Archbishop Léonard’s yes to a dignified life and death

In an article for Belgian daily De Standaard, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard looks back on ten years of legalised euthanasia in Belgium. My translation is here.

The archbishop, who will undoubtedly receive some expected criticism for this text, asks if the fears that the episcopate expressed a decade ago were unfounded. They were not, he says. Emphasising that the current safeguards that would make euthanasia safe simply do not work, Archbishop Léonard uses the example of a door that, once opened just a crack, will unavoidably be opened further. To halt that process, we need a clear and resolute “yes” to competent and loving care for the sick and dying. While prohibiting euthanasia does limit personal freedom, the common good sometimes trumps that freedom if we want a future for our society.

Photo credit: Reuters/Yves Herman


Bishop Wiertz on speaking about God

Interesting words for all Catholics, but especially those who spent time communicating the faith, in Bishop Frans Wiertz’ Pentecost homily. The bishop of Roermond starts by speaking about social media, and as one who doesn’t yet use them, he says that that it can all seem a bit mumbo jumbo, all those abbreviations that allow one to fit one’s comments in 140 characters.

“It’s somewhat like that with believing too. I can easily imagine that outsiders sometimes think: what is it all about in the church? But who actively participates – who shows involvement – soon understands what it is about; what certain solemn words means and what the purpose of rituals is. The trick is now to make sure that outsiders learn to understand the language of our faith. That we, as faithful people, learn to communicate our faith in such a way that others also understand it and feel personally addressed. Yes, that they understand what motivates us.”


“We people are called today to understand each other better. About God, even. To consciously listen to each other and to hear God’s voice in our speech. That does mean that we as people do have to have something to say; that you must be able to express yourself.

Sadly, a lot of the communication via social media is about non-information, while it is a beautiful means to really enter into conversation. Not just about this and that, but also about things that really matter. About our personal faith, for example. But we do have to dare to use the words that go with it.”

Nice thought there. Our faith is not natural but supernatural, so it will have a slightly different vocabulary than the one we use for earthly things. Not so different that we can’t understand it, but different enough that there has to be some effort to learn it, or allow others to learn it.

The bishop continues by explaining that the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, gave the disciples a new language that everyone can understand, and which inspired them. The Holy Spirit gave them the power to speak from their hearts. Our faith is also rooted there, so if we want to speak about it, we must speak from our hearts.

“We certainly don’t all have to be preachers in the market place. But the other extreme is that we never speak about God. It sometimes seems as if we have forgotten how to do that. As if we, just like the Apostles, are in our inner chambers and no longer have any words for our faith. In that case, we didn’t so much allowed Christ into our hearts, but locked Him in there. While He is the one who taught us how to cross our own boundaries, how to break through walls.

We just heard it in the Gospel [John 20: 29]. The disciples had locked the door to the place where they were. And suddenly Jesus was among them. He broke through that wall of fear and silence. The first thing He said was “Peace”. A shorter tweet is almost unimaginable. Five characters: “Peace”. That is His most important message, which we can also translate as “love” or “charity”. In fact, we don’t need more words if we want to speak about our faith.”

Pope to Italian bishops – committing our life to God remains our only task

A bishop snaps a photo with his tablet during the pope’s address

In an address to the Italian Bishops’ Conference, of which he, as bishop of Rome, is a member, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the Church’s mission of communicating the faith in a secular world, in which even Catholics know increasingly less about their own faith. An address that not only applies to the bishops of Italy, but all Catholics.

The Holy Father once again refers to this year’s major anniversaries – those of the opening of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago, and the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church 20 years ago – and reaches his main point via the words of Blessed John XXIII: “What interests the Council most is that the sacred deposit of the Christian doctrine be protected and taught more effectively.”

In order to achieve that, the pope, after painting the major problems in this respect, urges for a new openness to the Transcendent, something sorely lacking in modern society. A solution must start with the liturgy:

“[D]ivine worship orientates man to the future City and restores to God his primacy, molds the Church, incessantly convoked by the Word, and shows the world the fecundity of the encounter with God. In turn, while we must cultivate a grateful look for the growth of the good seed even in a terrain that is often arid, we perceive that our situation requires a renewed impulse, which will point to what is essential of the faith and of Christian life. At a time in which God has become for many the great unknown and Jesus simply a great personality of the past, there will be no new thrust of the missionary action without the renewal of the quality of our faith and our prayer; we will not be able to give adequate answers without a new reception of the gift of Grace; we will not know how to win men over to the Gospel if we ourselves do not first have a profound experience of God.”

The text, in its translation at the link above, is not always equally accessible, but it is worth a read. It is a  reminder to us, not only of what we are up against, but also of how we can start to turn the tide.

My translation is available here.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

VatiLeaks – standing together

“Events in recent days regarding the Curia and my collaborators have brought sadness to my heart, though the firm conviction, that despite human weakness, despite difficulties and trials, the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, and the Lord will never fail to give His aid in sustaining the Church on her journey. Nevertheless, some entirely gratuitous rumors have multiplied, amplified by some media, which went well beyond the facts, offering a picture of the Holy See that does not correspond to reality. I would like therefore to reiterate my confidence and my encouragement to my staff and to all those who, day in and day out, faithfully and with a spirit of sacrifice, quietly help me in fulfilling my ministry.”

