Forget the sensational headlines – What the Synod is really about

Today, it seemed as if the Church has turned a whole bundle of pages, made a full 180 on several high profile subjects and basically “got with the times”. Of course, reality is quite different, but you wouldn’t know it from certain sources, both left and right.

Peter+Erdo+Synod+Themes+Family+3tjyhEsy4E_lThe Relatio post disceptationem, which was presented today by Cardinal Péter Erdö, summarises the discussions and presentations of the first week of the Synod, and tries to paint a picture of the major topics discussed and field of further study and development identified. As such there is nothing conclusive in it, nothing authoritative, nothing but a update on where the discussion now stand.

In order to understand what the contents of the document mean, it is always good to read all of it. Not just part 3, which outlines the pastoral areas that the discussion will focus on, but also part 1 (the challenges of the family in our modern world) and part 2 (the Biblical and traditional basis of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family). Only when read together can each part be understood fully and flights of fancy and wishful thinking be avoided.

We must never forget the theme of this assembly of the Synod: The pastoral challenges of the family on the context of evangelisation. There are several keywords here: The Synod participants will deal with pastoral challenges, not dogmatic. The teachings of the Church are not under discussion. It is about the family: their challenges, not the teachings, are what dictate the discussions. The context is that of evangelisation: pastoral care for families, the ways of facing their challenges, has evangelisation as its goal.

The outlines, which are not recommendations, and certainly not changes in the Church’s teaching, deal with people, and the Church has never ceased encouraging the innate dignity of human beings and the respect we are obliged to have for it. That is regardless of their gender, skin colour, sexual orientation, language or whatever element of their being you’d care to mention. It’s in the catechism, so anyone displaying surprise as the Relatio‘s emphasis on respect for all people, has some reading up to do.

The Relatio post disceptationem is interesting, worth reading and studying, and a good reminder of the importance of mercy, but it is not the earthquake some have made it out to be.

Read it, all of it. Don’t be satisfied with headlines.

Photo credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images Europe

At WYD@Home, Bishop van den Hende on the living Lord

van den hendeIn 2011 Bishop Hans van den Hende, bishop of Rotterdam, gave one of the catechesis classes during the World Youth Days in Madrid. His talk then was met with a standing ovation. This year, although he joined pilgrims for the pre-WYD program in Suriname, he returned home before the start of the World Youth Days proper in Rio. But, as the WYD@Home program took place within the bounds of his diocese, in Delft, Msgr. van den Hende did offer catechesis there.

Here follows my translation of the text, which may be found in Dutch here.

1. Topic of the Catechesis

In unity with Pope Francis and with the youth in Rio we here in Delft also have catechesis. We follow the catechesis program as given in Rio. Catechesis means: putting the contents of our faith into words, explaining and communicating them.

The catechesis here in Delft and in Rio is closely tied into the theme of WYD 2012. Every WYD has its own theme, chosen by the Pope, including this year’s WYD in Rio. The previous Pope, Pope Benedictus XVI, gave the WYD in Rio the following theme: “Go and make disciples of all nations”.

The words of the theme are words from the Bible. They come from the New Testament, from the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).

2. The Gospel = the Good News of Jesus Christ

In the Gospels the person of Jesus Christ takes centre stage [1].In the first chapter the Gospel of Matthew explains that God’s salvation history from the Old Testament is linked to the person of Jesus Christ (the so-called genealogy). Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise, He is the Messiah (the Anointed One, the Christ). In that way Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel of Matthew.

That is also the case in the other three Gospels. The Gospels tell us who Jesus is: the incarnated Son of God. The Gospel also proclaims the message that Jesus promotes. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Gospels are the heart of all the Scriptures “because they are our principal source for the life and teaching of the Incarnate Word, our Saviour”.” [2]

As an illustration, three quotes from the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John. These clearly show the intent of the Gospels:

  • The Gospel of Mark’s opening sentence is “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” [3].
  • The introduction of the Gospel of Luke states: “I […] have decided to write an ordered account for you, […] so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received” [4].
  • Near the end of the Gospel of John we read: “There were many other signs that Jesus worked in the sight of the disciples, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name” [5].

So the Gospel proclaims to us that Jesus is the Son of God, that the message of Jesus is the Good News of God’s Love, that Jesus gave His life on the cross; He died for us.That the Word of Jesus is trustworthy, that Jesus has risen from the dead; that He lives. In short, the Gospel encourages us to follow Jesus: believe in Him, have trust in Him, build your life on Him: He lives!

