“Farewell diocese” – Bishop de Korte says goodbye

While the Mass for his installation as bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch has begun, here is my translation of Bishop Gerard de Korte’s final message to the faithful of Groningen-Leeuwarden, the diocese he leaves behind:

Foto-Ramon-Mangold-ANP

“On Monday 29 February, around 10:30, the Papal Nuncio, Msgr. Aldo Cavalli, rang and asked if he could come to Groningen that day. He wanted to discuss an “important topic”. I knew then that it would be about the succession of Bishop Hurkmans of Den Bosch. And my intuition was confirmed that afternoon. The Nuncio told me that Pope Francis had appointed me as the new bishop of Den Bishop. The news led to some necessary chaos, both for me as for many faithful in our diocese.

In september of 2008 I was installed in the cathedral as bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Despite all sorts of great and small concerns – when is our earthly life ever without clouds? – I look back on the years behind me with gratitude. A few years ago, the downsizing of the diocesan offices caused many concerns. Especially the letting go of several respected employees, solely for economic reasons, was a difficult but also necessary decision.

A lot has happened in the past years. Almost automatically, I recall the merger of parishes and caritas groups. After a long period of preparation and a broad consultation of pastoral teams and parish councils, the decision was made in autumn of 2011 to merge the 80 parishes into some 20 new parishes. This process must be completed on 1 January 2018. Starting point is the vision to combine administrative upscaling with pastoral downsizing. In the large diocese of the north we must try and maintain as many of the 80 faith communities as possible. In my letter “The years of truth” (January 2015) I made a distinction between church building and faith community. When it is no longer possible to maintain a church building, but the local faith community is still (relatively…) alive, the faithful can choose to continue coming together for the liturgy and other activities. The core thought here is: keeping the Church as close to the faithful as possible.

By now, I have moved to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Moving is an exercise in the art of letting go. I have to say goodbye to a nice house, a great team of coworkers and so many other good people. In recent days I have spoken of an Abrahamic experience. Like the father of our faith I must leave the good and familiar country and go into the unknown in the hope that it will be good to be there as well. By the way, I am confident that I will soon find a true home again in Den Bosch.

You will go on as Catholics of the north. A small but conscious minority. I gladly repeat the call from my letter “The years of truth”: Catholics, take your responsibility. You are called to manifest the faith of your baptism. Pope Francis urges Catholics not to remain hidden in the sacristy or church building. Vital faith communities are missionary communities with open doors. All things being equal, we gather in out church buildings for the celebration of the Eucharist and other forms of liturgy. This feeds our soul and gives us the strength to give form to the imitation of Christ in our daily lives. Pope Francis frequently speaks of a Church which looks towards all of society. A Church that prefers to be dirty because she has spent too much time in the streets, instead of sick because she has been inside too much.

Finally, I would invite you to pray for each other. Hopefully you are willing to pray for the success of my new mission in the south. My task will not always be easy, but much is possible in the power of God’s Spirit. In the south I pray for wisdom for Pope Francis and all who are preparing the appointment of a new bishop. I hope for a new bishop who will work for a warm and hospitable Church around Christ as our living Lord. I wish you all the best and God’s  blessing. Continue on the path of faith, hope and especially love “trusting in Christ”.

+ Msgr. Dr. Gerard De Korte”

Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

Ready for launch – a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer

prayerThe Dutch and Flemish bishops announced today that the new translation of the Lord’s Prayer, drafted over the past couple of years as a first step to come to a completely new translation of the Roman Missal, will enter into effect on 27 November of this year, the start of Advent. In August of 2014 the new translation was already presented, and I discussed the changes at that time in this blog post.

The two bishops’ conferences each delegated a member to sit ona joint commission preparing the new translation. For the Netherlands that is Bishop Jan Liesen of Breda, and for Belgium it is Archbishop Jozef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels. Both prelates have released explanatory notes announcing the change: Bishop Liesen back in 2014, and Archbishop De Kesel today.

The translation itself, as I have outlined in the blog post I linked to above, is not extremely different from the existing texts, although the differences will certainly be noticeable when it comes into use, and could be considered an amalgamation of both. A noteworthy change is the translation of the word tentationem, temptation in English. In his note, Archbishop De Kesel discusses the new translation of this word:

de kesel“Until now this word has been translated as “bekoring” [temptation]. The Greek has peirasmos. This can be translated as both “bekoring” and “beproeving” [ordeal/test]. Most often this is translated as “beproeving”. So “beproeving” is the more concordant translation of the Greek basis. Translating it as “bekoring”, furthermore, presents a theological problem. “Bekoren” means to incite to evil. In Scripture this is said of the devil, not of God. God does not try and encourage man to commit evil. In that sense it is not God who tempts us, as the Letter of James (1:13) explicitly says. James responds here to an incorrect understanding of temptation or testing. It is not God, but, “when a man is tempted, it is always because he is being drawn away by the lure of his own passions”.

