A priesthood choice

Had my plans worked out, I would have left for a few days’ retreat today. Sadly, things didn’t work out, but I have no doubt the future will hold ample opportunity to go.

I would have travelled south to the Franciscans in the town of Megen. The retreat would have been a simple one, aimed at exploring vocations. At the moment, I am quite ready for any kind of retreat, but this one specifically appealed to me, because of a question that any (future) seminarian or priest may ask himself: will I be a secular or religious priest?

The term ‘secular priest’ may seem like a paradox, but it simply indicates a priest who lives ‘in the world’, ie. works in a parish among the people. ‘Religious priests’ have made vows, are monks or friars, and usually live in communities. Of course, it’s not always as clear-cut as this. Religious priests may also work in parishes, and secular priests may live in communities. But essentially the difference is in the religious vows.

Either option is, I believe, one that requires a conscious choice. The secular priesthood may be the default form, at least in the Netherlands, but it need not be.

Discerning any vocation includes an analysis of who you are and what makes you tick, and what your relation to God is. If done well – there’s no guarantee – you will get a clearer idea of what your vocation is; is it to the pastoral care of parishioners and administring the sacraments, to increase people’s faith in size and depth? Or is it a contemplative life of prayer and study, or manual labour and education, or any combination of these and more, underpinned by the sacraments received and passed on?

A visit to a community of religious priests (although not all the brothers at Megen are priests) is, in my opinion, an essential addition to this discernment. Thinking and praying is all well and good, but a hands-on experience of the subject, however fleeting, would certainly do no harm.

I don’t know what I’ll be, say, ten years from now. I hope and pray that I may one day be ordained, and that’s as far as I’m willing to go right now. The rest will reveal itself in due course.

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Politics and faith, courtesy of the bishops of Costa Rica

I’m not much up to date with current politics, mainly because, at best, it doesn’t really interest me and at worse the greed and stupidity depress me. That’s why I found out by chance that in March we’ll be having municipal elections. Since I do think it’s important to vote (even if it’s only to have the right to complain), I’ll have to take a good look at the myriad political parties and figure out who I can vote for.

In Costa Rica, there having presidential elections next month. The local bishops have released a statement to all Catholics in the country and told them to not leave their faith at the door of the poll booth. Elections are elections and Catholics are Catholics, so regardless of the origin, this statement also contains some good advice for Dutch voters. Some excerpts from the text, the original of which may be found here, in Spanish. Emphases mine.

“Before [the elections] the bishops want to recall the moral obligation to participate in the election.”

“In our Pastoral Exhortation Roads toward an authentic democracy, we affirmed that politics are a noble activity when it is geared towards the paths of justice, respect for human life, marriage, the family, religious freedom and the search for the common good.

“As Pope Benedict XVI says: “The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics” [Deus caritas est, 28].”

“We remind people who confess to the faith in Christ, especially the Catholic Christians, that our identity of disciples is not marginal and diluted in the exercise of our citizenship, and that the Christian faith has unavoidable implications in the field of political morality and public life.

“We ask all people of good will to analyze ahead of time and to attentively discern, guided by reason and ethics, the proposals set forth by candidates, in order to cast a vote that is responsible and reasoned.”

“We ask God for the gift of divine wisdom for our future rulers, with the words of the king Solomon:  “So give your servant a heart to understand how to govern your people, how to discern between good and evil” [1 Kings 3,9].

“At this time in our history, we invite the entire People of God to invoke the help of the Lord and the maternal protection of Our Lady of the Angels, so that we may once again feel her intercessory presence and she may guide us to strengthen our democracy in peace, justice and freedom.”

Cardinals, a game of numbers

A flock of cardinals

I’ve been reading up a bit on the possibility for a consistory sometime this year. A consistory is a meeting of the College of Cardinals and the pope where new members are elevated to the cardinalate. The reason that one may be called this year is the relatively large number of cardinals to reach the age of 80 this and next year. Once they reach that age they can no longer participate in a conclave to elect a new pope. In 2010, 11 cardinals will turn 80 (one of them, Cardinal Ambrozic of Toronto, today actually), followed by 9 more in 2011 (among them the only Dutch cardinal, Cardinal Simonis).

This’ll bring down the number of electors to 92 at the end of 2011, unless a consistory is called before that. And that seems very likely, not least because it is more than two years since the last one. The identity of the new cardinals is anyone’s guess, but perhaps an indication may be found by taking a look at where the future octogenarians are from.