Unscripted words from Pope Benedict XVI at today’s audience.

Everyone seems to know something about the background of what has become known as VatiLeaks – the whodunnit, the conspiracies and exactly which cardinal has it out against the pope – but I think that a loving unity with one another, and today especially with the Holy Father, will go a long way, certainly further than finger-pointing and accusations. That goes for us faithful in the pews just as much as for the prelates in their Vatican offices.

Photo credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP/GettyImages

Shoddy workmanship presented as truth

Headlines in the media today: almost half of all Dutch priests are in favour of abolishing celibacy! “Shoddy work” the spokesman of the Bishops’ Conference declares, and he is right.

Let’s look at the numbers. More than 700 priests received a questionnaire from television program Altijd Wat. 135 priests sent their answers to the questions back. That is some 19%. Of these 135, 39% (some 50) are in favour of maintaining the celibacy rule, and a further 21% (some 30) are neutral about it. The remaining 40% (54 priests) said they are in favour of abolishing mandatory celibacy.

The conclusion that a significant number of the priests in the Netherlands want to get rid of mandatory celibacy for priests is frankly silly. Out of more than 800 priests working in society, a mere 54 said they are for abolishing celibacy. That is less than 7%. Not even close to a majority.

This opinion poll is invalidated by the small number of replies. In order to get anything approaching a representative estimate, you need a higher response rate than 17%.

On the other hand, this opinion poll is also no evidence that the Dutch priesthood is mostly in favour of celibacy. It proves neither one or the other. But it does trigger headlines, pretending they offer anything similar to the truth, when they quite frankly don’t.

Celebrating the cathedral

“Instead of a vaccine that numbs, we must be a medicine that heals.”

Words from Archbishop André Dupuy, Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands, at the Mass he concelebrated at our cathedral on Pentecost Sunday. The nuncio made the closing remarks in rather decent Dutch, considering that he has only been here since December. I imagine it’s  due to his being part of the Holy See’s  diplomatic mission here before.

The Mass itself was the main closing event of the week which marked the 125th anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral church of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. As such, the nuncio, concelebrated not only with our current bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte, who also gave the homily, but also with cathedral administrator, Father Rolf Wagenaar and Father Marius Kuipers, who works in the parish as emeritus priest.

In his homoiy, Bishop de Korte looked back on the events of the week, ads ahead to the future. He outlined some of his wishes for the church to be a learning and teaching community, where the faith is lived and communicated, not only in the liturgy (for which he explicitly noted Fr. Wagenaar’s contributions over the past thirteen years), but also in our service to the world beyond the cathedral walls.

After the Mass, the bishop and the cathedral administrator returned to the sanctuary to receive the first copies of the memorial book about the cathedral. Titled Van Volkskerk tot Kathedraal, de St.-Jozefkerk in Groningen (From people’s church to cathedral, the St. Joseph’s church in Groningen), the book looks chiefly at the building and everything in it. As Fr. Wagenaar writes in his foreword:

“Several studies have already appeared about this church, but never a true monograph, and this church does deserve one, because she provides such a  complete program of what a Catholic church wants to be. A church is a meeting place […] but a Catholic church means so much more. “Awe-inspiring is this place, abode of God, the gate of heaven,” the introit of the Holy Mass of dedication of a church says, taken from the book of Genesis 28:17.”

The book, the end product of two years of work by a team of historians, looks in detail at several aspects of the Gothic Revival church: history, construction, architecture, furnishings, symbolism, vestments and liturgical vessels, organs, clocks and the liturgical disposition. For me as a parishioner it offers a new look at things I’ve often looked at – providing a sense of history and context beyond the building and into the larger community of faithful that is the Church.

The cathedral has known its ups and downs, as the book makes clear. From the threat of closure and demolition in the early 80s, it is now the home of a faith community with members of all ages, with an adequate liturgy and catechesis, and a large team of volunteers. With the bishop, I sincerely hope that the future is one of growth and development and these and other aspects.


Spirit of Life, which in the beginning hovered over the abyss,
Help humanity of our time to understand
That the exclusion of God leads to being lost in the desert of the world.
And that only where faith enters, do dignity and liberty flourish
And the whole society is built on justice.

Spirit of Pentecost, which makes of the Church one Body,
Restore in the baptized an authentic experience of communion;
Render yourself a living sign of the presence of the Risen One in the world,
Community of saints that lives in the service of charity.

Holy Spirit, which trains to the mission,
Make us recognize that, also in our time,
So many persons are in search of the truth about their existence and the world.
Make us collaborators of their joy with the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
Grain of the wheat of God, which renders good the terrain of life and assures the abundance of the harvest.


