Faith and happiness

I’ll be at the lecture advertised above tonight. For those who don’t read Dutch, the topic will be French author Marcel Pagnol and his ideas of faith and happiness (a very Catholic idea, of course). French literature is hardly my forte, and I can’t say I have ever heard of Pagnol, but I have at least heard the speaker speak before. Dr. W. Bots knows a thing or two about French Catholic authors and has been a guest speaker in the parish a few times. he knows an awful lot about his topics, so I have hopes that I’ll be able to learn a thing or two.

The lecture is not organised by the student parish, but we have been asked to advertise it on behalf of the St. Martin’s parish. We do, after all, share a cathedral, parish house and priest.

Credit to Taquoriaan for the design of the flyer.

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Cardinal Kasper’s ecumenical catechism

At the opening of  a three-day symposium on the future of ecumenism, Walter Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, suggested the idea of creating an ‘ecumenical catechism’ as one of the products of 40 years of dialogue with Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and members of Reformed churches. The cardinal stressed the need to keep the fruits of the decades of dialogue alive and wishes to promote “an ecumenism of basics that identifies, reinforces and deepens the common foundation.” He fears that modern ecumenism “is perhaps in danger of becoming a matter for specialists and thus of moving away from the grassroots.”

It is as yet not really clear what the structure of this ecumenical catechism should be, but it does sound as if it is a good means to put the mutually shared tenets and beliefs in stone, so to speak. Once set, it could be a good foundation for further development.

Perhaps this ecumenical catechism can be coupled with a renewed effort to bring the cause of ecumenism back to the people. But if that happens, it will have to replace an existing idea of ecumenism as simply being together and sharing regardless of differences. Because that is the ecumenism as it is alive among many faithful now. There is a lack of knowledge of their identity, on both sides of the division.

Cardinal Kasper recognises the importance of not hiding the differences, when he says that we must not ignore the Catholic understanding of what the Church: “[T]he Catholic Church is the church of Christ and […] the Catholic Church is the true church.” And the Catholic Church does believe that “there are deficits in the other churches. […] Yet on another level there are deficits, or rather wounds stemming from division and wounds deriving from sin, also in the Catholic Church.”

The acknowledgement of differences and our own identity, as I have written before, is the only starting point for fruitful debate and ecumenism.

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Catholic involvement in the Reformation?

The title is a bit deceptive, I know, but it has some relevance. Nederlands Dagblad reports that the Catholic Church in the Netherlands will officially take part in the commemmoration of 500 years of Reformation. The program titled Refo500 builds up towards 2017, when it is 500 years since Martin Luther  published his Ninety-five Theses. Since then, of course, the various (and increasingly numerous) Protestant church communities have gone their own way.

Much can be said about the Reformation from a Catholic point of view and the question may be asked of how useful it is to partake in an event that seemingly celebrates the fact that a significant number of Christians are no longer part of the one Church. What possible merit could their be in a Catholic acknowledgement of the Reformation as a good thing (because that is the point of celebrating, of course)?

Speaking for the Catholic Society for Ecumenism, Mr. Geert van Dartel says, “We think it is important that this commemoration is not one-sided, from a reformed standpoint. […] The Reformation was a process of action and reaction.”

He has a point. The Reformation directly led to the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent, which was a major impulse for the Church, and its influence is still visible. However, the Counter-Reformation, as the name implies, was very much anti-Reformation.

Karla Apperloo of Refo500: “We did not describe the term ‘Reformation’ when it comes to content. That allows space for a Catholic partner to also shine a light on the Catholic Reformation.”

Let’s hope that this space will be used for more than a mere focus on how much we have in common. That is important, of course, and the commonalities between the Church and church communities must be the basis for future ecumenism, but the differences can’t be ignored. The simple fact is that the gap between the Catholic Church and the Protestant church communities is bigger than that among any two Protestant communities. A focus on the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the Catholic identity, at least from the Catholic parties, will do more for ecumenism then a celebration of mutual friendship.

The Society for Ecumenism als states that: “The divisive meaning of the great theological questions from the 16th century […] have been superseded by faith.”

And that is a bit worrying, because it seems to indicate that faith alone is left, and that all the problems and divisions are gone. But they are not. The understanding of what makes a Church is radically different between Catholics and Protestants.

I noticed that myself during the conference of Christian student groups in Groningen, a few weeks ago. The various Protestant groups seemed to consider their brands of Christianity to be mere ‘tastes’  or ‘preferences’: it doesn’t really matter what sort of Christian you are , as long as it suits you. That approach makes the individual believer, and not God, the arbitrator of what faith  and church are: they establish the church and decide what it should be. The Catholic sense of what the Church is is the total opposite: The Church has been instituted by Christ, and so He has the final power of decision. We are workers in His vineyard, but we can’t decide what His Church must be or do. The Holy Spirit does so through His people, but the initiative always lies with Him. The foundations of the Church have been given, not made by us. The Church is therefore much more than a taste of preference. It asks us to join Christ on His terms. It requires a certain level of faith and trust that through God we will find true freedom and life.

The differences are there, even in as summarised a version of the problem as mine above. We may share the same faith in Christ, but that does not mean we are all the same. In order to be the same, we must first now what ‘the same’ means.

Anyway, that’s a bit of a detour from the Refo500 events. Let’s hope and pray that a Catholic presence will make a difference. 500 years of Reformation is long enough. Time for the experiment to be over.

The problem of Medjugorje

The alleged pilgrimage site Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina has recently been in the news again. The site, where the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared virtually daily since 1981, was visited by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, despite the fact that Rome does not acknowledge the apparitions as authentic. Local Bishop Ratko Peric had to explain that fact once more.

Medjugorje is a popular place for thousands of pilgrims, and the prayer, conversion and sacraments received there are often considered evidence for the authenticity of the site. So what is the problem?

Mariologist and theologian Fr. Manfred Hauke (pictured) was asked about that by German Catholic news paper Die Tagespost. It’s an interesting read, sometimes a bit heavy on theology (not that that’s a bad thing), and it emphasises some of the dubious claims made by the seers and priests associated with Medjugorje, and also presses for clarity and openness about it from the side of the Church.

Because of Medjugorje’s enormous popularity, especially among European pilgrims, I thought it important to also have the interview available in Dutch. Many Dutch parishes and other Catholic organisations still perform pilgrimages to Medjugorje. These are even advertised in national Catholic newspapers. Like Fr. Hauke says:  “If a new investigative commission reaches a recognition that certain characteristics indissolubly connected with the phenomenon of the apparitions speak against their authenticity, then the love of truth demands that this be made known with all clarity and that Catholic Christians be warned expressly against “pilgrimages”.

An English version of the interview has been duly translated by Catholic Light.