For the sin of abortion, Papal letter gives priests power to absolve and lift excommunication

In his Apostolic Letter Misericordia et misera, published today, Pope Francis looks back on the Holy Year of Mercy, which ended yesterday, and announces some special decisions made for that year, which he wishes to continue. Among these is the faculty of all priests to absolve penitents from the sin of abortion. While this faculty was already given to priests of various countries, including the Netherlands, by local bishops, it is now a worldwide step. It is hoped, like it was when the Pope first announced it at the start of the Holy Year, that this makes it easier for people who performed an abortion or had one performed to come forward and receive the Lord’s forgiveness.

Abortion, as the Pope also emphasises in his Letter, remains a grave sin, and that means that there is a little more involved than only absolution. Bishop Jan Hendriks, auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam and a doctor in canon law, explains things in a blog post today and refers to various canons from the Code of Canon Law:

jan_hendriks“There is an excommunication attached to the committing of an abortion (c. 1398). The Pope does not expressly mention this. He only speaks about ‘absolving’, freeing from sin. Being freed from the excommunication is a requirement for receiving absolution and being freed from sin. Therefore, the words of the Pope implicitly include for all priests the faculty to lift the excommunication.

So a priest can absolve for abortion and this faculty can, in principle, be exercised everywhere in the world (unless a local bishop or vicar would, in particular cases, deny this (c. 967, par.2), but that will not happen often).

The Pope once again emphases both the serious nature of the sin of abortion and the need to approach those who have committed abortion with love: there is no sin that can destroy the mercy of God!”

There has been some criticism against the papal letter for its lack of clarity in this matter. Bishop Hendriks’ explanation would indicate that the ability to absolve the sin includes the faculty to lift the automatically incurred excommunication. A penitent person who’s sin has been forgiven in the sacrament of Confession, is therefore automatically free to participate in the life of the Church again, as he or she is no longer excommunicated.

“More than a celebration”- Cardinal Müller on the Holy Year of Mercy

14_09_kardinalmuellerIn an interview for Katholisch.de, published today, Gerhard Cardinal Müller discusses several topics, including the Holy Year of Mercy which is in its final week. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is often imagined as an opponent to Pope Francis, since doctrine and all its annoying rules must by nature be opposed to mercy, right? But the cardinal is generally enthusiastic about the Holy Year of Mercy, and adds some nuance to how it is looked at now that we have almost completed it.

“Faith in the mercy of God, which is directed at every human being, is part of the classical doctrine of God. It was very good to emphasise this topic theologically in the Holy Year and reintroduce it in pastoral ministry and proclamation. For much indifference and misunderstanding about God is based in the false assumption that God is only power, and that man can, as such, only realise his freedom by opposing Him. The Christian image of God is completely different: out of love for man, God humbled Himself even to the death on the cross, through which we come to salvation, to freedom and the glory of the children of God.”

Mercy leads us directly to the heart of the union between man and God, he explains:

“Someone getting to know God anew in His aspect of mercy, will find that in the Christian understanding of God, love is the core of the encounter between God and man. The symbolism of the open Holy Doors here in Rome and in many churches across the world has hopefully reinforced the awareness that we can come to God as through a wide open door. Countless people have found their way to God through confession in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, which allows for a new start. I believe that many were able to experience God more deeply in the Holy Year.”

And what of those who look at the numbers and say that the Holy Year has not been as successful as hoped?

“The Holy Year is a spiritual event and can not be measured quantitatively. Regarding its great popularity across the world I don’t understand such criticism. It is after all about more than just celebrating, but about the way to Christ. I am impressed by the number of people who came to the papal audiences, the Sunday prayers and the special events. That shows that people want to hear the Pope’s  message, that he knows how the touch the hearts of people with his words; that he opens up perspectives on how to better understand their own lives in the light of mercy and make it their own.”

Other topics discussed in the interview include the Reformation, ecumenism, comparing Pope Francis to Benedict XVI, and developments regarding the SSPX. I may share some comments about those in later blog posts.