3. Jesus lives

To start with, we’ll look at the final part of the Gospel. When Jesus died on the cross, it seemed as if everything was over, had come to a dead end. The Gospel tells us that the dead Jesus was buried [6]. The disciples and other friends of Jesus were truly in mourning. The heavy stone that they had placed before the entrance to Jesus’ grave weighed also, in a sense, heavily upon their hearts.

But the Gospel does not end with the death and burial of Jesus. On the contrary, the Gospel proclaims that Jesus lives. When the disciples visit the grave, it is empty. The Gospel tells us: Jesus is no longer in the grave, He has risen [7].

That is the Good News of Easter: Jesus lives! The Gospels also relate that Jesus visited his disciples several times after His resurrection, that He appeared to them: for example to Mary Magdalen [8], to the Apostles in their home [9], on the shore of the lake [10], on the road [11], and on the mountain (Matt. 28:16-20).

On the mountain Jesus ultimately gave his disciples the special assignment: “Go and make disciples of all nations”. These are the words that are the them of WYD 2013.

Jesus, the Risen Lord, asks his disciples to communicate the Good News to others and to baptise them. In the book Acts we read that the Apostles remain loyal to the assignment to go and make disciples of all nations, which they received from Jesus. The Apostle Pater, for example, holds a speech and proclaims the crucified and risen Jesus Christ to his audience. And Peter subsequently baptises about three thousand people who join them [12].

Jesus lives. He stays with us. In Matthew 28:20b, Jesus promises: “And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time”. That is why we – centuries later – stand when the Gospel is read during the celebration of the Eucharist. We have the good habit to stand at the Gospel because we believe that Jesus himself, the living Lord, is speaking in the words of the Gospel [13]. We are called to be listeners to Jesus’ words and also proclaimers and executors of them. As disciples of the Lord we listen to the Word of God to act according to them [14].

van den hende4. To be a disciple of Jesus: learning from Jesus

Jesus is true teacher. That is also the opinion of the rich young man in the Gospel, who asks Jesus: “Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” [15]. Jesus Christ is a good teacher in the words he speaks and the actions he performs in His life amid the people: what Jesus asks of us, He also does himself.

A) In the first place the words Jesus speaks. We may learn from the words of Jesus. In the first place Jesus makes use of the expressive language of parables. The Gospels tells us: “He told them many things in parables” [16], and: In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables” [17].

When we are a little bit familiar with the texts of the Gospels, we all know a few parables, for example: of the sower who sows on different kinds of soil: rocky soil, shallow soil, soil with weeds and thistles, good fertile soil [18]. The Catechisms states that parable are mirrors for man: “will he be hard soil or good earth for the word?” [19]

In the Gospel we can also read that Jesus speaks His words as a teacher in conversations with people, for example with the scribe Nicodemus. The Pharisee Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night to converse with Him and he says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him” [20]. Another example is Jesus’ conversation with Mary, the sister of the deceased Lazarus. Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” [21] As disciples of the Lord we can do no else but start listening attentively to Jesus’ words in the Gospel [22].

B) We can also learn from the things that Jesus does in the Gospel, of the actions that Jesus performs. As disciples we may carefully read and see the acts of the Lord, learn from them and imitate them.

  1. Jesus is faithful in praying to His Father. The Catechisms tells us: “When Jesus prays he is already teaching us how to pray” [23]. In the Gospels we read that when Jesus prays to His Father, the disciples at one point asks Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” [24].
  2. Jesus also performed acts of love and charity and so encourages His disciples to truly love their neighbours. Jesus says, “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” [25]. And in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you” [26].
  3. Very impressive is the footwashing that Jesus performs at the Last Supper. The washing of feet was, at that time, the work of a servant, but Jesus does it himself and says, “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” [27].
  4. Jesus is a true teacher when it comes to forgiveness and mercy. In the home of the Pharisee Jesus expressly forgives a women who is known to be a sinner, but who is penitent [28]. To an adulterous woman who is about to be stoned for her sin, Jesus says, “Go away, and from this moment sin no more” [29]. And to the taks collector Zacchaeus in Jericho, Jesus says, “I am to stay at your house today” [30]. In the end, when He is dying on the cross after taunts and torture, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing” [31]. That is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners” [32].

