The retiring Cardinal

meisnerTurning 80 on Christmas Day of this year, Joachim Cardinal Meisner is among the oldest diocesan ordinaries. Bishops are required to tender their resignation upon their 75th birthday, although the Pope is free to allow or disregard it as and when he sees fit. Cardinal Meisner, the Archbishop of Cologne, has six other active ordinaries above him in age, as well as three Curial prelates, one auxiliary bishop and the prelate of Opus Dei. And four of these are clerics of non-Latin Catholic Churches, who may not always have the same rules regarding age and retirement.

When Pope Francis will allow Cardinal Meisner is as yet unknown, but the cardinal has his post-retirement plans ready nonetheless, as he reveals in Polish church magazine Gosc Niedzielny. He intends to be regularly available to hear confessions in Cologne’s Dom Cathedral, to visit sick priests and to be of help “where there is need”. He will be the first archbishop of Cologne to enjoy his retirement since Archbishop Paul Melchers, who left the see in 1885.

In the same interview, Cardinal Meisner also comes to the defense of his fellow countryman, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI. “I am almost ashamed as a German, as a Catholic Christian, to see how little this great Pope’s proclamation has been accepted and valued here,” he says. “The Church in Germany does not know what ‘treasure in the field’ they had in this Pope.” And the reason for this, so Cardinal Meisner says, may be a “kind of condescension and arrogance”, and perhaps also the existence of an anti-Catholic attitude in the homeland of the Reformation. Germany, with its society that is often just as anti-Christian as the Marxist regime that once ruled in the eastern part of the country, with the sole exception being the lack of a socialist ideology, is once again mission territory, he claims.

A harsh farewell, perhaps, but not without its grains of truth. Let’s just hope the cardinal, who can look back on 38 years of service as a bishop, and more than 50 as a priest, does not retire with such negative feelings.

Photo credit: Harald Tittel dpa

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30 Years as a priest – Bishop de Jong

Happy anniversary to Bishop Everardus Johannes de Jong, who today marks the 30th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

Bishop de Jong

Bishop de Jong is Titular Bishop of Cariana and Auxiliary Bishop of Roermond. On 28 may 1983 he was ordained by Bishop Joannes Gijsen, at the time the Bishop of Roermond.

Bound for Heaven or for Hell?

pope francis massPope Francis’ recent homily about salvation, and even more so Father Thomas Rosica’s comments about it, has led to much speculation, confusion and even anger about one of the most essential questions in the faith: the question of who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. Maybe it’s good to shine a small light on this difficult theological topic.

First of all, let’s  start with the words that Pope Francis spoke in his homily of 22 May:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!”

The Church has always upheld the universality of redemption in contrast to some Protestant communities, who have limited it to a certain group of predestined faithful. A glance on the Catholic Encyclopedia page about this topic points our attention to some Scripture passages which bear this out. I’ll quote a few, but do read the link above especially the subsection titled ‘Universality of Redemption’, to get an idea of traditional Catholic teaching about this subject.

1 John 2:2: “He is the sacrifice to expiate our sins, and not only ours, but also those of the whole world.”

1 Timothy 2:4: “he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.”

1 Timothy 4:10: “he is the Saviour of the whole human race but particularly of all believers.”

2 Corinthians 5:19: “I mean, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

Christ crucifiedChrist’s sacrifice on the Cross, by which He brought about redemption for humanity, was not in any way limited. It’s target audience, so to speak, included every human being in past, present and future. But in order to properly understand this, we must try and understand how redemption works.

Perhaps it can be best likened, for the purpose of this blog post, to some form of medication, a pill perhaps, which works for everyone. It can relieve everyone of the pain of some illness. But it doesn’t do so automatically: we must take the pill for it to work. It is no different in the case of redemption. In order for it to work in us, we must make the conscious decision to accept it. That is once again perfectly in accordance with the free will that God has created us with and which He always respects.

So, yes, Pope Francis is correct and in full agreement with Catholic teaching when he says that Christ also redeemed atheists. However, as is sort of their job description, they haven’t accepted it yet. They haven’t yet taken their medication, so it can’t do its work. But unlike a pill, redemption has no sell-by date. It doesn’t go bad if left on the shelf for too long.

rosicaFather Thomas Rosica, who is not the press chief of the Vatican as some media would have it, offers some answers to questions about the Pope’s homily. He does not relegate all atheists to Hell (nor to Heaven, for that matter), but presents some much-needed nuance to the discussion, based on several passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Most important is that Christ is the final Judge: He will decide on the fate of everyone, based on how they have lived (and in that matter there can be no opposition between faith and works, as both are integral parts of a person’s life).

