Eyewitness account of a disgrace

The back of the cathedral, just after people had noisily left during the homily. The atmosphere was hostile.


 “Christ decides who receives Communion, not you!”   


An example of the heckling towards Father Geertjan van Rossem, and his reply, during yesterday morning’s Mass at the cathedral of St. John in Den Bosch.   

I was there. I felt I should in order to defend my faith and my Church, in whatever minute way one person can. And I can tell is was a disgraceful display of inflated egos and refusal to objectively listen. The protesters, by and large, seemed to me people who were unable to move on from the initial emotion reaction to a measured objective debate. It was about them, and anyone who actually attended Mass for God (what a shocking concept!) be damned.   

I was dependent on the trains, so I arrived at the cathedral a few minutes after the start of Mass. Father van Rossem was saying a short word of welcome, which already elicited some booing. I found a standing place in the back, since the cathedral was really full: a fair number of people who were clearly only there for the protests (pink triangles on their clothes and all) and regular parishioners in the pews in the front. A formidable media presence was towards the left of the sanctuary.   

From my position I could see people coming in (including some ladies in pink wigs and pink ‘habits’ who wanted to walk towards the sanctuary but were stopped by the sacristans who were out in full force). The kyrie, the readings and the responsory psalm went without problem. I got some looks from the back pews for actually saying the responses and singing along with the psalm… Maybe people were amazed that people would attend Mass for other reasons than to air their egotistical grievances?   

Things went south during the homily. It was a good homily, starting with the texts of today and eventually leading towards a discourse about the Eucharist and our attitude towards it and Communion. As soon as certain people felt personally addressed they got up out of their pews (and since the pews in the cathedral have wooden doors that was accompanied by a lot of noise) and left the church. Then it was evident that they were only there to protest, not to act responsibly and actually listen. That was too much to ask. Father van Rossem paused for a while to wait for the noise to subside and then continued. As people got up, I moved from my place in the back to midway in the main aisle. There was security guy standing at the sanctuary, but if I could help stop some mad person for making a dash towards the altar, I would. Luckily, people just left or found a place to stand in the back.   

As Mass continued, things settled down a bit, until it was time for Communion. The diocese had already announced that the risk of profanation of the Blessed Sacrament was too high and that there would be no Communion for the congregation. The faithful present understood, heard Father van Rossem when he said that a spiritual Communion would be just as valid as a physical one, and were united with the priest when he received the Body and Blood of Christ. The protesters started clapping their hands and singing from the back. They once again wanted attention at the high point of Mass… It was sickening.   

After Mass the cathedral emptied pretty quickly. The protesters had their minds set on getting more attention, this time from the media, the faithful sat down to pray or went home, and I went for a cup of tea with a friend. We were all shaken by the experience, by this profanation of the holy liturgy. The mindlessness of people, their self-centeredness is sometimes staggering, and this was a new low for me.   

They homosexual rights groups have announced continued protests for the coming seven weeks… Not to achieve anything, because that’s not possible in this way. Debate is not possible: these people will only accept their own opinion – they own the truth, or so they think, and anyone who disagrees has no rights.   

It’s maddening and also very sad. The thing that we as faithful can and should do is not stoop to their level: maintain the integrity and sanctity of Mass, and transcend the childishness of the emotional response. Emotion is fine, but if we want to achieve any sense of agreement we need objective and measured discussion and not hissy fits.   

The second reading, from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians,  seems perfectly fitting to what I witnessed yesterday:   

Brothers, be united in imitating me. Keep your eyes fixed on those who act according to the example you have from me. For there are so many people of whom I have often warned you, and now I warn you again with tears in my eyes, who behave like the enemies of Christ’s cross. They are destined to be lost; their god is the stomach; they glory in what they should think shameful, since their minds are set on earthly things.   

But our homeland is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transfigure the wretched body of ours into the mould of his glorious body, through the working of the power which he has, even to bring all things under his mastery.   

So then, my brothers and dear friends whom I miss so much, my joy and my crown, hold firm in the Lord, dear friends.   

Writing about all this once again makes me feel ill…

7 thoughts on “Eyewitness account of a disgrace”

  1. WOw oh my wat an awful thing to witness my prayer are for you all and the blinkeredness of some

  2. Mark, Thank you for this post. My excuse for my blunt comment (quoting scripture) and thanks to Francis for putting it in the right context.

    It’s great that you went to the Cathedral. I urge you to try to understand the viewpoint of Catholics who believe that it is possible to be a practicing homosexual and also a faithful Catholic. Such as that of the Dignity Foundation http://www.dignitynederland.nl/extranieuwsbrief.html who distanced themselves from the loud, aggressive way of protesting yesterday.

    1. Apology accepted 🙂

      As Inge says below, there is a tension between being a faithful Catholic and a practicing homosexual. In my experience (granted, as a heterosexual man) you can’t bend the clear teachings enough to fit your own needs. It’s not necessarily easy, but no one ever said that being a Christian would be.

      I understand all the emotion that this situation brings out, but at a certain point we must transcend that and try lok at the matter objectively, or we will never find a solution or acceptance.

  3. Ansgar John,

    with all due respect, I understand that some people want to find ways to combine their desires with faith. I’ve been there myself, at some point. Problem with ‘believing it’s possible to practise homosexuality with being a faithful Catholic’ is that it requires to ignore the authority of the Magisterium in these matters to make it work for yourself.

    And then the question is, how “Catholic” is it to ignore the authority of the Magisterium? For me it was crystal clear I could not act out my sexual orientation and call myself a Christian at the same time. Christ calls us to be chaste, practicing homosexuality isn’t being chaste and thus ignoring what Christ says.

    In order to take my faith seriously I have to be chaste. If you try it, you’ll discover how much a blessing it is to be able to focus on other things. I discovered it deepened my relationship with Christ a lot. I don’t think I would have been able to discover it if I had been a heterosexual in a culture where having a relationship is something that’s being taken for granted. The thing I saw as a cross I had to bear first turned into the biggest blessing I ever had in my life.

    Try it, it’s great.

      1. My comment applies to heterosexuals as well to homosexuals. One’s sexuality doesn’t determine who we are, it’s only a small part of the equation. But with our society’s focus on sex and promotion of sexual behaviour it makes it look like it’s a very big deal and engaging in sexual activities is the way to reach Nirvana.

        What I wanted to ask you is this: why are the biggest advocates of homosexual behaviour / gay emancipation often heterosexuals who don’t really know what they are talking about? These people tend to get the most emotional in discussions together with the gay activists who seem to think their sexuality makes who they are. They are not John Doe but “a proud gay”. Why is this?

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