Do we, as disciples, really want to listen to Jesus’ words, keep them in our hearts, and put them into practice? That is only possible if we really want to learn from Jesus, from His words and His actions. As a disciple of Jesus you let yourself be touched by His words and actions. It is necessary to let yourself be formed in your life by Jesus [33]. Because Jesus rose from the dead and lives, He can now be our teacher, shepherd and friend, in the community of the Church.

5. Trusting in Jesus: believing in Jesus

Jesus Christ, the living Lord, asks us, as His disciples, to really trust in Him. This means:

  • Believing that Jesus lives (Jesus is not just someone from the past, He is also close to us now);
  • Believing that Jesus loves you and is interested in you, that He calls you with your talents;
  • Being willing to entrust your life to the Lord by being honest to yourself and to God, asking and receiving forgiveness for your sins (Sacrament of Confession), laying your fears at His feet (Jesus also knew fear [34]);
  • Offering your talents to Him: the willingness to be an instrument of God;
  • Believing that Jesus has given you the Church to learn, to celebrate, to serve and live in faith and love in the community of faith.

It is important to realise that the word of God, the Gospel, is also the word of the Church. Jesus has entrusted His Good News to us, His Church: to write down, to life from, to communicate [35].

6. Following Jesus: building your life upon Christ

As a disciple of Jesus you are invited to build your life upon Jesus. To be able to do and grow in that the following points or of vital importance:

  • Your life with Jesus needs a continuous conversation with Christ in prayer, alone in your inner room [36] and in the community of the Church;
  • Your relationship with Jesus, the living Lord, has consequences for how you relate to people around you (concerning honesty, neighbourly love, forgiveness, pure intentions, etc);
  • Every day requires conversion (if necessary forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: confession);
  • Your life in faith is never without difficulties (it is necessary to be willing to give something for it, the sign of the cross means victory but also presupposes suffering and sacrifice [37]);
  • Life in faith can never exist by our own strength alone: it is a gift from God, of God’s mercy: it is therefore necessary to keep celebrating the sacraments, to ask and receive the comfort and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, to accept and experience the support of your guardian angel [38];
  • Your life in faith needs good examples: look towards the saints as friends of God. They are our intercessors, which means that they pray with you to God.

In short: your path as a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong journey with Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the community of the Church, from day to day, with ups and downs.

7. In closing (through Him and with Him and in Him)

The first word of the theme of the WYD is “go”. That means getting up towards your neighbour to confess your faith in Jesus. You can only do so if you’ve first come to Jesus, meaning:

  • Consciously aligning your heart with the Lord and letting Him touch you
  • Actively uniting your life to the Lord and His Church
  • Choosing to place your life in the light of the Gospel

Only when you’ve come to Jesus yourself, only then you can leave from Jesus and go in His name to win others for the Lord, to make others into disciples of Christ.

8. Questions to discuss

  • Do you believe that Jesus lives? What does that mean for you personally?
  • What would you like to learn from Jesus?
  • What do you think is the most important thing to tell others about Jesus?

+ J. van den Hende
Bishop of Rotterdam

Photo credit: P. van Mulken

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.

Hot topic, or how the Church does, in fact, not promote violence

andrée van esAt a European conference on the emancipation of homosexuals in The Hague, an Amsterdam alderman has called for all religious leaders in the world to take their responsibility regarding the acceptance of homosexuals and transgendered people.

“As long as the Pope and most Muslim leaders do not accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation, millions of people will consider violence against gays, lesbians and transgendered people to be justified,” Andrée van Es (pictured), who holds the diversity and integration portfolio in the Amsterdam city council, said. This sweeping generalisation, putting religious leaders in all their diversity in the same corner, is not only a gross misrepresentation of reality, but also a worrying example of the imposition of one society’s political philosophy on others.

Writing as a Catholic and as a blogger with some knowledge of Catholic teachings on these matters, I will limit myself to the Church and her faith, leaving Muslim thoughts about homosexuality aside.

To begin with the very first words of the statement quoted above, I must explain that the Church does accept homosexuality as a sexual orientation: she accepts that it exists, that people can experience sexual attraction to people of the same gender. However, she does not accept it as a true expression of the ordered nature of man as created by God. That is why she will always be opposed to same-sex marriage, for example, as it is an impossibility. However, that is far from the same thing as advocating violence against homosexuals. The Church always upholds that ancient teaching of hating the sin, loving the sinner. Whatever a person’s sexual orientation, he or she has an innate dignity and should always be treated in accordance with that dignity that all men have been given. The Church will always defend that dignity, which is most visibly in her pro-life attitude, but also in her pastoral relations between individual faithful, laity and clergy alike.