Yet it is an undeniable Biblical concept that God can test someone’s faith. For example, Abraham was tested, and so Jesus was tested also. “Thereupon, the Spirit sent him out into the desert:  and in the desert he spent forty days and forty nights, tempted by the devil” (Mark 1:12-13). The wording is striking and to the point: it is the Spirit who sends Jesus to the desert to be tested for forty days by Satan. The Spirit of God does not lure us into doing evil and tests us in that way, but He can bring us into situations in which our faith is being tested. These are situations in which we are presented with the unavoidable choice: for God and thus against evil, or for evil and thus against God. Only in and through the testing you know whether or not you really believe in God. Whether you, like Abraham, trust Him unconditionally, even in the darkest hour. This is also the meaning of the forty years in the desert. As Deuteronomy 8:2 says: “the Lord thy God led thee through the desert, testing thee by hard discipline, to know the dispositions of thy heart”.

Hence the meaning of the final prayer in the Our Father. We do not ask God not to tempt us. He doesn’t. But we do ask Him not to test us beyond our abilities. And this is not just any test. It is about whether or not, when it really matters, we do not deny our vocation as Christians. That, as happened to Simon Peter, we would say, when things get dangerous, “No, I do not know Him.” That is what we ask God earnestly in the last prayer of the Our Father: do not lead us to that ordeal.”

Bishop Liesen explains the process by which the new translation was arrived at:

liesen“Although the Altar Missal for the Dutch Church Province of 1979 included an ecumenical text of the Lord’s Prayer, the Netherlands and Flanders did not succeed in realising a joint translation of the Our Father as part of the liturgy renewal following the Second Vatican Council. All attempts came to naught. […]

The current review of the translation of the Order of Mass on behalf of the Dutch and Flemish bishops was seen by the joint commission as a unique opportunity to realise a joint text of the Lord’s Prayer for the entire Dutch language area. Following the Second Vatican Council new translations of the Our Father had already been realised and introduced in other language areas. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments made it known that, as part of the review of the Missale Romanum, a joint Dutch text of the Lord’s Prayer was diserable.

Starting point in achieving a new translation was to stay as close as possible to the familiar Flemish and Dutch texts and therefore maintain what is the same in both translations. Attention also had to be paid to the source text and understandability and the ecumanical translations also had to be consulted. The joint commission entrusted the task of developing a proposal in this sense to a Dutch and a Flemish exegete, who quickly presented a result which was adopted in full by the commission.”

So it took fifty years for an attempt to create a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer to succeed, and now it was only a matter of months. I suppose that shows how the polemics and pasionate differences of opinions following the Second Vatican Council have finally settled into a situation where bishops can agree on said translation. I say ‘bishops’ for a reason, since the general tone of the reaction I see on social media is one of disregard, mockery even, coupled with, in some cases, the decision to stick with the old familiar text. There are definitively parallels to be drawn with the introduction of the new English translation of the Missal in 2010. It’ll be interesting to see how the new translation will be accepted come Advent.

“In faith, hoping against hope” A look at Bp. Wübbe’s motto

WübbeThis afternoon will see the consecration of Bishop Johannes Wübbe, who will be auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Osnabrück and titular bishop of Ros Cré. The Mass, in which the new bishop will be consecrated by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, ordinary of Osnabrück, and Bishops Norbert Werbs, auxiliary of Hamburg, and Theodor Kettmann, emeritus auxiliary of Osnabrück, will be streamed life from three o’clock local time via the diocesan website.

Bishop Wübbe’s coat of arms, displayed below, takes inspiration from his background: the ear of grain taken from the coat of arms of his native Lengerich, and the wheel which also appears in the coat of Osnabrück. The motto that Bishop Wübbe chose is derived from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “In spe credere” refers to the line “Abraham, then, believed, hoping against hope; and thus became the father of many nations” (4:18).

coat of arms wübbe

This line is further explained in the following verses (20-25):

“Counting on the promise of God, he did not doubt or disbelieve, but drew strength from faith and gave glory to God, fully convinced that whatever God promised he has the power to perform.

This is the faith that was reckoned to him as uprightness. And the word ‘reckoned’ in scripture applies not only to him; it is there for our sake too — our faith, too, will be ‘reckoned’ because we believe in him who raised from the dead our Lord Jesus who was handed over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification.”

