Where I’ll be today

The second St. Martin’s conference about the diaconate is being held at the Oosterpoort conference centre today and I have been tasked with making sure that the two work groups which will use the parish house are supplied with a steady stream of coffee and tea. That’ll take the better part of the afternoon, and it’s going to be followed by the English Mass where I may or may not be asked to do the intercessions.

Still debating about tomorrow: Den Bosch or not?

Diocesan decision: no Communion

The diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch has made a decision about next Sunday’s Mass:

“The church council of the cathedral of St. John in ‘s-Hertogenbosch has, in cooperation with the diocese of Den Bosch, decided not to distribute Communion at next Sunday’s 10 o’clock Mass, because various groups have announced to use the Mass as a protest action. The diocese mourns the fact that the celebration of the Eucharist is used for this purpose and asks for respect for holding Catholic services. Media will be placed in a separate press area, in the northern transept. Seen from the entrance in the tower that is front left near the altar. They are requested to not walk through the church or in front of the altar during the Mass. No one will be excluded from participating in the celebration, but they are being asked to participate respectfully.”

It’s a necessity because of the sad fact that even some Catholics are willing to put their own grievances above the service of God.

Source

Elections: weighing the options

Next week I will be casting my vote for the city council of Groningen. I have yet to decide which party will be getting my red-pencilled ballot paper, so some research into the various parties is in order. The question I am trying to answer is: what party best represents my own views as a Catholic, and which party has the best chance – via strategic coalitions, for example – to turn those ideas into policy?

I have a choice between eleven parties, or twelve if I count the option to cast a blank vote. But I’ll only do that if I draw the conclusion that I have no confidence in any party (or if I really don’t care, but that’s unlikely). Some parties are not really options for me, of course: some of the local or one-issue parties don’t speak for me, for example. Neither do the liberal parties VVD and D66. My choice is between the left and the conservative, to simplistically delineate them. PvdA (social-democrats), SP (socialists), GreenLeft, CDA (Christian democrats) and ChristianUnion (social Christian democrats). The first three and the last two have connected lists, which means they’ll form and speak as a block in the council together. All have extensive social programs, with the left focussing on the individual and the conservatives on society as a whole.

The Christian point of view is an important one for me, and I think it should be heard in politics. Of the five parties above, only the ChristianUnion is outspokenly Christian. The CDA is as well in name, but reading through their program their Christianity is far less clear. I also don’t really like their overly blunt approach towards beggars and addicts in the city. But they are a major and thus influential party, having had  many seats in the past and they’ll probably continue to have a significant number after the elections as well.

The downside of the ChristianUnion is that they are very much Protestant, which leads to a limited approach and relation to the faith. Their founding documents which consider the Catholic faith idolatry is also an obstacle. Their advantage is stability. The ChristianUnion does not water down its beliefs, but is also not limited by them, and I think that such clarity can do much good.

There are no clear Catholic choices in these elections. Is the ‘least bad’ option good enough? Voting is always better than not voting. And perhaps a vote for any Christian party will open the door for more openly Catholic politicians in the future… I am still undecided. Online election guides keep directing me to the CDA or the SP, so until 3 March I’ll probably keep weighing the options.

Press conference points

Bishop Hurkmans and Henk Krol at the press conference following their meeting

This morning, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans and cathedral administrator Father Geertjan van Rossem met with Gaykrant editor Henk Krol and two representatives of the COC to discuss the fallout of the Reusel affair. The discussion was set to have been open and friendly, respectful and a breath of fresh air, but agreement was not reached. Not very surprising, in my opinion.  

Bishop Hurkmans emphasised that denying Communion to practicing homosexuals does not exclude from the Church’s life. But since the Communion is also a confirmation of faith, the receiver expresses his agreement with that. That means that the person who receives Communion lives in accordance with the faith and the Church’s teachings.  

