Good intentions – Pope to the Curia, or to us all

Pope Francis gave the Roman Curia an earful, they say. Rather than limiting himself to general niceties and well-wishes in the traditional Christmas address, he told the cardinals, bishops and other members of the Curia what’s wrong with them and what they must improve to function properly again. They say.

Reality is a bit different, as it often is.

pope francis curia christmas address

To start, the fact of a Pope giving a meaty address is nothing new, and certainly not when that Pope is Francis. He challenges his audience, and on this occasion he chose to do so in light of the preparation for Christmas, of which the sacrament of Confession is an important part. He lists no less than fifteen pitfalls that the Curia must look out for. But only the Curia? Not in the least. At the end of his list he says:

“Brothers, these sicknesses and these temptations are, naturally, a danger for every Christian and for every Curia, community, Congregation, parish, Ecclesial Movement, etc. and they can strike at the individual as much as at the communal level.”

We should all listen well to the Pope’s  words in this, because the risks for the Curia are no different than the risk we ourselves run. Rather than seeing the fifteen points in the speech as stern warnings, we can turn them around and use them as good intentions for Christmas and the new year.

  1. Consider yourself as important as everyone else.
  2. Enjoy the gift of rest and relaxation, and the fruits of companionship and time for others and for God.
  3. Stay in touch with people and their feelings, wishes and hopes (as well as your own).
  4. Have confidence in the Holy Spirit in your work and life.
  5. Know your capabilities and those of others around you, and coordinate.
  6. Always remain in an encounter with the Lord.
  7. Stay true to yourself and consider the interests of others as much as those of yourself.
  8. Always remain a shepherd for others, through example and care.
  9. Speak directly, openly and without complaining.
  10. Think of duties, not just rights, and honour God rather than persons.
  11. Think of others, share with them and take joy in what they say and do.
  12. Be happy, and don’t take yourself too seriously.
  13. Travel lightly through life, don’t be weighed down by possessions.
  14. Remain open to others, also as a group.
  15. Don’t show off or take pride in your abilities or achievements.

Good advice, if not always easy. I suspect that if we apply these good intentions, the change will be astounding. And it’s not our change, achieved by us, but by the Holy Spirit working in us. As Pope Francis says:

“We must clarify that it is only the Holy Spirit – the soul of the Mystical Body of Christ, as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed affirms: “I believe … in the Holy Spirit, Lord and giver of life” – who heals every infirmity. It is the Holy Spirit who supports every sincere effort of purification and every good will of conversion. He it is who makes us understand that every member participates in the sanctification of the Body and in its weakening. He is the promoter of harmony: “ipse harmonia est,” says Saint Basil. Saint Augustine says to us: “While a part adheres to the body, its healing is not despaired of; instead, what was cut off cannot be taken care of or healed.”

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“No conditions but one profession of faith” for full unity between Catholic and Orthodox Churches

“I believe that it is important to reaffirm respect for this principle as an essential condition, accepted by both, for the restoration of full communion, which does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation. Rather, it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each, thus demonstrating to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit. I want to assure each one of you here that, to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith.”

This passage from Pope Francis’ message to Patriarch Bartholomew I today struck me as a very happy and hopeful one. The Orthodox Churches are so close to us in faith, sacraments and apostolic succession that the most immediate hope for full unity, the goal of ecumenism, is with them. And they have much to give us: a sense of mysticism that we have sometimes lost, especially in the west; of sacramentality and new ways of considering the Divine and how we relate to God in our worship and daily life.

The principle that Pope Francis refers to at the start of passage regards Unitatis Redintegratio, the Vatican II Decree on Christian Unity, and specifically the 15th and 16th chapters thereof. The conclusion of Chapter 15 summarises the principle that is deemed so essential for full communion:

“The very rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches should be known, venerated, preserved and cherished by all. They must recognize that this is of supreme importance for the faithful preservation of the fullness of Christian tradition, and for bringing about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians.”

Chapter 16 adds to that the importance of the laws and customs of the Orthodox Churches:

“Far from being an obstacle to the Church’s unity, a certain diversity of customs and observances only adds to her splendor, and is of great help in carrying out her mission, as has already been stated. To remove, then, all shadow of doubt, this holy Council solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, while remembering the necessary unity of the whole Church, have the power to govern themselves according to the disciplines proper to them, since these are better suited to the character of their faithful, and more for the good of their souls.”

The liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Orthodox Churches, as well as their laws and customs are no obstacle for full unity. Indeed, they are essential for the further purpose of that unity: the fullness of Christian tradition, worship and evangelisation. The word of God will resound all the stronger.

francis bartholomew

Photo credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Worrisome comments from Archbishop Zollitsch

eb_zollitsch_juli2003_700In an interview with Die Welt, published yesterday,  Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, retired ordinary of Freiburg im Breisgau and President of the German Bishops’ Conference, spoke, among other things, about the proposal to allow remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments. His answers are somewhat disconcerting.

On the question if the topic is now off the table, after Archbishop Müller’s opposition to the proposal which originated in Archbishop Zollitsch’s Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, the archbishop replied:

“How can this topic be off the table? 35 to 40 percent of marriages end in divorce these days. As Church we ask ourselves: How should we relate to those concerned?  This is the question that our pastoral care office’s proposal asks. I feel much strengthened by Pope Francis, who has called his own Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family for October of 2014. There we want to present what we in Freiburg have drafted.”

Archbishop Zollitsch is of course correct when he says that the numbers call for us to be concerned about the large number of marriages, both sacramental and civil, which end prematurely. And in that sense his efforts to draft proposals to put that concern into practice are only to be lauded. But it is good te recall that Archbishop Müller did not nix the proposal. He told the German bishops to withdraw it and revise two points – that faithful can decide for themselves whether or not they should receive Communion, and that a sort of ‘pseudo-marriage rite’ may be celebrated in the church for people who enter into a second civil marriage – but he maintained that the proposal as a whole contains “very correct and important pastoral teachings”. The interviewer’s suggestion that Archbishop Müller wants the topic off the table, and Archbishop Zollitsch’s failure to correct this assessment, suggests a serious misrepresentation of the facts.

The interviewer continues:

Archbishop Müller has written to you that the draft should be “withdrawn and revised”.

“That is the judgement of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Müller’s position corresponds with the Tradition he represents. But the majority of people who have approached us were positive about the proposal. That tells me that we are pursuing an important issue and that it is important to find a viable solution. Pope Francis often speaks of being close to people. I think that that can be a good direction, also in dealing with civilly remarried.”

Here it gets more serious, as facts are more distorted. Yes, Archbishop Müller represents a Tradition, but this is not because of his position as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, but because of his identity as a Catholic Christian. That means, then, that we all represent that Tradition, which is the Church’s and which we all confess and reaffirm in every Mass. That many people are positive about the proposal means nothing in this case, as faith and Tradition are not decided by majority vote. Of course, the issue is important and a viable solution must be found. Not because many people want it, but because it is good for them.

Is your upcoming retirement or the general euphoria about Pope Francis the reason for being so relaxed about comments from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

“Neither.  As President of the Bishops’ Conference I have, in recent years, after our spring and autumn meeting, travelled to Rome to explain our position. If a prefect of one the various Congregations would then oppose this position, I would think to go slowly. A Prefect is not the Pope. I look for dialogue, and for me that is the way of collegiality and the dialogue in the Church.”

MüllerSo what Archbishop Zollitsch is saying here is that the opinions of Curial officials, who are tasked with specific duties in the Church (in the case of the Prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith this includes to make sure that the faith is represented completely and properly and shared in all its fullness), duties which come with the necessary amount of authority, do not matter? That it is simply a matter of diplomacy: Oh, if I can’t get my way like this, I’ll just try it like that? Ordinaries, of which Archbishop Zollitsch is one, have the same duty as I mentioned above for Archbishop Müller, but if they fail in performing them, corrections must come from a higher level: the Pope, who delegates some duties to those called to assist him in his. And among those are the members of the Curia. Simply saying, “a Prefect is not the Pope”, is tantamount to ignoring the entire existence, duty, authority and function of the Curia. And in this case, Archbishop Zollitsch also conveniently ignores the fact that Archbishop Müller clearly stated that he composed his article on the issue in L’Osservatore Romano, and the subsequent letter to the German bishops, after consultation with the Pope. It is therefore impossible to say that this Prefect is simply acting for himself. We can safely assume that Pope Francis is fully behind Archbishop Müller in this case.