God’s promise is not without reason, and it is certainly not impossible for Him. Abraham’s example shows us that, in faith, we may always have hope. Abraham certainly did not know how God would make him the father of many nations, and in many cases we will not know hom God will fulfill His promises. But that is no reason not to hope. But having hope is not only something we are invited to do, it will also be reckoned as a measure of our faith.

Faith leads to hope. Faith is made visible through the hope we have and share.

“Unreserved faith” – Archbishop Léonard on St. Joseph and Pope Francis

It’s been a while since this blog featured some words by the great archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard. Below is my translation of his homily on the occasion of Pope Francis’ installation, yesterday.

The cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, where the Mass was held, could not house all the faithful who had come. Among them was Queen Fabiola. Archbishop Léonard concelebrated with the other Belgian bishops – except for Ghent’s Bishop Van Looy, who was in Rome – Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, and Archbishop Alain Lebeaupin, Nuncio to the European Union.

The archbishop speaks about the unreserved faith of St. Joseph, and also paints a picture of Pope Francis which shows him as a continuation of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in his modesty and humility.

léonard“Providence decided that the inthronisation of Pope Francis would take place on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, but also patron saint of Belgium. Allow me to consider that a small wink in our direction…

This morning the bishop of Ghent, Monsignor Luc Van Looy, represented the bishops of Belgium at the installation in Rome. I am grateful to him for that, as well as to our voting cardinal, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who stayed in Rome for the occasion. In the spirit of simplicity that already characterises our new Holy Father, and since the Belgian representation in Rome was already assured, I thought it better to stay in Belgium to thank God with you all and with my fellow bishops for the gift of Pope Francis.

Saint Joseph played a major part in our salvation history. Eve though he is only the foster father, not the biological father of Jesus, it is yet he who, within the framework of Jewish law, assures that Jesus – the Messiah (in Hebrew) or the Christ (in Greek) – descends from David, of whom we heard in the first reading of this liturgy.

The second reading was chosen to illustrate the faith of Saint Joseph, which may be compared to that of Abraham. For Abraham had faith without reservations in the word of God, which proclaimed that he, despite his and his wife’s advanced age, would be the father of many peoples. And he kept believing in that, even if the apparent death of Isaac, his only son, seemed to rob him of any hope of offspring. Abraham had faith in God, without any reservations. And because of that God recognised him as righteous.

But Joseph as well, he too, had to believe – almost blindly, in a complete surrender – that what had happened with his wife Mary came from God and not from man. He had to efface himself in a radical faith, for an act of God which transcends any understanding; an act which makes us say in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”

And the Gospel of today shows us what it cost Joseph, but Mary as well, to make themselves so very small for that mysterious work in Jesus. “Son,” Mary says to Jesus, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And then that shocking answer of Jesus! The answer of a child who is only twelve years old, but who already knows that he came from God, who knows, deep inside, what we express in the Nicean Creed, that He is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” Hence His confusing answer: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary had spoken about “Your father and I”, but Jesus quietly corrects His mother’s words: He speaks of “My Father” when He refers to the God of Israel, who resides in the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus has stayed behind in Jerusalem, that is not the flight of a teenager, but because He – in the innocence of twelve-year-old child – wanted to stay in the House of Him who is His true Father: “In my Father’s house is where I had to be”. And Luke acutely says about Joseph and Mary, “they did not understand what he said to them”.  But they will understand later. After they had kept the events in their hearts and considered them for a long time.

Saint Joseph, then, played a major role in the life of the Church. Through him, because of his role as foster father, Jesus discovered in His human conscience the father figure of God, His sole and unique Father.

Our previous Pope, Benedict XVI, whose baptismal name is Joseph, was also characterised by humility and a great modesty. We don’t know a lot yet about his successor, the Bishop of Rome, Francis. But the first signs which he has given in only a few days clearly indicate that the patronage of Saint Francis of Assisi is not just empty words for him. He will be humble, like Benedict XVI, not just in his personality, but also in the outward signs of his mission as successor of Peter. Like Saint Joseph he will consider himself merely a foster father – if I may say it like that – knowing that we are all children of the one true Father, our heavenly Father, and that the Church, the Bride of Christ, is not here just for herself, but only to lead to truth, goodness and the beauty of her only love: the Christ, her bridegroom.