Also important in the discussion above is Paragraph 171 of the Catechism, which asks “What is the meaning of the affirmation “Outside the Church there is no salvation”?”

This means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her. At the same time, thanks to Christ and to his Church, those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.

In short, if a person knows that the Church that Christ founded is necessary for salvation, and nonetheless refuses to be part of her, he or she can not be saved. So, is this true for atheists, then? I would say that it isn’t for the vast majority of them. Many people are atheist or agnostic out of ignorance, and generally not wilfully so. They do not know the Church as necessary for salvation, so it can’t be held against them if they refuse to be part of her.

In his homily of last Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke much about “good works”. This lines up well with the above quote from the Catechism: “those who … sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”

There is much more that may be said about this, but the post is getting overly long anyway, so I’ll leave it at this. But I will add an addendum:

Fr. Rosica’s explanations (and those of others) do not contradict what Pope Francis has said, and nor do they indicate some division in the Vatican between the Pope and the Curia. That many media do choose to present it as such, should serve as a warning to us to always remain vigilant when reading or hearing someone’s interpretation of Church affairs and teaching.

A letter from the archbishop

About a month ago I sent a short letter to Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard to express my support and gratitude for his conduct in the incident with the Femen protestors I wrote about here. Expressing such sentiments is even more important than being critical or remaining silent, I think, although these too have their function.

Today I received a letter back from the archbishop. He writes:

léonard“Dear friends,

I am very thankful that you have taken the effort to send me some words of support and solidarity after the protest action of the Femen group. Your words have been very comforting for me.

It would be a great help to me if you would be willing to support, through your spiritual engagement, the Maranatha movement which I launched at the star of 2013. Maranatha is a great movement of prayer for the conversion of the human heart and the healing of humanity.

More information about this movement and suggestions for prayer (novena, Rosary, Stations of the Cross, etc.) may be found on the website www.maranatha-conversion.com.

I once more thank you for your support and wholeheartedly bless you.

Msgr. André-Joseph Léonard,
Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels”

A good suggestion, the conversion of the human heart and the healing of humanity. Let’s respond positively to the archbishop request, so that events like the one that led to this exchange of letters may become increasingly rare.

Three times three new priests

new priests roermondIn this first week after Pentecost, three dioceses in the Netherlands are gearing up to ordain three priests each on Saturday. While it is no set rule, it is customary for new priests to be ordained around this time. Later on in the year, the expectation is that there will be at least one more ordination coming up in the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, for example.

Tomorrow, however it will the Dioceses of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Haarlem-Amsterdam and Roermond’s turn. Diocese by diocese, here are the new priests:

Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, to be ordained by Bishop Antoon Hurkmans in the Cathedral Basilica of St. John:

  • Harm Eskes
  • Peter Koen
  • Bart Theunissen

Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, to be ordained by Bishop Jan Hendriks, the auxiliary, since Bishop Jos Punt has decided to temporarily lessen his workload in preparation for surgery:

  • Fred Deen
  • Jeroen de Wit
  • José Marin de Val

Diocese of Roermond, to be ordained by Bishop Frans Wiertz in St. Christopher’s cathedral (and depicted above on the cover of the diocesan magazine):

  • Roderick van Attekum
  • Carlos Martinez
  • Ralf Schreiber

With three of the new priest hailing from outside the Dutch borders (Marin del Val and Martinez are Colombian, and Schreiber German), this year’s class has a fairly strong international element. And that is a trend which will become steadily more standard in the future, particularly since the Diocese of Roermond has just announced that no less than six Indian seminarians will be trained to become priests in that diocese. Starting their time in the Netherlands with an intensive fulltime course to learn the Dutch language, it will be interesting to see if and how these priests succeed in adapting to Dutch society, mentality and culture.

For now, however, prayers for the new priests of this year and all the years to come. May their numbers ever increase, for we do indeed need them.