“Be channels of mercy” – Pope Francis addresses Dutch pilgrims

It was the high point of a multi-day pilgrimage of some 2,000 Dutch faithful to Rome to conclude the Holy Year of Mercy. Holy Mass at St. Peter’s offered by Cardinal Eijk and other Dutch bishops, together with numerous priests and even almost 85-year-old Cardinal Adrianus Simonis, followed by a visit from Pope Francis, who addressed the pilgrims before shaking hands and greeting a number of pilgrims. Subsequently, the papal words were repeated in Dutch by a priest who had accompanied the Holy Father into St. Peter’s.

Before Pope Francis spoke, Cardinal Eijk addressed him in Italian. The English translation of his words follows below.

“Holy Father, we are here in Rome with more than two thousand pilgrims from the Netherlands. Your proclamation of the Holy Year of Mercy has resounded also in the Netherlands, in our dioceses and in our parishes. There have been celebrations of mercy in many churches, with Vespers and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, during which there was the opportunity for Confession. In this way many, including several young people, discovered or rediscovered the valuable sacrament of penance and reconcilation, an almost forgotten sacrament in the past half century in the Netherlands.

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In addition, many in our dioceses and parishes have dedicated themselves to maniest the works of mercy in various ways, but especially towards immigrants. The Dutch Bishops’ Conference has called upon all Catholics to care for immigrants as volunteers in every possible way, according to their talents and gifts. The Conference has done so at the start of the Holy Year of Mercy through her Christmas letter Hospitable Netherlands. It is reason for great joy that many have answered this call.

Holy Father, the Conference has therefore decided to make an inventory of all the best practices by which our volunteers assist immigrants, so that our parishes and our charitable work groups can learn from each other and be inspired. It is a great joy to me to give you the first copy of the the booklet, also entitled Hospitable Netherlands, which contains aforementioned best practices. Of course this booklet is written in Dutch, but we have considered you a little bit by translating the explanation of the maps of the dioceses and the icons used in this booklet into Italian.

Holy Father, on behalf of all the Dutch pilgrims gathered here I thank you for proclaiming the Holy Year of Mercy and also for receiving us so generously. We promise to also pray for your intenties, especially in these days. Holy Father, A thousand times thank you for everything.”

As the Holy Father approached the dais to speak, he was interrupted by a little boy presenting him with a bunch of yelow tulips. Of course the Pope stepped back and accepted the gift. Children come first.

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The full text of Pope Francis’ words, delivered in Italian, is available in Dutch here, and my translation follows below:

“Dear brothers and sisters,

It is a joy for me to greet you in the Basilica of St. Peter, on the occasion of the “Dutch day” in the Holy Year of Mercy. It is good that you have come together here, in a joint pilgrimage to Rome, with shepherds and faithful from all Dutch dioceses. In this way you express the vitality and community of the Church in the Netherlands and her unity with the Successor of Peter.

The Holy Year invites us to an even closer bond with Jesus Christ, the face of the Father’s mercy. It is impossible to ever fully understand this great mystery of God’s love! It is the source of our salvation: the entire world, every one of us needs mercy. It is this what saves us, gives us life, recreates us into true sons and daughters of God. And this salvific goodness of God can be experienced in a special way in the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Confession is the place where we receive the gift of God’s forgiveness and mercy. There the transformation of each of us begins, and also the transformation of the life of the Church.

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I therefore encourage you to open your hearts and let yourself be transformed by God’s mercy. In this way you will in turn become implements of mercy. Once embraced by the merciful Father who always grants us His forgiveness, you will be enabled to witness of His love in everyday life. The men and women of today thirst for God, they thirst for His goodness and love. And you too, as “channels” of mercy, can help to quench this thirst. There are so many people you can help to rediscover Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind! As missionary disciples of Jesus you can “irrigate” society with the proclamation of the Gospel and with your love for your neiggbour, especially for the poorest and those people who have no one left but themselves.

I entrust you all and the entire Church in the Netherlands to the motherly protection of Blessed Mary, Mother of Mercy, and gladly give you my blessing. And please, pray also for me.”