Hardest hit will be New Zealand, Lebanon, Cameroon, Latvia and the Netherlands, who will lose all their electors. Who will take their place?

  • In New Zealand, the see of Wellington has usually been occupied by a cardinal, so Archbishop John Atcherley Dew could be up for elevation there.
  • In Cameroon, any of the five archbishops seems likely. The country has a short history when it comes to cardinals, but looking at the diocesan connections of current Cardinal Tumi and the time in office of the other archbishops, we may see either Simon-Victor Tonyé-Bakot of Yaoundé or Antoine Ntalou of Garoua.
  • For the Netherlands there is really only one likely candidate, and that is Archbishop Wim Eijk of Utrecht. Recent archbishops of Utrecht have all eventually been elevated to the cardinalate, but the relatively short time in office of Archbishop Eijk may be reason to wait for a future consistory.
  • As for Latvia and Lebanon, any guess is as good as the next. Latvian Cardinal Janis Pujats is still active as archbishop of Riga and has no clear successor yet, and in Lebanon the mix of various brands of Catholicism with their respective patriarchs and bishops offers a number of options.

In Asia, the Philippines and South Korea will lose half their electors.

  • With 16 archbishops, there are numerous options in the Philippines. Cebu Archbishop Vidal will turn 80 but is still active, and he has two auxiliaries, one of whom may succeed him.
  • The same goes for South Korean Cardinal Cheong Jin-Suk, who is still working as archbishop of Seoul. The country only has three archbishops, so the choices are more limited. Daegu is currently vacant, so maybe Archbishop Andreas Choi Chang-mou of Kwangju will be elevated.

Canada, France and Spain will each lose one-third of their electors, and Italy and the United States a little more than one-fifth. Any guess is as good as any with this approach, due to the sheer size and Catholic population of the countries.

Why is it important to keep the number of cardinals somewhat steady? Well, perhaps to maintain a relative decent representation of the world Church. That is the reason why, over the course of the past centuries, the maximum size of the College has been increased to 120 now (which is a relatively loose limit anyway). Small Church provinces, like the Netherlands, may be represented by a single cardinal, larger countries by more. The title of cardinal – it’s not an ordination or consecration –  is also given as a sign of office: high members of the curia in Rome may be elevated, or bishops of important dioceses. In fact, the title of cardinal is not limited to bishops, although in practice it usually is. When a priest is elevated to the cardinalate, he is usually also consecrated to bishop.

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Why we need priests

A few weeks ago, during the founding of one of the first of the new parishes in the diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Bishop Antoon Hurkmans spoke about the place of the parish priests.

“We could ask ourselves why the priests have such a singular place in the parish. Why can’t their duties be done by deacons, pastoral workers or lay people? There are so many professionals among us who can manage and lead. There are people who have also studied theology. Why are so many tasks the prerogative of the priest? Why must there be a parish priest?

The Church is not a human club with democratic rules. In dividing the tasks within the Church it is not primarily about knowledge or ability … As head of the Church, Christ lets Himself be represented by the priest within the Church. In leading the parish, the priest is working in Christ’s name. It is even clearer that the priest acts in Christ’s name in the celebration of the sacraments.

The Church being structured in such a way, giving a  very singular place to the priest in his parish, is not aimed at diminishing the faithful.”

Source

Although the bishop does not mention it specifically, the difference between priests on the one hand and laity on the other comes from the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It does not make the recipient superhuman or somehow more capable, but it is an outward sign of an inner change: this man can now act in persona Christi as he performs his duties. This happens by mutual agreement of both the priest and Christ. Christ’s agreement is made manifest by the acceptance of the candidate priest by the bishop and confirmed by the physical laying on of hands during the ordination.

Since Christ, although not present in the same way as He was for the apostles, continues to be the head of the Church, actually giving authority and capability to that Church, He must be made visible during the very core of the Church’s life: the Eucharist. At first glance we may just see a man, but through his ordination and the life he leads, we can see a glimpse of the Person who actually offers the sacrifice on the altar: Christ.

In part it is our human nature, our need to have visual and sensory confirmation of facts, that dictates the role of the priest in the parish. He is just a man, but he represents Christ, very tangibly so in the Sacraments, when he literally is a vessel, a means for God to communicate His grace.