And finally, to close with the reminder that Pope Francis imparted to the priests he ordained on 21 April:

“[D]ear sons, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, while united with the Bishop and subject to him, strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.”

The exorcising Pope

The big question in certain Italian media circles yesterday, a question that also made some headlines as far as the Netherlands, was: did Pope Francis perform an exorcism on Sunday?

r-POPE-FRANCIS-EXORCISM-large570Footage shows the Holy Father conversing with a young man in a wheelchair and the priest accompanying him, before placing his hands on the boy’s head and praying for a short while. While the footage is blurred to protect the boy’s identity, we can see him reacting, his mouth open, as the pope prays. It’s a short encounter, but one in which certain people have read much. They point out that the Pope, upon hearing the aforementioned priest seemingly describing what ails the boy, looks suddenly very concerned and immediately places his hands on the boy’s head. The look, the intensity of the prayer and the boy’s reaction, they say, indicate that an exorcism was performed.

But there are some serious questions to be asked about this reading of events. In the first place, Vatican sources have denied that what occurred was anything but prayer and blessing – in itself powerful and moving enough. Furthermore, as Father Anton ten Klooster has pointed out, an exorcism will most likely never take place on such short notice, in such a public location and by a priest (in this case, the Pope), who is unprepared to do it.

An example of wishful thinking fueled by enthusiasm, it would seem. But it does point towards something interesting: exorcisms are a reality. They do take place, although probably not in the same way certain movies would have us believe. Pope Francis has referred several times to the devil, in very clear terms. It is an uncomfortable thing to believe, but as Catholics we are asked to do so. The devil is a reality, and so are possessions.

So, can the Pope exorcise demons? With the right preparation, certainly. Did he so in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday? Definitely not.

The bishop and the professors – presenting reality

Last month I wrote about a curious manifesto from the hands of a group of professors who criticised the general trend of parish mergers in the Dutch dioceses. I wrote then,

“[t]hey warn that mergers, which are ongoing or planned in virtually all dioceses, will destroy the “flourishing, sparkling and adult faith communities, in which lay faithful contribute in modern ways, adapted to local circumstances to faith life and liturgy, in open communication with local authorities” that have sprung up in the second half of the previous century.”

Although the manifesto failed to engender much attention in our outside the Church, apart from certain modernist circles (keen as they are to agree with anything that criticises one or more bishops and their actions), Bishop Gerard de Korte of Groningen-Leeuwarden did offer a response today, both in the Nederlands Dagblad and on the diocesan website.

It goes without saying that the bishop is unable to agree with the manifesto’s claims. He especially disagrees with the claim that the parish mergers and general scale expansion is some authoritarian policy, enforced from above. He writes,

bisschop de korte“Our country has seven independent dioceses and each bishop has their own approach. Without wanting to write an apololgy, I want to indicate briefly how I have started the process of mergers in the Northern diocese. Following my installation as bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden in September of 2008, I conducted a tour of meetings with the pastoral teams and parish councils of my diocese. It soon became clear to me that the more than 80 parishes were not future-proof. Cooperation and mergers are called for to keep as many faith communities as possible afloat. The existing parishes are incorporated in 19 new parishes, which largely coincide with existing parish cooperations and partnerships. This plan, by the way, was not enforced from the top downm but was first allowed to develop for a year. I and my staff have explained the plan as clearly as possible in 19 information meetings, and allowed teams and councils to respond. Their remarks were included in a definitive plan which has to be completed in 2018. Adminstrative upscaling can, by the way, coincide very well with pastoral downscaling. In any case, I didn’t want to authoritatively enforce anything, but I have always wanted to work to create as large a support base as possible.”

This to illustrate the reality of the process, which is quite distinct from perceptions that may exist in several quarters. But to reunite reality and perceptions, Bishop de Korte pleads for an intensive dialogue. “Communication and perseverance”, he writes, are especially required now.

Mergers and upscaling are not a goal in themselves:

“Without wanting to sound panicky, we can say that the advancement of the Gospel is at stake.  […] The purpose of the new diocesan organisation and parish structure is the (renewed)  introduction of Jesus Christ and His Gospel in our part of the world. There is not time to lose for this task, and it requires every faithful. Especially now, every faithful is called because of their baptism. The faith if the baptism must be lived. That way we can evangelise, with actions and words.”