 Photo credit: [1] Ramon Mangold, [2]AFP/Zenit, [3] Bisdom Roermond

To be an instrument of the Lord – Bishop van den Hende’s catechesis talk at WYD

World Youth Day 2016 is over, but here is a translation of the third catechesis given to the Dutch pilgrims over the course of the week-long event which saw several million young Catholics gathered in Kraków. This catechesis, which in its message mirrored the call by Pope Francis to young Catholics to get off the couch and act, was given by Rotterdam’s Bishop Hans van den Hende. Like during  previous editions, the bishop’s talk could count on an ovation at the end.

Bishop van den Hende speaks about the popular image of divine mercy and what it means to be an instrument of the Lord.

“Dear young people, I was just given the advice to put mercy into practice by not given you catechesis today. But Jesus’ message of mercy does not come in easy bite-size chunks and is not a matter of just swallowing it. A merciful attitude – in imitation of the Lord – is for us a matter of practice and therefore there is catechesis after all.

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1. Image of the merciful Jesus

The topic for this day is: Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy. When I was thinking about this beforehand, and this became even clearer these days, I had to think of the person of Jesus Himself. Especially the image of Jesus, such as here in the church of divine mercy.

Hyla%20blue%20largposter%20copyThe image of the divine mercy was created following the direction of Sister Faustina (1905-1938). In this image Jesus points at His heart, He looks at us and you a read and a white beam. It is an image of Jesus who gave His life out of boundless love for us. In the Gospels we can read in the passages about his passion and death on the cross about a soldier who stabbed his side with a spear, causing blood and water to flow (John 19:34). In the image of the divine mercy Jesus looks at us and He points at His heart. He shows that He wants to give everything for us, even His blood. He saves us. And the water reminds us of Baptism.

The person of Jesus has been on our minds for days. You see Him everywhere. The front of our pilgrims’ booklet even shows the two beams that are part of the image of divine mercy.  And we have also seen the image at the shrine of Sister Faustina here in Krakow. Yesterday when we welcomed the Pope, Pope Francis said that Jesus lives and is among us. That is what is most important about this World Youth Day. The Pope may take the initiative for the WYD, it is Jesus Himself who comes to us and is among us with all the gifts we need (Matt. 28:20b).

Pope Francis calls Jesus the face of God’s mercy (misericordiae vultus). In Jesus, the incarnate son of God, we can experience and hear how great the mercy of God is for us. We can look upon Him every day, whether in this image or a cross in your bedroom at home. Every day, you can take the step towards Him, to approach Him, to put your hope in Him and find your strength in Him. Not just on the day on which you have exams, or when things go bad, but you can come to Him every day anew.

Underneath the image of divine mercy, Holy Sister Faustina wrote in Polish: Jesus, I trust in you. In the great church of the shrine of Sister Faustina and the divine mercy, where we were last Tuesday, this sentence was whispered into a microphone several time: Jesus, I trust in you. That could perhaps be your first step, to consciously start each day by going to Jesus: I trust in you, it will be a good day with You, whatever may happen. We encounter the Father’s mercy in Jesus. His heart shows that His love for us is eternal. He is always willing to forgive. Many of you have received the sacrament of penance and reconciliation in these days. It is good to always conclude the confession of your sins with these words: I trust in you. We experience God’s mercy in the things Jesus doesd and says, solemnly put, the acts of the Lord. In the Gospel we read that Jesus heals people, consoles them, forgives people and puts them back on track with renewed courage. Jesus lets His heart speak and you can see and hear how great His mercy for us is. Look at Jesus, listen to Him, go to Him every day and say: Jesus, I trust in you. And perhaps you can take a further step and pray: Jesus, make my heart continously more like yours, that it may be involved with the things your heart is involved with: love, forgiveness, justice, solidarity, new life.

Santa-Faustina-2-760x747Sister Faustina, who only lived to the age of 33, wanted to share the message of God’s mercy. She said: this is so important, I cannot remain silent about this, I will tell this. She only went to school for three years, but she took up the pen and wrote. In the texts, Jesus calls her “His secretary of mercy’. She was an instrument of mercy. In order to make the limitless mercy of the Father known even more – for in he 1930s, like now, there was much crisis, threat of war, violence, discrimination and hate. Especially in a world of sin and evil God’s mercy must be announced. Sister Faustina wanted to do that, she wanted to be an instrument of mercy, a secretary of mercy.

