Bishop Liesen’s installation homily – On the nature of authority in the Church

Many thanks to the Diocese of Breda, who put the homily online that Bishop Jan Liesen gave at his installation last week. It’s an excellent text, a great start for the latest ordinary of the Dutch Church province. Bishop Liesen speaks about leadership, responsibility and the form it takes in the Church: the form of service.

My English translation is here.

Photo credit: R. Mangold

One to watch

Today, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Francesco Moraglia as Patriarch of Venice. The 58-year-old prelate succeeds Cardinal Angelo Scola, who was transferred to Milan in June of last year. Patriarch Moraglia has a virtually certain shot at a red hat at some future consistory and will be one to watch, if only because Venice gave the Church no less than three popes in the last century-and-a-bit: Pope Saint Pius X, Blessed Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul I.

Photo credit: La Nazione

Still learning

Reports in the news today that the bishops are thwarting the handling of abuse cases and that the Church is avoiding responsibility. Victims association KLOKK claims to have received 75 claims of this happening. 75 out of thousands. They also say that Church leader eagerly make use of objecting to complaints deemed well-founded by the special commission. Bishops and superiors are said to use the excuse of not being able to find any evidence of specific abuse cases in their archives.

True or not – and it must be noted that in certain cases evidence will be hard to come by – there still seems to be a gap between victims and Church. This is made worse, it must be said, by the seemingly adversarial attitude of associations such as KLOKK. Are they perhaps becoming more like obstacles now that the abuse has been acknowledged and revealed to the world? Maybe more can be gained in direct personal contact between victims, bishops and superiors, meetings that several bishops have already had, since well before the publication of the Deetman report.

Just some idle thoughts. But be that as it may, I think we can all agree that the Church must continue to learn to deal with this crisis and, most importantly, to unwaveringly be there for the victims.

Morning reflection: the daughter of Jairus

It is good to start the day with some reflection, to ground us in the Word of God, the Tradition of the Church or the faith that the Lord has given us (or a combination thereof). So, starting today, I’ll share a reading from the day’s Mass (or some other text) and regale you with my thought about it. This’ll happen frequently, semi-frequently, or not frequently at all. Let’s see how it goes.

Today, we take a look at the Gospel of today, from Mark, chapter 5, verses 21 to 43.

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered round him and he stayed by the lake. Then the president of the synagogue came up, named Jairus, and seeing him, fell at his feet and begged him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her that she may be saved and may live.’
Jesus went with him and a large crowd followed him; they were pressing all round him. Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she had spent all she had without being any the better for it; in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up through the crowd and touched his cloak from behind, thinking, ‘If I can just touch his clothes, I shall be saved.’ And at once the source of the bleeding dried up, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint.
And at once aware of the power that had gone out from him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’
His disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing round you; how can you ask, “Who touched me?” ‘
But he continued to look all round to see who had done it. Then the woman came forward, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, and she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth.
‘My daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free of your complaint.’
While he was still speaking some people arrived from the house of the president of the synagogue to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; why put the Master to any further trouble?’
But Jesus overheard what they said and he said to the president of the synagogue, ‘Do not be afraid; only have faith.’ And he allowed no one to go with him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.
So they came to the house of the president of the synagogue, and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and wailing unrestrainedly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they ridiculed him. So he turned them all out and, taking with him the child’s father and mother and his own companions, he went into the place where the child lay. And taking the child by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha kum!’ which means, ‘Little girl, I tell you to get up.’
The little girl got up at once and began to walk about, for she was twelve years old. At once they were overcome with astonishment, and he gave them strict orders not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give her something to eat.

The first thing we notice when reading this text is its general theme; Jesus heals people who are sick. Both the woman suffering from haemorrhages and the daughter of Jairus are seemingly beyond the ken of practical medicine, beyond the means of their family, friends and neighbours to help them. Something else that the two interconnected events share is the fact that the people involved have a strong faith. The woman is certain that touching Jesus’ cloak will cure here, while Jairus equally expresses a certainty. There is no question, no “If you are able to…”. No, they are certain that Jesus will heal the sick. Faith is a first step towards being healed.

In contrast to the conviction of the woman and Jairus is the attitude of the bystanders. These include the disciples. First, when Jesus asks,who touched him, they somewhat laughingly point out that he’s in the middle of a crowd of people. Who didn’t touch him? Later, at the house of Jairus, when Jesus claims that the little girl is not dead but merely asleep, they even ridicule him. Jesus seems to be operating on a different plane, just like the faith of the woman and Jairus is above the attitude of the people. From the faith of others, he knows that the outcome can’t be anything else than what it will turn out to be. He says so twice. “‘My daughter, your faith has restored you to health”, and “Do not be afraid; only have faith.” Again, faith leads to healing.

