this operation would have been impossible, and I am very grateful to them for that.
This scale increase allows local faith communities to join forces and be truly missionary together. A missionary faith community isn’t only geared towards churchgoers, but also and especially on peripheral churchgoers and people who don’t know Christ and His Gospel.
I cherish the image of God the Father who is always home and awaits His children. These days sadly often in vain – His children no longer call. Many deny His fatherhood and don’t take the effort to do a ‘spiritual DNA test’- life without God is fine for them. The gnawing feeling that ‘there is more between heaven and earth’ is smothered beneath daily cares or the search for quick but fleeting earthly happiness. While the Roman Catholic has the characteristics of an inner speed regulator: taking time for prayer, the service to God and fellow man, moderation.
We are facing an enormous task, but I see signs of hope. I have been a bishop now for more than ten years and in conversations with catechumens I notice that they have an increasing understanding of the faith. As a Church we must stand for our identity. That is not a 1950s mentality, but life from the Source of all times. (Arch)bishops, priests, deacons and pastoral workers are actually ‘relationship counsellors’ who bring people into contact with Jesus and His Message. In that, they are supported by many volunteers. Ina truly missionary Church we all have that role. Because it’s not about us, but about Him.
In 2007, the mixed commission of Catholic and Orthodox theologians working towards greater ecumenism between both Churches, unanimously agreed upon a document about ‘authority and conciliarity’, the structure of the Church in East and West and their interdependency. In 2008, this Ravenna document, named after the city in which the commission met, was the basis of further discussions, which developed to focus specifically on the role of the bishop of Rome in the time when both Churches were still in communion; the first millennium. The basis of discussion was drafted into a text, whch has now been published for the first time. It is available here. It reads as a considered history lesson on the popes of the first 1,000 years of the Church and the question of primacy of Rome and Constantinopel especially. This is still a major point in the developing relations between East and West.
Future discussion will undoubtedly look at the second millennium, when the two Churches split and the papacy became ever more distinctly unique, far more than the Orthodox Church is willing to accept. However, the fact that the document mentioned above was unanimously agreed upon by both sides is very hopeful, far more so than anyone would have assumed possible.
A future restoration of the Communion between the two Eucharistic Churches of East and West seems a bit less impossible.
EDIT: The Vatican just released the following communique:
VATICAN CITY, 26 JAN 2010 (VIS) – The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity today published the following communique:
The council, the communique reads, “has learned with disappointment that a media outlet has published a test currently being examined by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.
“The document published is a draft text consisting of a list of themes to be studied and examined in greater depth, and has been only minimally discussed by the said commission.
“In the last meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, held in Paphos, Cyprus, last October, it was specifically established that the text would not be published until it had been fully and completely examined by the commission.
“As yet there is no agreed document and, hence, the text published has no authority or official status”.