Hiding behind bland statements like “collegiality” and “dialogue” (which are not meaningless in themselves, but they are as used here), is incredibly naive. Archbishop Müller, speaking after discussing hs beforehand with the Pope, has been very clear. He has the duty and authority to correct the German bishops. That is dialogue. Dialogue is not a collection of niceties without any consequences for anyone. It is the collegial correction of errors, which must be given and received in fraternity. Ignoring and pushing them aside as simple opinions of some Prefect who is just acting for himself is a distortion of facts, faith and duty.

Year of Faith – the first 100 days

Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella looks back on the first 100 days of the Year of Faith:

fisichella“The first reactions revealed great enthusiasm and deep interest, tangible in the flurry of expressions of it on a small scale: in many pastoral letters – written by bishops to their dioceses –  that in the programme are all dedicated to faith; in the parish projects for  reflection on the various articles of the Creed; and in the widespread dissemination of the official logo of the Year of Faith. The logo shows a boat, a symbol of the Church, in a square bordered field with a boat that is sailing.  The main mast of the boat is a cross on which are hoisted sails composing the trigram of Christ (IHS). The words “Year of Faith” that accompany it, alongside the calendar of “great events”, are translated into the major languages, but also into other languages, even Chinese. The Year of Faith has reached China where it is present in the communities and in the Churches which are likewise living this experience of the universal Church. This was mentioned to the Holy Father during the Roman Curia’s Audience  for the exchange of Christmas greetings. And the Pope not only showed his great pleasure but he also told me that Protestant communities had shown interest too. In short, the whole world is in a state of great ferment, and I would say that we have got off on the right foot.”

An optimistic sound, although the enthusiasm and attention in the Catholic media has understandably died down after the spectacle of the Year’s opening. But that’s no reason to ignore the fact that we still have the major part of the Year of Faith ahead of us. What are you doing with it? That’s the question we must ask ourselves.

The Year of Faith is a twofold invitation: to increase and deepen our own faith, and to communicate it to others.

.catholic – a coup by the Church?

Digibron1An article on RD.nl by Reformed minister Dr. Hans Kronenburg (pictured) challenges the efforts by the Catholic Church to register the domain name extension .catholic. He identifies it as “nothing but a conscious or subconscious digital coup”. From a Protestant point of view he is absolutely right, but from a Catholic one he couldn’t be more wrong.

The .catholic extension, if granted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regulatory body responsible for these things, would be allowed to be used only by institutions, groups, individuals and societies which are in good standing with the Catholic Church. Basically, the Church will have the final say if any group or person may use the extension. This would, of course, offer some control over the Catholic ‘brand’. It offers some surety that a website using the extension .catholic is, in fact, that. There are, after all, some responsibilities that come with calling yourself ‘Catholic’.

What are the problems that Dr. Kronenburg has with what he calls a coup or power grab by the Church? The core of the problem is as follows, in his own words, translated by me:

“It is the same old song again: a church which forms just one branch of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, namely the Roman Catholic, appropriates something that belongs to the church of Christ as a whole, as it is confessed in the Creed of Nicea-Constantinople (381).”

He also shares and agrees with three points of the complaint lodged with ICANN by Saudi Arabia (of all nations). 1) The church claims the name Catholic, while other churches do likewise, 2) Ecumenically speaking, it is not done to give one church control over the name ‘catholic’ when it is not authorised to do so by other churches, and 3) there are questions about the ‘catholicity’ of the Catholic Church, since she alone considers herself fully Catholic. That is not universal, but sectarian. According to Dr. Kronenburg.

Generally, it is easy to agree with at least the first point above. There is a problem when multiple churches, rightly or wrongly, claim to be catholic. In their own understanding, if not that of the Catholic Church, they are catholic.

Points two and three are, frankly, nonsensical. Ecumenism, as mentioned in point two, is about finding common ground and a growth towards unity in the one Church of Christ. It is pertinently not about changing identities, which is what happens if one church is told by another what she can or can not call herself. Point three is very much related to the understanding of the term ‘Catholic’, and that is the very core of the problem, as I mentioned above.