But, as always, there is a catch. If faith alone were enough, the woman and the child would not need Jesus to come to them. Their faith would have healed them regardless. But, today just as much as then, faith needs to have a direction. Our faith is faith in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It’s very concrete. Simply having faith is not enough. No, we must have faith that the Lord is willing to come and help us, but we need to open ourselves to his help. God does not force himself upon us. He has the deepest respect for our own personal integrity and our ability to make the right choices. With an informed conscience, we can make those choices. God has done all the work, he has prepared the way. What we need to do now, is to take up the tools he provides and start on his way to healing.

Painting, “Jairus’ Daughter”, by Daniel Bonnell.

Something lighthearted

“Mamma mia… They want to stay in the pope’s house.”

Well, Holy Father, I don’t blame them.

It’s been a bit of a rough day for this blogger, so let’s close it off with something lighthearted, like the pope releasing two white doves at today’s Angelus.

Tip of the hat to Atonement Online, where I found the video.

With his three predecessors looking on, Bishop Liesen takes Breda

Media coverage has been light, even in the Catholic press, but Bishop Jan Liesen nonetheless was installed as the eleventh Bishop of Breda yesterday.

Pre-installation, local media, interviewed faithful of the Diocese of Breda, asking what the expected from their new bishop. The general desire was for the new bishop to be ‘liberal’, in other words, not too push the more difficult bits of the Catholic faith too hard. I somehow doubt they’ll get their wish with scholar and theologian Jan Liesen.

Reflecting Bishop Liesen’s lack of liberal leanings, perhaps, is his using the staff, as pictured below, of one of his predecessors, Bishop Gerardus de Vet, who was Bishop of Breda from 1962 to 1967, and therefore the last pre-conciliar bishop of that diocese.

Speaking of predecessors, the Diocese of Breda is unique in that no less than three of its previous bishops are still alive. Bishop Hans van den Hende, of course, is now bishop of Rotterdam, but Breda has two emeriti as well: Bishop Tiny Muskens (bishop from 1994 to 2007) and Bishop Huub Ernst (1967-1992), at 94 the oldest Dutch bishop alive.

There is a small photo report of the installation available here.

Photo credit: R. Mangold/Diocese of Breda

Father Bodar returns to ‘s Hertogenbosch

With the departure of Bishop Liesen to the neighbouring Diocese of Breda, effective tomorrow, the curia of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch has been looking for someone to take over the duties of the erstwhile auxiliary bishop. Msgr. Liesen was responsible for the education sector, maintaining contacts between diocese, students and the universities in Nijmegen and Tilburg.

Taking over those duties is perhaps the best-known Dutch priest, at least in the media, Father Antoine Bodar. The 67-year-old priest, art historian, author, teacher and talk show host lives in Rome but will be attending meetings with the diocesan staff once a month, as he is also asked to contribute to running the general affairs of the diocese.

In 2003, Fr. Bodar also worked in the diocese, as cathedral administrator of the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Evangelist. He left there at the end of 2003, upon his own request, following tensions within the parish.

Fr. Bodar makes frequent appearances on television and in other media, and is also an often-invited speaker about all manner of Church-related issues. An erudite voice for the teachings of the Church, let’s hope that his new work in ‘s Hertogenbosch will last a bit longer than the last time he was there.

Bishop Liesen’s installation tomorrow: “sowing to take root and bear fruit”

“You don’t control the results, but that does not change the obligation to do the best we can. There is an essential element of freedom in there. You belong to the Roman Catholic Church because you want to, as conviction you gladly have. Many “enrolled” as children, but it must be confirmed at some point. If it isn’t, it remains something superficial and will not bear fruit. For the intended effect of sowing is for it to take root and bear fruit.”

Words from Bishop Jan Liesen, spoken in an interview with Katholiek Nieuwsblad, prior to his installation as bishop of Breda tomorrow. The installation Mass, which will be concelebrated by Bishop Liesen, his predecessor, Bishop Hans van den Hende, Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans of ‘s Hertogenbosch (where Msgr. Liesen has been auxiliary bishop), other bishops present, and members of the cathedral chapter. The new Nuncio to the Netherlands, Archbishop André Dupuy, will not yet be present. Instead, the Holy See will be represented by Msgr. Habib Thomas Halim, secretary of the nunciature in The Hague.

With some 500 people invited, the Mass is closed to visitors, simply because of the relatively small size of the Cathedral of St. Anthony. Priority has been given to representatives of the parishes of the diocese, as well as various dignitaries. In addition to the bishops mentioned above, Bishop Wiertz, De Korte, Punt, Mutsaerts, Hoogenboom and Hendriks will also be present, as well as Bishops Bonny and De Kesel from the two Belgian dioceses that border Breda, and the emeriti Cardinal Simonis, and Bishops Ernst, Muskens and Van Burgsteden.

On a plaque in the cathedral, Bishop Liesen's name has been added to the lists of bishops of Breda

The Queen’s Commissioners in the provinces of Zeeland and Noord-Brabant, the mayor of Breda and the governor of the Royal Military Academy, which is located in Breda, will also attend the Mass or the following reception.