However, and this is an important distinction that is often misunderstood or overlooked, this loving understanding of people’s equality in their human dignity is far from the same as accepting everything a person does (not is or has, but does). Indeed, when we love someone, we are bound to correct that person if he or she makes mistakes, and we should guide and help them in their lives, whatever the difficulties are that they may face over the course of it. Be it illness, poverty, social issues or a disordered sexuality, we must be there to stand with them, help them in their lives, to achieve the fulfillment of life as God has willed it. We are people with a purpose, created for that purpose, and God has given us the possibility to achieve that purpose, to live in unity with Him for all eternity, despite the obstacles and barriers that we find on our path. He has given us the means to overcome them, and we often find those means through the help of others.

That reality governs the actions of the Church. God has willed to reach out to us through her, that she may be there to lead us to Him. As members of His Church, we are called to make that possible. We do so through the love that Christ has showed us, and that is not a sappy kind of love which sees everything through rose-tinted glasses and accepts everything. No, that love wants the best for its object: us. And therefore it guides, corrects, teaches.

The Church accepts reality, but does not accept that that is all there is. We can and must always strive for something better, for the very best. God is that very best, and He is what we strive for.

All of the above commits us to something which is not easy, certainly not in our modern society. It can come across as discriminatory, hateful even. But just like a parent correcting a child, there can be no hate between God and man. The Church does not hate homosexuals. She loves them like she loves all men, and she teaches them through the faculties given to her by the Lord, in love, like a parent teaches, guides and sometimes has to correct a child.

When suggesting someone to do something, the first step to is to make sure you know what you are talking about. Ms. van Es has clearly failed to do this, as she so clearly links the Pope, and thus the Catholic Church, to violence. A cursory search soon comes up with Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

In 2008, while offering some criticism, the Holy See welcomed

“the attempts made in the statement on human  rights, sexual orientation and gender identity – presented at the UN General  Assembly on 18 December 2008 – to condemn all forms of violence against  homosexual persons as well as urge States to take necessary measures to put an  end to all criminal penalties against them” [source].

In 2009, the Permanent Mission to the UN reiterated much the same sentiments:

“The Holy See also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person. The murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State” [source].

Three quotes found through a short search via Google and Wikipedia. Ms. van Es could and should have known much better.

Photo credit: Gemeente Amsterdam

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Sandoval Íñiguez turns 80

sandoval íñiguezA force to be reckoned with for those with differing ideas, Juan Cardinal Sandoval Íñiguez marks his 80th birthday today, leaving 113 electors in a College of Cardinals numbering 206.

The Mexican prelate was born as the oldest of 12 children (of whom nine survived into adulthood). As a 12-year-old, young Juan entered seminary in 1945 and eventually found himself in Rome. There, he was ordained a priest in 1957, and he also earned a degree in philosophy and a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Returning to Mexico in 1961, Fr. Sandoval started a career at the seminary of Guadalajara, first as spiritual director, and later as teacher, prefect and eventually, in 1980, as rector. He also served as a member of the Presbyteral Council and Clergy commission of the Archdiocese of Guadalajara.

In 1988, he was appointed as Coadjutor Bishop of Ciudad Juárez, serving with Bishop Manuel Talamás Camandari, who retired in 1992. Bishop Sandoval then became ordinary until 1994, which means he spent more time in Ciudad Juárez as coadjutor than as ordinary.

In 1993, Archbishop Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo of Guadalajara had been murdered in either a drug gang shootout or a politically motivated assassination, and Bishop Sandoval was appointed to succeed him. In the same year as this appointment, Archbishop Sandoval was created a cardinal, with the title church of Nostra Signora di Guadalupe e San Filippo Martire.

Cardinal Sandoval was no unknown in Rome, being appointed as Relator general of the Special Assembly on America of the Synod of Bishops in 1997, and President-delegate of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in 2005.

In Mexico, Cardinal Sandoval often appeared on television, teaching the catechism on a national Catholic network. He also caused ripples in the political scene, being the subject of an investigation into alleged financial misdemeanors and being charged with defamation of character when he accused a politician of accepting money for supporting the pro-gay marriage agenda.