2. To be an instrument of the Lord

When it comes to being an instrument of the Lord, we are part of a good tradition. In the history of our faith there are many who have answered that question with an eager yes. Yes, with your help. Think of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was asked as a young woman to be the mother of the Lord. At first she doesn’t know what to say: I don’t even have a husband, how can this be? But then she says, I can be an instrument of your plan with the world: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). In this way Mary consented to being the mother of Jesus. Another example of Saint Francis (1182-1226). Just now we prayed: make me an instrument of your peace. That prayer is attributed to Saint Francis, who had converted and was praying before a cross at a ruined chapel. He approached Jesus and said: Lord, what can I do for you? How can I be your instrument? And the Lord said, rebuild my house. Francis immediately went shopping, so to speak, collected all sorts of building supplies and repaired the chapel, making it wind and watertight. But then Francis found that it wasn’t about the church building as such, but about the people who were the Church, it was about the Church of Christ as the network of love in which there was indifference and unbelief, and such a gap between rich and poor. The prayer you prayed this morning deepens the question: what should I do? I want to be your instrument, Lord. So, in the great tradition of our faith there are always people who have the courage to be instruments of the Lord. Such as the Blessed Virgin in the Gospel and Brother Francis in the course of his life.

In his encyclical Lumen fidei, the Pope explains that it may sound a little clinical, a person as an instrument. As if you are a screwdriver, while we are people with a name and a heart. It ay sound as if you are just a cog in a great machine, and that it doesn’t really matter what you contribute. But the Pope says: do not let yourself be belittled, do not think that you are just a small part, but think of the Church as the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-31) to which you belong. Not a finger can be missed, not an eye, not a toe, not an artery. The tone should then not be: I am just a part. No, you are (no matter how small) an instrument in the great work of God. You can do even the smallest task as a part of the greater whole of His body, the Church, close to Christ. However small your task is, you take part in the work of the Lord and in that no one can be missed.

 3. To be an instrument of the Lord: to accept or hesitate?

What do you do when the Lord ask you: do you want to be my instrument? Do you hesitate, do you accept? Do you ask for time to think? That is often the same as hesitating. In a shop the  shopkeeper knows very well that, when you say you want to think about it, you are probably going to buy it over the Internet.

When the Lord asks you to be His instrument, you may feel that you are too young, or not strong enough in your faith. But take a look in the Bible, you are not alone in that. Remember the prophet Jeremiah. When God asked him to be a prophet, Jeremiah answered, “I do not know how to speak. I am too young!” (Jer. 1:6). But the Lord said: It is me who is calling you, and when I call you it means that I will also give you the strength and talent to do it. And Jeremiah said: Lord, send me. Als remember the Apostle Peter, who hesitated at first. He saw the Lord and the abundant catch. But Peter did not say: “How wonderful”. No, he says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). And what about the Apostle Paul? He was at first a persecutor of Jesus and His disciples, and he looked on with arms crossed when Stephen the deacon was stoned (Acts 7:58). When Jesus calls him, Paul says, “I am the least of the apostles”, and considers himself as born abnormally (cf. 1 Cor. 15:8-9).

4. How good do you have to be to be an instrument of the Lord?

There are great examples of people who have said yes, and there are those who at first hesitated, such as Jeremiah, Peter and Paul. But in the end they did accept, for they found their strength in God. When we say to Jesus, “I trust in you,” we take the same step as Peter and Paul. Whether you are small or young, sinful or haven’t discovered many of your talents yet.

