Papal message for World Prayer Day for Vocations

The Vatican released Pope Benedict’s message for the 47th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, this year on 25 April. Like many of his recent messages, this one was written late last year, but released only now.

In it, the Holy Father addresses the role of priests and religious in fostering vocations among young people. Their life is an example and as such they have an obligation to live according to their calling. Read my translation of the message here or via the Translations tab above.

Homily at the consecration of the new auxiliary bishops

The text of Archbishop Eijk’s homily at the consecration of auxiliary bishops Hoogenboom and Woorts was published today on the website of the Archdiocese of Utrecht. Here is my translation.    

Archbishop Eijk flanked by his new auxiliary bishops, Msgr. Theodorus Hoogenboom and Msgr. Herman Woorts

In today’s Gospel reading we witnessed the meeting of Jesus, the Risen Lord, with some of His disciples at the Sea of Galilee. At that occasion Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” When Jesus asks the same question for the third time, it becomes painfully clear to Peter that he betrayed Jesus in the night of Gethsemane three times, before the cock’s crowing. That saddens him.    

The meeting with Jesus confronts Peter with his own weakness, insignificance and failure. That is always painful. But from Peter one thing must be mentioned: his love for Jesus is true and he is remorseful, as his sadness shows. And that is why Jesus fulfills the promise He made to Peter, when he changed His name from Simon to Peter: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matt. 16,18). Now Jesus truly appoints Peter as leader of the apostles and first pope, by saying: “Look after My sheep”.    

 And that is what Peter would do, until they bring him to the place where he does not want to be, as Jesus had predicted to him: the cross upon he too will die a martyr’s death under Emperor Nero in 64.    

Elsewhere in the New Testament, “look after my sheep” is also said to bishops and priests (1 Pet. 5, 2-4; Acts 20, 28), Looking after, shepherding means here that the pope, bishops and priests bring the people entrusted to their pastoral care to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, that they will feed them with God’s Word and the sacraments.    

Msgr. Hoogenboom and Msgr. Woorts: you too have been called by the Risen Lord to look after His sheep. When meeting candidates for confirmation, the bishop is always  asked, “How did you become a bishop, did you really want it?”    

There are no adverts on the Internet or in the newspapers for bishops. Not because advertising is expensive, but simply because you are not expected to apply for it. You are asked. Officially someone is bishop “through the mercy of God and the favour of the Holy See.” In the request from the Holy Father, the steward of Christ on Earth, to become auxiliary bishops of Utrecht, lies the voice of Christ for both of you. We are grateful to you both that you said ‘yes’ to the vocation of the priesthood and that you today say ‘yes’ to the vocation of the episcopate.    

What may you expect from the episcopate? I can assure you one thing, from my own experience: being a bishop is never boring! That may sound quite positive, but – to be honest – a bishop’s could sometimes be a bit more boring, as far as I am concerned. There have been very intense moments, not just for the apostle Peter and the other apostles, but for all their successors, the bishops all over the world.    

I am not telling you anything new. After all, you are both already part of the diocesan curia. You, Msgr. Hoogenboom, have been my vicar general since my appointment as Archbishop of Utrecht, now more than two years ago. And you, Msgr. Woorts, have been diocesan vicar of Utrecht and vicar for the policy sector liturgy since last February. You both have been working with merit in pastoral and official business in our diocese, and that in a period in which we have to make difficult decisions to make the archdiocese healthy again. You can only do that if you are not striving for the popularity prize. And neither of you is. That is why you both expressly chose the following text from the second letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians as today’s first reading: “It is not ourselves that we are proclaiming, but Christ Jesus as the Lord.” You do not work to improve your own image or popularity and falsify God’s Word, but you proclaim it openly.    

Like Peter, bishops can get into situation and be face with decisions that they had preferred to avoid. In that regard, you did not avoid your responsibility as vicar general and diocesan vicar in difficult circumstances. But what is necessary for God’s Church, for the shepherding of the flock, we should also do out of love for the Lord. Looking after the sheep, the pastoral care for the people entrusted to their care, also requires that the bishops make sure that there is enough wholesome and healthy grass in the field for the grazing; more so, they must make sure there even is a field for the grazing.    

Can a man take on such a difficult task? Like Peter all bishops are men with talents and weaknesses. It is often thought that the priesthood and the episcopate ask too much, especially considering celibacy and the limited access to modern society for Christ and His Gospel? As we saw, Peter gains next to forgiveness also a new spirit and a new life because of his encounter with Jesus, the Risen Lord. It is a St. Paul says: “But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own.”    

For that power we pray during the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration: the consecrating bishops pray that God may pour the Spirit of authority that He gave to His Son Jesus Christ and the apostles, also over you. We pray for the intercession of Saint Willibrord, the founder and patron saint of our archdiocese, that the Holy Spirit may abundantly bless and make fruitful your pastoral duties as auxiliary bishops. Amen.

Ash Wednesday

The sanctuary at the cathedral. The retable doors are closed to indicate that Lent has begun

My forehead now featuring a blackish smudge, I can say that Lent has truly begun. It feels as if Christmas was just a few weeks ago, but Lent actually isn’t particularly early this year. From now until Easter, the liturgy of the Mass will be sober. There won’t be any ‘alleluiah’ or Gloria, for example, and decorative elements are removed from the sanctuary as far as possible. All this to make the period of fasting and abstinence visible as something performed by the entire Church.

In the past, Lent used to be stricter than it is now. Now only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (like every Friday) are days of fasting. The rest of Lent holds no obligation to fast. Personally, I believe this has contributed to a diminished awareness of what Lent (and consequently Easter) is, so I’ll have none of it. Lent is a 40-day period of fasting and abstinence, with only the Sundays as breaks (the Sunday is by definition a feast day).

Easter is the high point of the liturgical year and a period of preparation, by consciously given things up and realigning oneself to God, seems far from unreasonable. Because Easter, the salvation by Christ, is quite something. It is all that Christianity is about. We can simply not afford to let it pass virtually unnoticed.

So my forehead smudge of ashes indicates my willingness to prepare myself, to give up some creature comforts and refocus myself on God. And I’ll do my very best to live up to that.