Catholic is a term that indicates the universality of the Church, in both time and space. Jesus Christ established His Church, which is composed of all the faithful and which has a clear structure. Here is where the Catholic and Protestant understanding depart: The unity and universality of the Church is made visible in the form she takes here and now. Christ established a Church composed of faithful, certainly, but also gave them shepherds and means to exercise authority. Over time, but fairly soon, that has coalesced into the hierarchy and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. In various ways, the Protestant church communities, but also the Orthodox Churches, which have remained close to us in other ways, have departed from this structure. The Protestant church communities are Catholic in that they share our faith in many ways. There are also basic differences, to the detriment of their claim of ‘catholicity’. The Catholic Church is truly Catholic in that she has not only kept the faith in Christ, but also the unity, both invisibly and very visibly, that Christ prayed for.

Dr. Kronenburg’s claim that the Catholic Church is just one branch of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that we confess in the Creed is therefore not true. If she was a branch, she would have been at most a variation on one basic trunk: the faith that Christ gave us. There would be only negligible differences with the other branches. The problem is that these differences are not negligible. Dr. Kronenburg’s own Reformed Church, for example, does not constitute a different branch, but a different trunk of the same tree altogether. The faith of the different churches and church communities may share similarities, but they are by no means equal. To claim that is to neglect the major differences in teaching, understanding and faith that still exist.

And besides all this, there is the logic of domain name extensions. A Protestant website using the extension .catholic would be rather confusing. Even an Orthodox website ending in .catholic, which would have a better claim to the name, would cause confusion.

Photo credit: RD, Anton Dommerholt

Credo – our faith confessed, part 6

The Creed is the faith that we confess at every Mass, and it is therefore a summary of what we believe, the truths we hold as such – truths. These truths not only identify what we believe in, but also who we are. They form our Catholic identity.

On the road towards the Year Of Faith, I want to take a look at the Nicene Creed, line by line, to see what it tells us about the truth of being Catholic Christians.

For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven

With these lines we not only return to our introduction to the Creed, but also to the incarnation of the Lord; the nigh-incomprehensible fact that our God became like one of His own creations, a man. No God or divine person in another religion has performed this act of pure life and care for his creations. For as the lines from the Creed tell us, God became man for us, and not for any benefit to himself.

The incarnation, or the Son of God becoming a man, Jesus Christ, among us, is not without reason. It happened for us, and as such it happened at a specific time and place, because we are bound by these dimensions. We lead our lives in the places where we live and work, in the time given to us. In order to become man, Jesus also had to limit Himself to these dimensions. By His becoming one of us, we are able to re-establish a deep and personal relationship with Him. He is no longer out of reach. And so we can achieve our salvation, which He continuously offers to us.

Because of this, God also knows us intimately, because He has known everything that we experience in our lives, from profound joy and satisfaction to deep sorrow and regret. He identifies with us, and so we can identify with Him, at least enough for the aforementioned personal relationship to be established.

Art Credit: “Adoration of the Child,” by Gerrit van Honthorst, ca. 1620

Credo – our faith confessed, part 5

The Creed is the faith that we confess at every Mass, and it is therefore a summary of what we believe, the truths we hold as such – truths. These truths not only identify what we believe in, but also who we are. They form our Catholic identity.

On the road towards the Year Of Faith, I want to take a look at the Nicene Creed, line by line, to see what it tells us about the truth of being Catholic Christians.

Through him all things were made.

A short line, but one with far-reaching consequences when it comes to our understanding of Jesus Christ. In the first book of the Bible we read that God created everything through the act of speaking: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). And now we find that God created made all things through Christ. Christ and the act of speaking, the word or logos, are then the same: Christ is the Word of God.

This tells us something fundamental about Him. Not only did everything come to be through Him, even before we know Him, He continues to be creative. Our relationship with Jesus is a creative relationship, it makes us into new people.

Entering into a relationship with Christ is then not without consequences. We need to get to know Him and be willing to be changed by Him, for that is the essence of His Person: He is the creative Word of God made flesh.

And words need to be spoken. Time and again, the Gospels show us the importance of speaking.  Christ heals by speaking out that someone is cured, for example. We too, are called to express our relationship with Jesus, by speaking the Word of God to others.