How good do you actually have to be in order to become an instrument? In the Gispel there are remarkable examples about this, such as the tax collector Levi, who works for the emperor and collects a major bonus for himself. This does not make one popular, as it is unfair. Jesus passes him and says, “Follow me”. The Pharisees wondered: How can Jesus call someone like that? A sinner, someone so untrustworthy! But Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Luke 5:27,32; see also: Mark 2:13-17). If that isn’t mercy! Pope Francis also refers to this special calling, but in the Gospel of Matthew (9:9-13). He speaks of the tax collector Matthew, sitting at the customs post. The Lord sees him and says, “Follow me. Pope Francis applied this to himself, and his motto is ‘miserando atque eligendo’. This means as much as ‘being chosen by mercy’. The Lord did not come for the healthy, but for the sick to heal them (Matt. 9:12).

The Lord calling and needing you, that is what ultimately matters. It is the Lord who has a plan with you and who calls you and gives you the means in His mercy. So it’s not you being ready with all your talents and thinking, what’s keeping Him? No, the Lord Jesus sees us and calls us to accept His merciful love and accept Him as the basis of our lives, and in turn to be His instrument of mercy. When the Lord calls you, He also gives you the talent. He enables you to be His instrument of mercy. Jesus looks at you and calls you to accept mercy. Do not say that you are too busy or not suited to being an instrument of the Lord. That is no reason for saying no. At my ordination to the priesthood I also wondered, why me? But at the same time I thought, I am not worthy, I am not holy, but you called me (“non sum dignus neque sanctus tamen tu vocasti me“). When He calls and invites you, that is the basis for saying yes. So when Jesus asks you to be His instrument, have the courage to say yes. At the ordination of a deacon or priest, the ordinand says, “Yes, with the help of God’s grace”. Jesus calls and gives you His grace. He wants you to be His instrument and also gives you the tools to do it. Saying yes is very specific. In the first place it is prayer. Like Mary, like Peter and Paul. Going towards the Lord is the first step: here I am, what can I do for you, I know you have a plan for me, for you have called me since my first hour (cf. Jer. 1:5; Ps. 139; CCC 27).

5. Being an instrument of Christ: very specific

“Be merciful like your Father is merciful” is the theme of the WYD.

The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, takes centre stage today. Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me” (Matt. 25:31-46). To all these works of mercy you can think of people who have been an instrument of the Lord. Think for example of Saint Martin (ca. 316-397) who shared his cloak with a poor man on the side of the road. And think of Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia (1207-1231) who have bread to the hungry and nursed the sick. Putting the works of mercy from Matthew 25 into practice makes being an instrument of mercy very tangible.

But there is more in Chapter 25 of Matthew. Before speaking about the works of mercy, Jesus tells a parable, namely a parable that we should be vigilant (Matt. 25:1-13). You must use your eyes well to see what is needed, and your heart open for the Lord who comes. Or else you risk sitting ready with your talents, but never taking action. That is abit like the fire station with a closed oor, where nothing ever happens. So be vigilant, what do you see with the eyes of the Lord? In Matthew Chapter 25 Jesus tells another parable, namely that you must use the talrnts God has given you, struggles and all (Matt. 25:14-20). You werent given your talents to bury them in the ground in an attempt to never make mistakes. No, be vigilant, keep your eyes and heart open and use your talents. The you can get started on the works of mercy: comforting people, correcting and advicing people, bear annoyances. Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40). Jesus says this to each of us.

6. Being an instrument of mercy, together with others who are instruments: as Church being one community of called, in service to the Lord.

You need not be able to do everything as instrument of mercy. The one may be able to listen well, and the other visits the sick without fear of infection. You need not be able to do everything, but choose what you are going to do. You are to be part of the Church, in which many are called and work.

You can be glad for the talents of others. And finally: encourage each other. Hunger and thirst, tears and loneliness remain. But get to work. Get up according to your calling and the talents that go with it. Hold on to each other. Jesus asks you to have confidence. And when you fall, ask to start anew in the light of God’s forgiving love. You are a human being according to God’s heart, with a name and a unique destiny. As an instrument of the Lord you have your own share in the mission of mercy that the Lord has entrusted to His Church.

I hope and pray that you will begin every day with looking towards the Lord, choose what you can do for Him, keep your trust in Him and support each other not to quit, because the mercy of the God is much to important and great for that. Thank you.”