Cardinal Sandoval was rarely know for being subtle, ruffling the feathers of Protestants, women and homosexuals while pointing out serious problems relating to these groups. And sometimes he simply said things he shouldn’t have said.

Cardinal Sandoval was a member of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

Prep for the end times – a good Advent

90_20_14---Three-Advent-Candles_webAnd just like that, Advent is upon once more. And just like that other great penitential season, Lent, Advent equally aims to prevent us for one of the Church’s great times: the Incarnation of our Lord, the birth of the most fragile and treasured of human beings, a tiny baby boy named Jesus, the Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 524) teaches us that Advent not only prepares us for the memorial of Christ’s first coming, but also renews in us the desire for His eventual second coming. And with that we have hit upon one of the most difficult precepts of our faith. We may accept the idea that Christ will return someday, but very often we take solace in the knowledge that that event may be very far away indeed. And, besides that, we have no clear way of knowing what it will be like, even though the Bible’s last book, the Revelation of John, offers us images and prophesies regarding it.

And we are an imaginative people. Truths of the faith become easier to grasp if we can understand what they were, are or will be like. But somehow we also know that the second coming may not be something in the line of Hollywood’s disaster flicks.

Still, it will happen. Our Lord has said so, after all (Matt. 24: 30-31). And it is good to prepare for this event, even though we know “neither day nor hour” (Matt. 25:13). Should we then be despondent and fearful? Not in the least, but we should take it seriously. How? For starters, we can take a good look at our faith and its expressions. Are they the foundations of our lives, or an aside reserved for the Sunday? How do we pray, how do we attend Mass? Are we attentive and charitable? Do we try to accept teachings without our egos getting in the way? And are we always willing to better ourselves?

Plenty of food for thought for Advent. But let’s not let it get us down. For we know what is coming. As the heartwrenching hymn Rorate Caeli, which we will hear once more this Advent, goes in its last verse:

Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,
my salvation shall not tarry:
why wilt thou waste away in sadness?
why hath sorrow seized thee?
Fear not, for I will save thee:
for I am the Lord thy God,
the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.

Opening the Year of Faith in the Netherlands

It’s a week ago now, but I figured it would be nice to give an impression of how the Year of Faith was opened in the Netherlands. All dioceses marked the occasion with special Masses in either the cathedral or another major church in the diocese.

The Archdiocese of Utrecht played host to a national symposium on the four great Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. Some 250 people attended, a number that could perhaps have been higher if the symposium wasn’t open to clergy and pastoral workers only.

The Mass which started off the symposium was offered by Wim Cardinal Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht. In his homily he looked back at the fruits of the Council, but also the responses to it. The cardinal noted that, “On the one hand there are people who are disappointed, because the Council did not bring the fruits they had hoped for. And on the other hand there are people who make the reproach that the current crisis in the Church was caused by the Council.” He went on to say that both responses are unjust. The roots of secularisation were already laid well before the Council – as, for example, Blessed Titus Brandsma already noticed – and the discussion about celibacy and liturgy was already being held in the 1950s.

In Breda Bishop Jan Liesen, pictured at right during the symposium mentioned above, offered a Mass in the cathedral of St. Anthony. About the Year of Faith he said:

“The Year of Faith is a year in which to listen to God, to the spirit which has been poured out in our hearts. Put differently: our Church does not revolve around an organisation, but around a living person, Christ. The Gospels speak of how Jesus continuously presented people with the question, “Who do you say I am?” Other religions may have a book, a great way of life or something. We Christians do not have that, at least not as the heart of our faith: we have the person of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Liesen also spoke about our spiritual life, which we need to nurture in order to be evangelisers ourselves.

“To make work of your spiritual life – how do you do that? It is a matter of choosing, really choosing. In our time we have somewhat forgotten what choosing is, maybe or probably because we have such material wealth. We can walk past shop windows in long shopping streets and pick what we like. We then think that we have made a choice, but we haven’t. We were looking for something and left much where it was and brought that one thing home, but that is not choosing. There comes a time when we don’t like what we have brought home anymore and then we’ll get something else. That is not choosing: it is merely the satisfaction of a desire, whether it is real or imaginary. Because of such a materialistic way of life, which is being promoted in all manners imaginable and which we should not underestimate or make illusions about when it concerns ourselves – because of that way of life we sometimes deal with people in the same way, and we drop them when they no longer suit us. But really choosing when it concerns a person means: choosing that one as he or she is and not dripping them to choose another. That is the basis of true friendship, that is the basis of marriage and family, and that is also the basis of spiritual life, of the conversation with God.”