Bishop Hurkmans ended with a warning: “Keep them from activism. Know that the celebration of the Sunday with the Eucharist is the most important meeting of the parish.”

We have to be there for God’s children

Archbishop Wim Eijk writes a short article in defense of his policies and actions:

I had to act to make sure the archdiocese would not go bankrupt. That creates room to work on our assignment.

There has been a lot of discussion these past weeks about the archbishop’s removal of a volunteer who publically misbehaved. Both orthodox and more liberal faithful have the obligation to behave normally. The impression was almost created that I did not value volunteers. I certainly do!

Bickering
The archdiocese would not work without numerous volunteers. I greatly value their input. Amidst all the bickering, the main goal of the archdiocese has almost been lost: how are we doing? For an answer we need to go back to the Founder of the Church: “You are the salt of the earth.” With these words Christ gave his disciples a definitive and and at the same time temporal assignment: Christians must ‘spice up’ society, they must give it taste. In our time and culture, though, the Catholic taste is rare.

The reason for this is twofold.
1. On the one hand the process of people leaving the Church plays a part. In the middle of the 20th century we were the greatest ‘job agency’ of missionaries in the world, now we have a shortage of priests, extinct religious orders and congregations and tons of people for whom the Good News means nothing. That has made the faithful more modest..
2. On the other hand, society considers religion with distrust. In that context it is hard to add taste – mockery and disapproval are always present. I sometimes get the feeling that the more fanatical atheists would like to add warning stickers to Bibles: “May seriously damage the spiritual health”. Or: “Faith is addictive, don’t start.” Pointless claims, but indicative of our times, when faithful are regularly considered ‘retarded’.

Kerkbalans
That is why churches look for other ways to show their relevance. At the start of the Kerkbalans Actions, the annual fund drive of several church communities, the voluntary contribution of church members was published. With their social and cultural activities volunteers in Roman Catholic parishes and protestant communities contribute some 400 million euros to society annually.

An impressive amount, but the greatest contribution of the faith is the personal connection to Jesus Christ. How to communicate that in a time in which faith is no longer apparent? How to involve people at the periphery? How to make an offer they can’t refuse to people outside the church?

These are urgent question: currently 16 percent of the Dutch population considers themselves Roman Catholic. In 2020 it is expected to have dropped to 10 percent – the number of new Catholics is a little bit higher.

Broad people’s church
That requires organisational adaptations. Too long, the archdiocese of Utrecht had a structure that was based on the broad people’s church of the past. A result was an annual deficit of 1.7 million euros on a budget of 5 million.

At the time of my appointment in 2008 it became clear that we were racing towards bankruptcy. That called for immediate intervention. That reorganisation has given me the image of a bishop who only thinks about money. I did indeed have to make a number of very difficult decisions, most recently the closing of the seminary in Utrecht.

Our former accountant referred, recently in Trouw, to the eating of millions into our own capital as a form of ‘investing in the future’. But, looking back, it was more like a game of poker with the spirit of the times, that the latter has one: that investment has not decreased the number of people leaving the Church and the archdiocese has almost run out of chips.

But I didn’t jut bring the diocesan structure ‘up to date’. I also continuously envisioned a pastoral cause: giving the Church at the local level the power to grow. If the Church wants to appeal to modern people, she should be present in daily (parish) life. We need vital faith communities for our future and let’s be honest: some parishes were far from vital.

Local
That is why we implemented major changes on the parish level, changes that had already begun under my predecessor. Until recently the archdiocese consisted of 316 parishes, soon that will be only 50. The former parishes will continue to exist as faith communities, but under an overall parish council. Without the effort of many parishioners this operation would have been impossible, and I am very grateful to them for that.

This scale increase allows local faith communities to join forces and be truly missionary together. A missionary faith community isn’t only geared towards churchgoers, but also and especially on peripheral churchgoers and people who don’t know Christ and His Gospel.

I cherish the image of God the Father who is always home and awaits His children. These days sadly often in vain – His children no longer call. Many deny His fatherhood and don’t take the effort to do a ‘spiritual DNA test’- life without God is fine for them. The gnawing feeling that ‘there is more between heaven and earth’ is smothered beneath daily cares or the search for quick but fleeting earthly happiness. While the Roman Catholic has the characteristics of an inner speed regulator: taking time for prayer, the service to God and fellow man, moderation.