More than just receiving – After Amoris laetitia, some thoughts on Communion and being Catholic

Communion-WafersAlmost a month since the publication of Amoris laetitia, it becomes untenable to claim that the notorious footnote 351 somehow opens the door for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. The debate is far from over, but over the course of the past weeks there have been an increasing number of authorities who explained that, no, this is not what the Pope intended to say. Cardinals Christoph Schönborn – named by Pope Francis to have given the right interpretation of the entire document -, Walter Brandmüller and Gerhard Müller are among these. The teaching on the subject as written down by Pope Saint John Paul II in Familiaris consortio remains current. And it couldn’t be any different, as Cardinal Burke also emphasised: an Apostolic Exhortation does not have the intention or authority to change doctrine.

I have been among those who have accussed Pope Francis of being unclear on this topic, but he isn’t really. It’s just that he never intended Amoris laetitia to give an authoritative solution, but to urge pastors and faithful to be creative and come up with solutions within the framework of the teachings of the Catholic Church. We must read the text with his emphases and focus, not our own.

Personally I find one of the clearest, and most often overlooked, points to be that the Catholic Church knows seven sacraments, of which the Eucharist is one. The footnote speaks only of ‘sacraments’, which in certain cases may be a help to couples who live in socalled irregular situations. This must, the Pope clearly indicates time and again, be decided on a case by case basis, conscious of the sensitive situation they might be in, and I can imagine that the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, Confession can all certainly get a look in in these decisions. The possible solution presented in footnote 351 is therefore of a greater scope than what the vast majority of commenters – on both sides of the issue – have been saying.

And here we find a major cause of the problem: apparently, so many people think, you’re not really a part of the Church unless you receive Holy Communion. And not only that, there exists a right to receive Communion. This is both blatantly untrue. Our Catholic identity is in the first place not based in Communion but in Baptism, and secondly it extends far further than the act of receiving (or, in too many cases, taking) Communion. Unless we realise that, we are doomed to remain focussed on the question of who can and can not receive and thus, who is and is not really a part of our Catholic community. Pope Francis is determined to fight this latter idea, and if we are to side with him in that fight, we must re-evaluate our ideas about Holy Communion.

But let no one think I consider Eucharist and Communion not really that important. The Eucharist is the most valuable treasure the Church has. It is Christ, and the Church physically gives Him to the people. There can be no greater gift. This dictates how we relate to this sacrament. An honest desire to receive Communion is a good thing: we desire to receive Christ, make Him a part of ourselves, or ourselves a part of Him (Communion is like eating, but also completely unlike eating).

However, the Eucharist also inspires us, enables us to be Catholic, live a Christian life. This is expressed in prayer, in charity, in the works of mercy (both spiritual and corporal) and in every part of our lives. Or it should be. The proper understanding and relation with Christ in the Eucharist is a necessity in making it work in us. I have compared it to medication (in a field hospital, if you will): if we don’t change our lives and avoid what makes us sick, no amount of pills is going to make us better.

Holy Communion is a gift, and we are asked to not only accept it but make it fruitful in us. And sometimes we can’t. The situation of a family in which one of the spouses was previously married, but who both have the responsibility for children born in that second relationship, is an example. It is an objective fact, in which accusations and responsibility play no part, that this couple lives in an irregular situation and therefore can not receive Communion. But our Catholic faith is greater than that, and by no means are these people excluded from the most holy. Even being in the presence of the Holy Eucharist can be a sanctifying event, which is why the Holy Father emphases the importance of Adoration. The sacrament of Confession, to which footnote 351 is also open, can be a powerful help for people in this situation, even when they can’t change their objectively sinful situation.

We must not downplay the value of Communion, but neither should we deny the power of the Eucharist and the inspiration and strength it gives us to live Christian lives, even if we can’t physically receive it. Prayer, Confession, charity, mercy, solidarity are all fruits of the eternal sacrifice of Christ which, ever new, comes to us through the Eucharist. Let us emphasise what we can, and not what we can’t.