Of course, there were some in the media – which have the valuable task to inform us – who immediately tried to paint our new shepherd in a negative light. But just as fast there were voices, normally not too inclined to speak positively about the Vatican, which, supported by documents, pointed out the baselessness of these accusations. Let us, for our part, thank God for the gift He gives us: not just a new Pope, but also a shepherd with a totally new style. And let us – like he asked us so touchingly on the night of his election – pray intensely for him, for the universal Church for which he has responsibility, and for this world of which he is the foremost spiritual and moral guide. Amen.”

Photo credit: Phk/Kerknet

Answering God’s call – Pope Benedict on vocations as a sign of hope

pope writingOn the Fourth Sunday of Easter – still a long way away, it seems as we are approaching the Fourth Sunday of that other great season, Advent – the Church will join together, “united in prayer, to ask from God the gift of holy vocations and to propose once again, for the reflection of all, the urgent need to respond to the divine call,” as Pope Benedict XVI writes in his Message for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (My Dutch translation here).

Taking as its theme “Vocations as a sign of hope founded in faith”, the message is first and foremost a meditation on hope. Drawing on Abraham’s faith in Gods promise that He would make him “the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:18), the pope explains the reason for our hope: Gods faithfulness. He writes:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, what exactly is God’s faithfulness, to which we adhere with unwavering hope? It is his love! He, the Father, pours his love into our innermost self through the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5). And this love, fully manifested in Jesus Christ, engages with our existence and demands a response in terms of what each individual wants to do with his or her life, and what he or she is prepared to offer in order to live it to the full.”

And later Benedict suggests a very real and practical realisation of this response to Gods love manifested in Christ:

“Just as he did during his earthly existence, so today the risen Jesus walks along the streets of our life and sees us immersed in our activities, with all our desires and our needs. In the midst of our everyday circumstances he continues to speak to us; he calls us to live our life with him, for only he is capable of satisfying our thirst for hope. He lives now among the community of disciples that is the Church, and still today calls people to follow him. The call can come at any moment. Today too, Jesus continues to say, “Come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). Accepting his invitation means no longer choosing our own path. Following him means immersing our own will in the will of Jesus, truly giving him priority, giving him pride of place in every area of our lives: in the family, at work, in our personal interests, in ourselves. It means handing over our very lives to Him, living in profound intimacy with Him, entering through Him into communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and consequently with our brothers and sisters. This communion of life with Jesus is the privileged “setting” in which we can experience hope and in which life will be full and free.”

The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is mostly aimed at vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but we must not forget that we all have a vocation. Because we are baptised, Christ calls us all. Each of us must decide to answer, and also how to answer. Hearing the call, ans thus answering “is possible in Christian communities where the faith is lived intensely, where generous witness is given of adherence to the Gospel, where there is a strong sense of mission which leads people to make the total gift of self for the Kingdom of God, nourished by recourse to the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and by a fervent life of prayer.”

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.

Morning reflection: God does what He doesn’t want us to do

“It happened some time later that God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ he called. ‘Here I am,’ he replied. God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you.’
When they arrived at the place which God had indicated to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
But the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ he said. ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy,’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your own beloved son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son.
The angel of Yahweh called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self, Yahweh declares, that because you have done this, because you have not refused me your own beloved son, I will shower blessings on you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All nations on earth will bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed my command.'”

Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18

This is a difficult text, which at first glance understandably prompts people to marvel at the harshness of the Old Testament God. Why put a man through the horror of having to sacrifice his only son, only to tell him at the last moment that he doesn’t need to? Surely it can’t the purpose of this first reading from today’s Mass, to present God to us a cruel God who demands sacrifice?

Indeed, that can’t be the purpose, especially since it doesn’t gel at all with the God we have come to know in our own lives.

I recall once reading a story in which a Jewish scholar, at the end of a lifetime of study, came to the conclusion that this story was not so much about Abraham displaying his willingness to do whatever God demanded of him, but about God having to earn the right to be our God. By showing Abraham, who is our father in faith and therefore represents us all, that He does not demand unreasonable sacrifices and is not a fickle deity, God  shows us that He is a God who takes His people seriously, who doesn’t see them as pawns in His games.

In the journey towards Easter especially, another important aspect of this story presents itself: what God stopped Abraham from doing,He did instead Himself. He sacrificed His own Son for our sake.

What does this say about God? In the first place, that He is not like the other gods that people in past and present worshipped. His first and primary characteristic is love. Secondly, that He values man for who He has created him to be: a being who deserves to be taken seriously. Thirdly, God is not above doing the dirty work; while He did not want Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God sacrifices His own Son, Jesus Christ, for the salvation of all mankind. If that is not an indication of how high His esteem for us is…

Art credit: ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac’, attributed to Caravaggio