The bishop also said he shares the pain of those who can’t receive Communion. He emphasised the importance of a person’s own responsibility to receive and so confirm their faith in the Church’s teachings. That is counter to the prevalent attitude that Communion is a right and even a custom – that receiving should be part of every Mass one attends.  

Fr. van Rossem acknowledges that things have grown somewhat lax in respect to handing out Communion, and he expects that the faithful will receive more education on the meaning of the Eucharist in the future. Let’s hope that will indeed happen.  

There have been no statements yet about how the diocese plans to respond to protests on Sunday at the cathedral. The diocese is still considering that, but Fr. van Rossem did say that there is concern about a possible disruption of the Mass.  

I am seriously considering travelling down to ‘s-Hertogenbosch on Sunday, to attend Mass there and offer a counter-balance to the protesters. Mass is not the place or time  for protest, and in this case we should perhaps try to maintain the sacrality of the Mass, a sacrality that transcends any protest greatly.

Lectio divina with the pope

On 12 February, Pope Benedict XVI visited the major seminary in Rome. Among others, he led the seminarians and staff in the lectio divina, the spiritual readings of a Bible passage. The pope chose chapter 15 of the Gospel of John, and went on to focus on various aspects of the text.

It’s an interesting read, certainly in this season of Lent.

The English text of his catechesis can be found here, and my translation into Dutch is here.

The problems of choosing death

I have been asked to share with my small international audience some thoughts about a public initiative in the Netherlands, which aims to give the elderly the right to choose their moment of death. In the proposal, this is a right to be given to everyone over the age of 70. In the Trouw newspaper, philosopher Paul van Tongeren goes over some of the objections against this proposal, in an article titled Self-chosen death is impossible.

Outright discussion of the affairs of society and politics is something which I have general avoided. Not because I consider it unimportant, but mainly because I fear my knowledge is lacking. Not that I have an extensive knowledge of Church and theology, but those topics are this blogs objective. Society is not, although the two obviously and rightly influence each other.

Euthanasia, like abortion and any other practice involving the murder of humans, is a grave sin. That much is clear. It is directly stated in the Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill. As far as historians can trace it, the wilful murder of people has always been considered intrinsically evil, although there have been societies which allowed it (and continue to do so) in certain circumstances. But what a society chooses to do has no effect on the objectivity morality of an action.

This as an introduction. Now let’s take some of Mr. van Tongeren’s arguments against the ‘free choice of death’ initiative.

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His first point, a relative argument, is the question how we can know what the death wish means. Is it a result of bad living conditions and can it therefore be remedied by improving those conditions?

He then questions the arbitrary age limit of 70. It is said that that age has been chosen because a death wish occurs more often in people over 70. But there is a risk in establishing that age as a boundary. Once implemented, we’ll see that the death wish occurs more often in people over 60. It is a boundary that demands adjustment downward. And there is another risk: people will have to explain themselves once they’re 70 and don’t want to die just yet.

Another point is if and how outsiders can decide if someone is ready to die. Would outsiders be so keen to decide in favour of death? Mr. van Tongeren says yes. One of the people behind the initiative, Hedy d’Ancona, said twice in an interview on Radio 1, that she know a few people of whom she thought that they were ready to die. There is then an outside pressure on the elderly to choose in favour of death.

The discussion that goes into more philosophical principles, most notably the principle of autonomy, related to the opinion that we are autonomous people who decide over our own life and death. Kant, one of the staunchest defenders of autonomy, said that when you do what you want because that seems attractive, you are not autonomous, because you don’t decide what you want, but are being led by your desires. Then you are heteronomous. You are only autonomous when you fully act according to reason. That means, among other things, that we have no automatic right to do whatever we please when, at the same time, we claim to act according to the principle of autonomy.

Self-determination does work ‘horizontally’. Someone who wants to order me about, has to justify himself, not the other way around.