‘Embracing’ mercy – Bishop Hoogmartens’ message for Lent

Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens’ message for Lent, like many others, revolves around the special signifigance of Lent in the Holy Year of Mercy. He describes the Holy Year as an opportunity to become “better and more joyful Christians”, and mentions some of the means to do so in his own Diocese of Hasselt – the Holy Door, the Blessed Sacrament and the sacrament of confession at the cathedral and the preparation for the diocese’s 50th anniversary in 2017.

While treading carefully around such ‘hot button’ topics (or so some seem to perceive them) as personal prayer and sin, Bishop Hoogmartens joins Pope Francis in inviting his readers to make the mercy we receive from God an integral part of our lives, penetrating down into everything we say and do and into eveyr interacting with other people.

11-Mgr-Hoogmartens“Dear brothers and sisters,
Good friends,

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent: a time to prepare ourselves in order to fully experience Easter. This year, Lent is very special because of the Jubilee of Mercy which Pope Francis opened in early December in Rome.

In our cathedral too, in the ambulatory, in front at the left, a “Holy Door of Mercy” has been opened for the duration of the Holy Year of Mercy. Faithful – alone or as a group – are expected to enter through it as pilgrims, with the intention to enter into the reality that Jesus has revealed to us, the mercy of the Father. The image on the Door is that of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He leads us – in the Spirit – to the mercy of the Father. Further along in the ambulatory of the cathedral one can physically go this path: past Mary, the Virga Jesse which will be placed there for the entire year, via a personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament to receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, for which the presence of a confessor is assured.

For us faithful it is important to make use of the Jubilee of Mercy – wherever in the world – to become better and more joyful Christians. Lent offers rich opportunities for that. The liturgy frequently mentions God’s mercy. It also invites us to ’embrace’, which should be a part of the lifestyle of the Christian who always wants to make room in his heart for people living in poverty. It also invites us to personal prayer, each perhaps in his own rhythm and his own way, but best after the Biblical example. We are also invited to take part in the confession services which will be organised in the parish federations and deaneries. I will be leading the service in the cathedral on Monday in Holy Week.

By experiencing the Year of Mercy with many others in all its depth, we also prepare for living the glory of God’s mercy in the cathedral on the “starter evenings” on 20 and 21 September. A greater gift our diocese can not receive on the 50th anniversary of its founding.

As modern people, with so many other things on our minds, with a frequently busy life, and each with our own concerns, we perhaps wonder what this mercy means for us and the world? Pope Francis wrote a beautiful letter about it. But we ourselves also sense what it is about. We all know we are often weak, careless, focussed on ourselves, and yes, also sinful. From the mercy that we experience from God we in our turn can then be more merciful towards others, including people living in poverty. ‘Embracing’; Pope Francis calls it the key to the Gospel! The name of God is mercy, after all, as the title of his latest book says.

Would our world, with all its concerns, with so much violence, with the refugee crisis and poverty issues, not gain much when many would experience and contemplate the “mercy of the Father” as Jesus showed it to us?

When that mercy also becomes an incentive for political and economical leaders, of pedagogues and parents and of communities, the world can only become better. It is the joy of Easter which for us Christians always remains the corner stone in this context. And we can already look ahead to that Easter now.

In the meanwhile, let us practice in this Lent for a simpler life, the application of prayer and the sacraments and the love for everyone encountered, who we want to embrace out of God’s mercy.

I gladly wish you a meaningful and blessed Lent, in this Jubilee of Mercy.

+ Patrick Hoogmartens
Bishop of Hasselt”

The question of being human – Bishop Neymeyr’s message for Lent

In his message for Lent, Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr of Erfurt tackles a difficult question – “what does it mean to be human?” – and arrives at a twofold answer. In the process he also discusses the humanity of refugees, something we must always endeavour to recognise, especially when confronted with the problems and challenges that come with accepting and sheltering people from different cultures.

