Tomorrow he city where I live, Groningen, marks the end of the siege of 1672, when the bishop of Münster had to give up his attempts to defeat the protestant inhabitants of the city and so reconquer those parts of his diocese that he had lost in the Dutch revolt against the Habsburgs. On his side, if not in the form of pratical support, he knew France and England, as well as the bishop of Cologne, who also had territorial interests around Groningen.
Many people are no longer aware of what it exactly is that is being celebrated, or even that the colloquial name of the day, Bommen Berend (Berend of the Bombs) (pictured), refers to the city’s enemy, Bishop Christoph Bernhard von Galen. That bishop was not only the spiritual head of the Diocese of Münster, but also the worldly ruler of the Prince-Bishopric of Münster (not the same thing), which until shortly before 1672 had included the eastern parts of the province of Groningen. He wanted those parts back and saw the presence of Protestant rebels in the sole major city in that area of the Dutch republic as a threat. The siege of the city was the final act of a successful campaign across Drenthe to the south and the eastern parts of the province of Groningen. But this success would prove to be temporary as Bishop Bernhard could not take Groningen.
There is still some evidence of the siege and subsequent victory visible in the city. City commander Carl von Rabenhaupt has a modest statue on the main square, and the best-known café in the city is named after the cannon that, legend has it, was so accurate that it shot a plate of cabbage and bacon away from Bishop von Galen, as he sat down for dinner at a convent south of the city. Said convent is long gone (I was at its location a few days ago), the city has long since expanded to where the bishop’s troops had their trenches (as I am typing this, I may be sitting not too far from them), but the celebration of the victory over the foreign prince-bishop has continued.
Today, the Relief of Groningen is a cultural and secular day, but it marks an event with deeply rooted religious undertones, even if that was often overshadowed by secular concerns of power. Thje inevitable consequence of having men be both bishops and princes.
Father Benedict, as he would have preferred to have been called instead of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, celebrates his 88th birthday today. It’s going to be a private affair, as usual, with his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, visiting.
The retired Pope is doing well, according to his private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, in recent interviews: his mind as sharp as ever, although his legs have begun to give him trouble. Indoors he walks with a cane, outdoors with a walker. But at the age of 88, mortality is a topic that Father Benedict does not avoid. He has spoken about his own death several times with Msgr. Gänswein.
For now, however, we wish Benedict a happy birthday and all the blessings of the Lord for the future. May he live long in comfort, surrounded by those he loves, and aware of our gratitude for his prayer for us.
“The centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus… said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’. Many women were also there … Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:54-56)
Lord Jesus, it is so often easy to despair and give up. When they took Your lifeless body from the Cross, many of Your followers also despaired. May our example be the centurion, who recognised the glimmer of hope and faith amid death and desolation.
“Then they handed him over to them to be crucified … Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’” (John 19:16,19)
They are driving nails into my hands and feet. My arms are outstretched. The nails excruciatingly pierce my flesh. I am immobilized in body, but free in heart, with the same freedom with which I went forth to my passion. Free, for I am full of love, a love which embraces all.
I look at the men who are crucifying me. I think of those who have ordered them to do this: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. Beside me are two other men condemned to crucifixion. One of them asks me to remember him when I come into my kingdom. Yes, I tell him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.
Lord Jesus, after Your garments were taken away, they drove nails through your hands and feet. You know both physical and mental pain. Stand with us when we are struck, tortured or killed. We also pray for all those who are killed becuase they are a burden, especially the unborn and the elderly.
“They divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18)
I stand in silence. I feel humiliated by so apparently banal an act. I was already stripped hours ago. I think of my Mother, who is here. My humiliation is also hers. Once more her heart is pierced. To her I owe the robe which was torn from me, which is a sign of her love for me.
Lord Jesus, with your garments they took away your dignity, but you underwent it with an innate silent dignity. May we follow your example when we are vilified and mocked, and know that our human dignity comes from God and can not be taken away by men.
“I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and am going to the Father” (John 16:28)
My earthly journey is now at an end. When I was born, my Mother laid me in a manger. I lived almost my whole life in Nazareth. I immersed myself in the history of the Chosen People.
On my journey as the One sent by the Father, I preached the breadth of his love, which overlooks no one; the length of his love, which is faithful in every generation; the height of his love, a hope which triumphs over death itself; and the depth of his love, which sent me to call not the righteous, but sinners.
Many heard and followed me, becoming my disciples; others did not understand. Some even fought me and ultimately condemned me. But at his moment I am called, more than ever, to reveal God’s love for all mankind.
Lord Jesus, your third fall prefigures the falls we all take, and also Your ultimate fall. May we always recognise that from our fall we can rise again, as You rose on the third day.