[Pope Benedict’s prayer that he recently shared with the Italian bishops]

A new altar for Saint Joseph

Yesterday evening I attended an ordination. Although it wasn’t a person being ordained, and it wasn’t actually called an ordination, the Mass had the basic structure of a priestly ordination. The bishop did the honours, we prayed the Litany of All Saints, there was anointing and a first Mass. What ‘got ‘ordained’ then? A new people’s altar.

Together with a new ambo, it was a gift from the parish council to the parish on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the consecration of our cathedral, St. Joseph’s. The new altar replaces a fairly simple but heavy wooden table. This one is smaller and therefore makes the entire sanctuary appear bigger. With its flat stone surface and legs crafted into the symbols of the four evangelists, it matches the rest of the sanctuary well. The only distractions are the two candle holders. Blue appears nowhere else in the sanctuary, and although the candles are nice and big, there should be six of them. A minor complaint about an otherwise nice altar.

The smaller size of the new altar means that the number of concelebrants is practically limited. In yesterday’s Mass, the bishop concelebrated with his vicar general and the cathedral administrator, and other members of the cathedral chapter were attending in choir. It certainly makes the sanctuary look less crowded.

Why such an elaborate ceremony for what is, essentially, a piece of furniture, though? It shouldn’t be a surprise that in a Church, nothing is just a piece of furniture, especially when it’s in the sanctuary. That altar, in fact, is one of the most important elements in a church, perhaps second only to the tabernacle. It is where Christ becomes present for us, where His sacrifice and resurrection are made present again for us, from where we receive Him in communion. Everything we do, have and know in our faith comes from there. That is why a new altar needs to be changed from just a piece of furniture into a sacramental. It needs to be prepare for its holy service.

That is why it is anointed., which may be seen in the photo below: Bishop de Korte is anointing the surface of the altar. That is why we pray for the intercession of all the saints, just as we do when a man is ordained to the priesthood. Our prayers will aid in receiving and benefitting from what we receive from the altar. In the surface of the altar, relics are embedded, as an altar exists in connection with the graves of the martyrs and, eventually, with the altars that Abel, Noah, Abraham and other Old Testament Fathers erected. The consecration of an altar is also a public act, since the use of the altar is public: it will allow the community of faithful to receive the Eucharist, and thus be united in faith.

The altar is no longer just a piece of furniture. It is a tool towards our salvation.

Ordination Days coming up

Deacon Jim Schilder

In the weeks around Pentecost there will once again be ordinations of new priests and one deacon in several dioceses in the Netherlands. This year’s tally stands at 10 for three dioceses and two religious congregations. All but one will be ordained in 2 June. The exception is Bart Beckers (47), who will be ordained for the Society of Jesus by Bishop Jan van Burgsteden, emeritus auxiliary, in the church of St. Francis Xavier in Amsterdam, the first time that church sees a priestly ordination.

In that same Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, on 2 June, Bishop Jos Punt will ordain Deacons Peter Piets (44) and Jim Schilder (55), who will be diocesan priests, and Theo van Adrichem (57), who will be a transitional deacon for the Franciscans.

In the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans will ordain Deacons Patrick Kuis (27) and Geoffrey de Jong (31).

In the Diocese of Roermond, Bishop Frans Wiertz will ordain Deacons Rick Blom (30), George Dölle (52), Jan Geilen (54) and Patrick Zuidinga (40).

All ordinations, except that of Bart Beckers, will take place in the cathedrals of the respective dioceses. God willing, I’ll be at the ordinations in ‘s Hertogenbosch. Expect some photos here afterwards.

Photo credit: IKON

Cardinal confusion – Woelki comes around?

Did Berlin’s Cardinal Woelki endorse same-sex relationships in a recent speech? Judging from some blogs’ jubilant reporting it would seem so. Translated, the cardinal seems to have said this:

“When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, then you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationship.”

Little else to infer from that than that he indeed endorse gay relationships, or at least called them equal to heterosexual relationships. It’s a major turnaround for the archbishop who, upon his appointment to the German capital, was considered far too orthodox for the tastes of Berlin’s citizenry. But quotes without context are almost always worthless, especially when they seem to be so out of character for the speaker.

Rod Dreher, at The American Conservative, is one of the few to provide that context, in the form of a statement from Cardinal Woelki’s press secretary. He explained that the cardinal was arguing against the discrimination of homosexuals:

“Cardinal Woelki set long-term homosexual relationships in which two people have already made a life-long commitment to one another in relation to [certain] heterosexual relationships which indeed are not in any case “in [proper] Catholic order” (the unmarried, those lacking commitment, etc.). A comparison with sacramental marriage between man and wife was absolutely not the theme. […] Sacramental marriage between man and woman retains its special role. I see no cause for confusion.”

The only cause for confusion comes in the way the cardinal’s words were reported by certain media. Here lies a task for all Catholics, clergy or laity, to be as clear and unequivocal as possible, exactly to avoid such confusion. On the other hand, even crystal clear explanations won’t stop certain writers from drawing the exactly opposite conclusion from what the speaker intended to say.

Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images