The final topic that Bishop Liesen touched upon was the Eucharist. He re-emphasised the central place that that sacrament has in our faith, and his desire (and presumably intention as well) to cut down the number of Communion service in his diocese. These services have, in many places, become more of a habit  and a celebration of the community instead of a necessity when there is no priest available, and water down the valuable role of the Eucharist in our lives.

In the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the Year of Faith was opened at the shrine of Our Lady of Need in Heiloo. In his homily, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks spoke about faith, saying:

“Faith is a mercy and we can be grateful that we have received that mercy.

Faith requires surrender, giving up control, confidence that you are safe in the loving care of a heavenly Father, that everything will turn out alright, no matter how many setbacks and suffering you may find on your way.

No matter how much evil and how many problems there are: because of faith our life is an ascent to God. Without faith it would be nothing but decomposition, descent, a pointless event with a sad ending.

Faith also requires humility, because it entails us bowing down for a higher power, for someone who can dictate the law to you.

Our Catholic faith lets us know Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. It lets us understand the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts and gently leads us to the heavenly Father, who is source and purpose of all of creation.

Through our Catholic faith we also got to know and venerate Mary, who is our Mother through Jesus, as an example of faith, as intercessor and mediator.”

And about evangelisation, he added:

“Whatever we do in the Church, we must first be Christians.

Every priest, every believer must first be a Christian.

The work that we do in the Church can’t be an exterior job, but an expression of our love for Christ, expression of our faith.”

Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, who opened the Year of Faith in the cathedral basilica of St. John in Den Bosch, spoke about having faith in our time:

“Today every faithful is individually faced with a great challenge. The Second Vatican Council already foresaw this. This Council was intended to bring the Church up to date, a way of returning to the source. It again placed Holy Scripture at the heart. It looked for the vital sources of the Church of the future in the young Church of the Church Fathers. You and I, we are confronted with an increasingly secularised world. We shouldn’t want to walk away from that. We should be strong by resisting the difficulties of this time and witness of our faith in the world of today, with the sources of the Council. There are numerous difficulties. The Church in our part of the world grows smaller, we must dispose of church buildings. It’ll be increasingly difficult to pass on the faith to future generations. Acting according to the faith in marriage, in celibacy, in politics is increasingly at odds with what’s going on in society. What matters now is to believe or not: to entrust yourself to God. To travel the way with Him. When you have faith, confess this faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit openly. God will take care of you. He will give you life. Confess your faith in the Church. Do not stay alone. Participate, as the Council asks, in the life of the Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life. Be there, every Sunday. Immerse yourself in the liturgy, in Holy Scripture and never forget to serve the poor. Faith must be expressed in action.”

In Roermond Bishop Frans Wiertz referred to the collection of ten local Saints and Blesseds, from 4th-century St. Servatius to St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, who was killed in Auschwitz in 1942, who were gathered in the cathedral of St. Christopher as examples of the faith. The bishop said about this:

“We are gathered here as faithful from all directions of our local Church. And we are not alone, but in the presence of a number of prominent blesseds and saints from our area, men and women who represent the faith of many centuries, who represent all those people who preceded us in the faith.”

In the Diocese of Rotterdam, Bishop Hans van den Hende opened the Year of Faith in the Basilica of St. Liduina and Our Lady of the Rosary in Schiedam. In his homily he discussed Pope Benedict’s Apostolic letter Porta Fidei, in which the Holy Father announced the Year of Faith, and on the Second Vatican Council, but also on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. Summarising the Year of Faith, the bishops said:

“The Year of Faith, brothers and sisters, regards all aspects of our life in faith. To confess that God exists, that His Son became men, that the Holy Spirit always wants to inspire us. To celebrate our faith in the Eucharist and the other sacraments and to be careful with the Words of Scripture. We do so as true listeners to the message of God and also by truly living as Christians and to be recognisable in our words and actions as friends of the Lords, and fourth, to keep up the conversation with the Lord.”

In Groningen, Bishop Gerard de Korte also opened the Year of Faith, with a Mass at the cathedral of St. Joseph, but the text of his homily is sadly not available online.

Photo credit: [1], [2] Ramon Mangold, [5] Peter van Mulken