Hopeful
We are facing an enormous task, but I see signs of hope. I have been a bishop now for more than ten years and in conversations with catechumens I notice that they have an increasing understanding of the faith. As a Church we must stand for our identity. That is not a 1950s mentality, but life from the Source of all times. (Arch)bishops, priests, deacons and pastoral workers are actually ‘relationship counsellors’ who bring people into contact with Jesus and His Message. In that, they are supported by many volunteers. Ina truly missionary Church we all have that role. Because it’s not about us, but about Him.

Source

The bishop of Rome in East and West

Pope Benedict XVI and Ecumenical Patriarch Batholomew. Photo by Josh Trevino

In 2007, the mixed commission of Catholic and Orthodox theologians working towards greater ecumenism between both Churches, unanimously agreed upon a document about ‘authority and conciliarity’, the structure of the Church in East and West and their interdependency. In 2008, this Ravenna document, named after the city in which the commission met, was the basis of further discussions, which developed to focus specifically on the role of the bishop of Rome in the time when both Churches were still in communion; the first millennium. The basis of discussion was drafted into a text, whch has now been published for the first time. It is available here. It reads as a considered history lesson on the popes of the first 1,000 years of the Church and the question of primacy of Rome and Constantinopel especially. This is still a major point in the developing relations between East and West.

Future discussion will undoubtedly look at the second millennium, when the two Churches split and the papacy became ever more distinctly unique, far more than the Orthodox Church is willing to accept. However, the fact that the document mentioned above was unanimously agreed upon by both sides is very hopeful, far more so than anyone would have assumed possible.

A future restoration of the Communion between the two Eucharistic Churches of East and West seems a bit less impossible.

EDIT: The Vatican just released the following communique:

VATICAN CITY, 26 JAN 2010 (VIS) – The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity today published the following communique:

The council, the communique reads, “has learned with disappointment that a media outlet has published a test currently being examined by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

“The document published is a draft text consisting of a list of themes to be studied and examined in greater depth, and has been only minimally discussed by the said commission.

“In the last meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, held in Paphos, Cyprus, last October, it was specifically established that the text would not be published until it had been fully and completely examined by the commission.

“As yet there is no agreed document and, hence, the text published has no authority or official status”.

Interview with Cardinal Schönborn

Christoph Cardinal Schönborn is the archbishop of Vienna. In the past weeks his visit to Bosnian pilgrimage site Medjugorje has been the reason for criticism and, rumour has it, a private audience with the pope. On the occasion of his 65th birthday, last Friday, German Catholic news outlet Kath.net had an interview with the cardinal. He talks about his relationship with Christ, the past and future, the media and the Church, the Wagner affair, and indeed Medjugorje.

by Petra Knapp-Biermeier

Kath.net: Lord Cardinal, on 22 January you celebrate your 65th birthday, for which we heartily congratulate you. To start with a  ‘birthday question’, which takes us a bit into the realm of fantasy: it is the year 2020, you are celebrating your 75th birthday, and you are looking back on the past ten years. What is the best of these ten years? What of the things that you have achieved, experienced or overcome, pleases you?

Cardinal Schönborn: I have to be honest and say that I can’t answer that, since I can’t see into the future. Of course, I see tasks in my services to the diocese. I can only say: my wish for the coming years is simply that we will live ever more in faith, hope and love, that we will be connected to Christ, that many people will understand this faith, that many people will be open to the mercy and allow God to affect them. That is really all I can say. But I believe that that is the most important.

KATH.NET: In hard times, what has helped you to go on and look to the future without doubt?

Cardinal Schönborn: Always two things: my relationship with Christ and my friends. I believe that that is the essence. Recourse to Jesus is always truly affirming and supporting, to be  actively connected to Him, concretely in the Gospel, to His person, His words, to His life, particularly in the Eucharist, his presence in the tabernacle. The other thing is the invaluable gift of friendship that Jesus has established between Him and us, because He also wanted to be alive among us.

KATH.NET: Many people are open to God, but reject the Church as an institution. What do you say to them?