Just because everyone does it, does not make it right – Dominican provincial writes to the archbishop

Upon reading a letter from the Dutch provincial of the Dominicans, Fr. Ben Vocking, o.p., to Archbishop Eijk, about the firing of pastoral worker Tejo van der Meulen, I was once more struck by the deep divide between the way the Catholic Church works and the way some people think it works. The core question that Provincial Vocking asks this, “Do you think you must act against what so many faithful consider the most normal thing in the world/in the Church?” The clear answer to that is, of course, “If that thing is unequivocally wrong or illegal: yes, the bishop must act”.

Reading a homily and joining in the Eucharistic Prayer is something that only priests are allowed to do. We may like it or not, but this is a simple fact. If these rules are not followed, it is only logical that a bishop or superior acts to prevent it. The teachings and rules of the Church are not created in a democratic process. Christ himself did not come to say what people wanted to hear or do what they wanted Him to do. Just as we look towards Him to lead us in our lives, so to do we look to the Church to do the same for us.

Fr. Vocking also mentions the Belgian initiative denouncing celibacy, Holy Orders and a whole raft of other things. “I certainly do not hope,” he asks, “that you think that these people have left the faith behind them?” The people who signed the initiative may not have left all faith in God behind them, but they do wilfully act against His Church.They place individual preferences above God’s intentions and ignore the shepherds he has given us.

Faith is a gift. It is not a human construct, and neither are its contents. Instead of being a democratic institution, the Church is tasked with leading the faithful to God, who is above human thought and action. In that sense, we do well to cultivate an attitude of faithful obedience, with confidence in the teachings of the Church that Christ established. The Church is bigger than us individuals, and can not  be subject to our whims and preferences. This does not suggest a passive attitude, but an active participation in the mystery of the salvation that the Lord chooses to achieve through His Church.

Fr. Vocking’s are pointless. He should already know the answers.

The archbishop and the pastoral worker, two sides of the same coin

A fairly small news item earlier this week – about Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht asking a parish council to terminate the employment of pastoral worker Tejo van der Meulen – has led to much debate about the role of pastoral workers and the lines they, in more than one person’s opinion, routinely seem to cross.

At first, the piece of information seemed innocent enough: an issue that concerned one parish, but we’ve seen several times already that not all of these issues keep to the boundaries of the parish they originate in. Both secular and Catholic media have made much of it, taken the fact as a reason to write in favour of or against the existence of, the duties of, or the liberties taken by pastoral workers. The case of Mr. van der Meulen is used as a starting point of the debate, and as evidence that pastoral workers routinely ‘play priest’.

Without going into too much detail about the situation of Mr. van der Meulen and the reasons that Archbishop Eijk had for rescinding his mission, it does shed a light on the status of pastoral workers in the dioceses of the Netherlands. Pastoral workers are lay people who are sent by the bishop to a specific parish or area to perform pastoral duties, usually in cooperation with a priest and parish council, although in some areas, for example in the north, priests may be few and pastoral workers will have managerial duties that are usually reserved for parish priests in other areas. Here, pastoral workers also lead the faithful in prayer services, as well as services of the Word and even Communion services. While the Church does require pastoral workers to attend Mass before being sent out to lead a service somewhere else, this does not always happen. Sometimes that is because the pastoral workers in question does not have the opportunity to go to Mass, but that can’t always be the case.

As the above indicates, theory does not always equal practice. And, more often than many would like, we’ve seen liturgical abuses crop up, because the boundaries between priest and pastoral worker vanished. A single clear cause is difficult to indicate, but the lack of priests and a limited knowledge of the faculties and duties of priest and laity are certainly among them. And then we see situation like in the case of Mr. van der Meulen, where the pastoral worker joins the priest at the altar for the Eucharistic prayer, or where the pastoral worker reads the Gospel at Mass. Indications that there is no awareness of what a priest or lay person can or can’t do, and a pretense that the one is the same as the other. And that is something that, I believe, Archbishop Eijk tries to combat. And he should be joined by all other bishops in that, as Blessed Pope John Paul II called them to do as far back as 1980.

Priests and pastoral workers are two sides of the same coin; I often have the impression that pastoral workers work from a strong pastoral concern for the people. A good priest will have that same concern, but will be called to express that concern by means of the sacraments and the proclamation of the Word of God. Together, they can and should work fruitfully together for the faithful under their care, which is possible when they know duties, abilities and limitations, as Father Anton ten Klooster points out.

Actually, come to think of it, pastoral workers and priests who pretend they are something they are not, are mostly doing a disservice to themselves. They have each been given a specific mission in the Church, in which they each can be bearers of the Good News, each in their own unique way. Why throw that gift aside, or switch it for someone else’s?

We are all workers in God’s vineyard, not in our own. Let’s reflect that in our work and vocation.