The Holy Year of Mercy also gets a look in, as do the works of mercy.
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“My dear sisters and brothers,

“What is being human?” At the start of Lent I invite you to reflect on this question, as it leads us to the current challenges of this year. “What is being human?” We think of other concepts, such as understanding, kindness, helpfulness. Someone who is human, sees needs and tries to alleviate them. The countless people who have come to us as refugees in recent months, experience such humanity. Many people in Thuringia consider it important not to describe or treat the refugees as a stream, flood or mass, but as people who fled out of necessity. Even when our country has to send people back when there is no danger for life and limb in their homeland, they are people, who should be treated humanely. We can not be indifferent to what happens to them at home. This striving for compassion – also with refugees – unites us with most people in Thuringia. As Christians we are bound to be more than compassionate, namely charitable. Jesus identifies Himself with people in need: “I was a stranger and you made me welcome” (Matt. 25,35). In his Bull for the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis writes, “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity!” (N. 15). Charity can also be stirred by the fate of people far away, especially when they come from the distance of the news as refugees to our neighbourhood.

The motto of the Katholikentag, which will take place from 25 to 29 May 2016 in Leipzig, leads us to another dimension of being compassionate. It is “Here is the man!”, in Latin: “Ecce homo!”. They are the famous words with which Pontius Pilate introduces Jesus to the crowd after He was brutally tortured, i.e. scourged (John 19:5). The man Jesus becomes a sacrifice for injustice and self-interest, of fanaticism and political circumstances. Someone who is human, who sees people, also sees the inhuman structures and can not stay out of politics. We lament the fate of our fellow Christians who are exposed to discrimination and persecution in Muslim and communist countries. No faith group is persecuted so much globally as Christians. In a free country we can and must raise our voices against intolerance and repression. We must also ask critically if Germany, shaped as it is by Christianity, is committed enough to the rights of our persecuted fellow Christians. The use of our freedom can not fall victim to political or economical interests. The Katholikentag in Leipzig should be a forum where the political consequences of the Gospel will be struggled with. I gladly invite you to participate. It is worth travelling to Leipzig for, even for one day.

You may perhaps have thought of a very different answer to the question, “What is being human?”, namely, “To err is human”. Another word for being human is ‘imperfect’. The wellknown sentence “To err is human” comes from the Roman philosopher Seneca, a contemporary of Jesus. From the Irish author Oscar Wilde comes the sentence: Everyone has a weakness and that only makes him human.” Both quotes remind us of the human characteristic of making mistakes, to not abide by the rules, even violating own principles. The Apostle Paul describes this human behaviour briefly and concisely in his Letter to the Romans: “The good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want – that is what I do” (Rom. 7:19). Paul calls this the “law of sin” (Rom. 7:23). In the Holy Year of Mercy Pope Francis calls us to entrust ourselves to the mercy of God, with our tendencies and sins. In his Bull for the Holy Year of Mercy Pope Francis writes, “Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the centre once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands” (N. 17). Dear sisters and brothers, I want to encourage you to receive the sacrament of Confession. I know that it is not easy to look at our own humanity and sins. There is also much that we can’t simply change from one day to the next. But when we accept our weaknesses and ignore our sins, nothing will change. When we, however, take a good look at them and express them in Confession, we hold them towards the mercy of the heavenly Father. We find that we have been accepted by God, we experience the liberation of a new beginning – and who knows: the mercy of Jesus transformed the greedy tax collector Zacchaeus, and he freely returned what he took unjustly.

“What is being human?” The answers to this question are twofold: imperfect and charitable. Our language indicates an inner connection: When we are and remain aware of our own imperfection, our understanding for and charity towards other people increases. As we rely on the mercy of God, we are prompted to show mercy towards other people. Especially in the land of Saint Elisabeth, the wish of the Holy Father, which he directs at all in his Bull for the Holy Year of Mercy, should find fertile ground: “It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. And let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy. Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead” (N. 15). You may find the works of mercy in Gotteslob, under number 29,3.

In the Elisabeth Year of 2007 the works of mercy were reformulated for us today in Thuringia:

  • You belong.
  • I listen to you.
  • I speak well about you.
  • I am travelling with you a while.
  • I share with you.
  • I visit you.
  • I pray for you.

Dear sisters and brothers, I wish you a blessed Lent in the Holy Year of Mercy and invoke over you all the blessing of God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Your bishop, Ulrich Neymeyr”