Cardinal Schönborn: I often and directly say: I was that you may have the same positive experience in the Church that I had. To that I usually add that I know that I can easily say that when you didn’t have such an experience yourself. But for me the Church has always been a home. I thank the Church for so very much and therefore I wish that others can have the same experience. I also ask them to remove preconceptions. The mistakes of the Church should admitted and be named. Jesus did the same towards His apostles, and the apostles did it in the gospels. They loyally wrote about the mistakes they made themselves. But we should also speak up when the Church has been done an injustice, when false preconceptions exist. We should know the history of the Church better. There are exceedingly false depictions of the crusades, the inquisition or the affairs around Galilei. These typical reproaches against the Church usually come from a very deep ignorance. We have the task to discredit and explain all preconceptions.

KATH.NET: Lord Cardinal, you have contributed to Church history – the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What changes or developments would you still like to see within the Church?

Cardinal Schönborn: The great new mission in Europe! That certainly is a great dream. Europe was initially evangelised in early Christian times, the apostolic times. The apostles travelled far. The Iro-Scottish monks were the second great missionary wave. The waves of evangelisation were also always waves of renewal. The great  monasticism reform of Cluny, followed by the reform of Citeaux with its enormous expansion with monasteries over all of Europe. With the growth of the cities came the mendicant orders, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, who evangelised the growing urban population. That was followed by the great renewal of the Counter-Reformation. The 19th century, during the industrialisation, was also a  source of renewal in the Church. I hope we will see something similar in our time. But we don’t really control that – they are forces that come from inside, from the power of Heaven. Renewal must truly come from the power of God. But there are many signs that the Lord is also the Lord of history: if he told Abraham that He could bring the stones to live,  he can spring a new source of fervour for the gospel in Europe, where the faith has grown weak, through special mercies.

KATH.NET: In the last few days you have visited Pope Benedict XVI. Did you tell him about your positive impression of Medjugorje? Did he say anything about that?

Cardinal Schönborn: One usually doesn’t speak about audiences. But of course I can say this much: Medjugorje is a topic in Rome now, because of the publicity surrounding my pilgrimage. I reported about my impressions in Rome. And I trust that the Committee, which the Holy Father established to research the events at Medjugorje, will do god and responsible work, and the result will certainly be very positive. I am certain that they’ll be careful and sensitive about this phenomenon, which by now has attracted 30 million pilgrims and has given much good fruits, as well as many questions.

KATH.NET: Recently, the numbers of Church leavings were presented in Austria. From 40,654 leavings in 2008 to 53,215 in 2009 was a major increase. How do you see this development, what do you think is the reason for it, and how will the Church respond?

Cardinal Schönborn: There are some precise indications: The strong increase in Church leavings in the beginning of the year seems to have to do with the response to the appointment of a bishop and the Williamson affair and the strong reactions to those. But the fact that the leavings remained high throughout the year has, in our opinion, to do with the economic crisis. Many people have worries about their jobs. They simply save money were possible, and that directly affects the Church contributions. Sadly we have not succeeded to explain to contributing Catholics that, when they have financial problems, there are reductions possible. Many people pay their contribution without requesting a reduction or a partial payback – and that;s the end of the story.

KATH.NET: The Church has been confronted with the involvement of the media and lobbyists at the appointment of bishops. What do you think of this development? Should the Church respond to this pressure from outside, and how?

Cardinal Schönborn: That has always been the case. Even when I look at my own family history – I am the eighth bishop in my family -, what manner of tensions and conflict there were, for example on the baroque period. it’s a sign of life, that there is an interest in the bishop. If no one cared who would become a bishop, that would be a bad sign. The fact that many people were concerned about who became bishop is a sign that many people feel that the office of bishop is important in the Church. And of course there are ideological conflict surrounding the appointment of bishops.

If someone is said to be conservative, you may be sure that there will be protests from the media. But the person in question also has some influence. One can’t and shouldn’t avoid all conflicts, but many don’t exists until we cause them ourselves. But here we should look at the individual case. One thing is clear: the Church has long fought for the freedom to appoint her own bishops. She can’t and won’t renounce this freedom. The pope is free to appoint bishops. Of course it’s important that he receives good information so that the institutes that prepare they can work well and thoroughly. And I’m certain that they do this. But the local churches themselves also have responsibility, because Church law dictates that every bishops’ conference must forward a list of possible bishop candidates to Rome every three years. And every single bishop is similarly charged to send well-founded reports for the appointment of bishops to Rome. We have often neglected to do that in Austria.

KATH.NET: Thank you very much for this interview and good wishes and God’s blessing on your birthday!

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