In the history of philosophy we encounter a problematic but intriguing argument against self-chosen death: suicide is impossible. Of course, it happens and it that sense it is possible, but it can be countered logically, so it is a logical impossibility. Someone who wants to commit suicide chooses death, but that is not a choice between one thing and another (as when we normally want something). It is a choice between something (life) and nothing (death). And philosophy says: you can’t want nothing.

Van Tongeren explains to two forms of wanting: the object wanted, and wanting to be the wanter. We choose to want. Someone who wants to die, wants to stop being the wanter, which is a denial of wanting anything.

All that will not change the mind of someone who wants to die, but it indicates a problem. It’s not something we can want like we want other things. denying that problem is denying that there is any difference between wanting to die and wanting to go on a holiday. That is ultimately a denial of the very nature and identity of the death wish.

Van Tongeren closes with emphasising the importance of taboos in western civilisation. Taboos indicate boundaries that can’t be defended or defeated by logical arguments, but which society possible. Crossing them has destructive consequences.

Does it make sense to want to decide to die? We don’t decide we want to live. If we have no self-determination at the start, would it not be fitting to not have it at the end?

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It’s a difficult social  and ethical problem, this question of whether or not we should allow the free choice of death. I do think, like Mr. van Tongeren, that such a choice is the top of a downward slope. Not only is it a choice based in nothing more than gut-feeling, and as such it fails to acknowledge the differences between this choice and the choice of what you want for lunch today, it also tackles a taboo.

Taboos are not popular. Many people in our postmodern society consider them limits to our freedom. But are they? Are they not guidelines that lead to freedom? After all, any society without rules will quickly descend into chaos. Is that the freedom we want? Does that not limit us even more? I would say it does.

A life is sacred, in the religious and the social sense. We have neither the ability nor the right to give or take that life. There is not self-determination involved in the beginning and end of life. That does not make it easy. But do we measure our existence by the amount of pain we have? No. A person’s life is measured by his or her achievements, by the positive influence it has on us and on society.

We have a duty, an obligation to always choose life. The other choice is nothing but the easy solution and anyone knows of situations in their own lives where nothing is gained by the easy way out.

In a totally unrelated conversation, the following quote, from The Dark Knight of all things, came up: “It was always going to get worse before it got better.” The value of our goals can often be measured by the difficulties we have in achieving them. Difficulties are not inherently evil, although we rarely recognise them as such while we suffer them.

Separation of Church and state, but only when it suits us

PvdA Chairperson Lilianne Ploumen has called people of all sexual orientations to come to Mass at the cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in ‘s-Hertogenbosch on Sunday. A laudable invitation. Or is it?

Sadly, it is not. She does so in order to protest the Catholic teachings about homosexual practices, which she claims are discriminatory. She will attend Mass – great! – wearing a pink triangle with the text “Jesus excludes no one”, and tells others to do the same.

When people write about similar situations, especially in America, they often note the strange ideas of freedom that such people have. That is what I see increasingly here as well. Freedom is great, and everyone should be free to live according to their own conscience, but not if that goes against the popular opinion and political correctness. Then that freedom becomes a crime and its proponents subject of ridicule and violence (verbal or otherwise). The anti-religious lobby in general is oppressive, what Pope Benedict XVI calls ‘the dictatorship of relativism’. Disagreement is not an option.

Arie Slob, chairman of the Christian Union in parliament, has commented on Ploumen’s action: “With all due respect for Ms Ploumen and with happiness at her call to go to church: this is a very inappropriate, provocative interference in church matters.” He continues, “I would like to assume that it is not the PvdA chair but the Roman Catholic expressing herself here [Well, Mr. Slob, trust me: it is not]. But let me be even clearer. I for one can’t imagine using my political brand name to influence the church of which I am a member.”

In the mean time, Robèrt Cooijmans, the man who charged Father Luc Buyens and Bishop Antoon Hurkmans with discrimination, will try to speak during the same Mass. He was prevented from doing so in his own parish church last Sunday, when a plain clothes police officer stopped and arrested him for disturbing the peace.

Source