You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘easter’ tag.
Bishop Jozef De Kesel of Bruges has an excellent message on the topic of suffering and death in the perspective of the Resurrection.
“All that is written about us, will be fulfilled by you in these days”. Thus the opening verse of a song that Willem Barnard wrote for the start of Holy Week. Much is said in those few words. That He shared our existence to the very end. That nothing human is unknown to Him. The final days, the days of His passing. These are also the days that refer to what is impossible, but what the Church counts as her deepest conviction: that He is risen. The final days: they are the days of ‘pascha’, the passing from death to life. And in these days He fulfilled all that was written about us.
What is striking is that that also includes His death. You would think that the Resurrection makes everything in order again and that we would better forget this dying and that death. Especially considering how scandalous that dying was: condemned and executed. But that dying and death does belong to what He fulfilled in those final days. No Easter without Good Friday. Death is also part of the Pascal mystery.
The Church has never been tempted to hide or trivialise that death, let alone suppress it. Paul says with emphasis: “We are preaching a crucified Christ” (1 Cor.1 :23). And when Holy Week begins with the introit of Maundy Thursday, we sing: “Let our glory be in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we have salvation, life and resurrection, through Him we are rescued and set free.”
Glory in the Cross, that is a strange and alienating thing to say. Isn’t suffering being cherished here? Isn’t it explained as something positive? That is something that the Church and Christianity is sometimes accused of. A sort of mystification of suffering. When, a few weeks, the expansion of the euthanasia bill for minors was voted on, we were confronted again with that criticism. Are faithful not aware of the suffering of people? Shouldn’t people be freed from that suffering? Is that not the ultimate at of compassion? Or is it perhaps meaningful and good that people suffer?
Suffering is something we should pursue. That would be absurd. Pain must be relieved and that is possible today. Therapeutic stubbornness can’t be justified. Christianity does not cherish suffering. Not even that of Jesus. Jesus did not seek out suffering. The Gospel informs us that Jesus, when things did indeed get dangerous for Him, retreated more and more. Now and then we read that He did not show Himself in public. In the end He even prayed that that cup could pass Him by. He tried to avoid danger as much as possible. But not at the expense of His mission. He would complete that mission to the end. And if the Cross was part of it, He would accept it. He said so to His disciples: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35).
But there is one question that remains. Why did God not answer the prayer of Jesus? Why couldn’t He change the minds of those who wanted to kill Jesus? Why couldn’t God arrange this differently, without that suffering and without that Cross? For faithful people the Resurrection is the ultimate answer to that question. Here, God breaks through all barriers. Indeed, what awaits is neither more nor less than a new creation. But not without that detour of suffering an death. Like the People of God once, when it left Egypt and tried to escape from a life of slavery, had to make a detour through the desert, a place of testing and suffering. Why no direct route to the promised land? Why that detour? Why Jesus’ death? There is only one answer to that question: because that detour, because suffering and death are a part of the human condition. We are not gods but human beings. About Jesus it is also said: “Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. [...] and being in every way like a human being” (Phil. 2:6-7).
In the media debate about the expansion of the euthanasia I gradually started to ask myself this question: doesn’t all this also have to do with the fact that death is loosing its place in our secular society? That life is being arranged in such a way that it doesn’t really exist? It is being banned as much as possible from life. And when it comes and can’t be avoided, let it strike as quickly as possible. The euthanasia file is no longer about the physically unbearable suffering. It is increasingly about psychological suffering. And while the danger of a slippery slope as denied at first, the transition seems fairly obvious. Psychological suffering is real suffering, so why exclude it? And why not go further? Existential suffering also exists. Suffering because the meaning of life itself has been affected. It is striking that suicide is no longer a taboo today. Of course it is shocking in the case of young people. And that is the focus is rightfully on prevention. But the elderly? These are people that are “done” with life and so “step out of it”. That language says much. Suicide becomes a lucid and courageous act. Death is being made harmless from the start because it is no longer recognised for what it really is: a sign of radical finality. A sign that I did not decide or want my existence but was given it. A sign that I am not my own origin.
In a column in De Standaard rector Torfs rightfully notes, “life must be beautiful, and if it is not, death is an option. Suicide is today not just an escape for people who are deeply unhappy. It is equally there for someone who, after careful deliberation, decides that his happiness is not enough”. Where one no longer realises that finality and mortality, and so also death, are an essential part of what it means to be “a human being on earth”, life itself in its deepest sense becomes trivialised. Life in itself has then no meaning or value. Meaning and value depend on a presupposed quality to which it has to answer. But what is quality? The lightness with which “stepping out of life” is being discussed ultimately refers to the lightness with which life itself is being discussed.
The Christian faith in the Resurrection does not trivialise death. It belongs to our finite and mortal existence. And it is that finite existence that Christ wanted to share with us. Everything that is written about us, is fulfilled by Him. Including our death. Even if our culture tries to keep death as much as possible out of sight, death is and remains a mystery that we will never fully comprehend, let alone solve. Christian is no mysticism of suffering. But it does not deny death. But – and this is the heart of our faith – it is taken up in the even greater mystery of God’s love defeating death. That is what Christ fulfilled for us.”
Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp considers the Christian faith’s authenticity and the physicality of the Resurrection.
How do you know if someone is sincere? How do you feel if someone is genuine? There is a simple measure: when the body confirms, or even transcends, the language of words. What use do I have for someone who says a lot about solidarity, but never shakes my hand? What use do I have for someone who has good views about the family, but is never home? What use do I have for someone who speaks about human rights, but always eats at the most expensive tables? The proof of the pudding is not in thoughts or words, but in the body. Where you go, from whom you make an effort, with whom your body wears or ages: that is the measure of authenticity. Ordinary people know this all too well.
Christians believe that God’s Word became “man” in Jesus. In the Greek and Latin it actually says that God Word became “flesh”, or took on bodily form, in Jesus. God did not limit Himself to words and promises. He did not get stuck in conversations with His people. Undoubtedly some wished He did: the continuation of a fiery discussion with God, with arguments for and against. God did not walk into that trap. He became man in Jesus, a man of flesh and blood, who embodied what He said. People looked at Jesus and saw that He was sincere: towards them and towards God.
Jesus paid a great price for that. When people could no longer stand His words, He had to go. It wasn’t so much His message that had to be fought or denied. It was God’s “becoming man” in flesh and blood that had to be blocked, if need be with brutal violence. That which made Jesus bodily present, that had to end. Silence fell around Jesus on Good Friday. Nothing had to be said any longer. His dead body on the cross surpassed the words He could have said. By the way, there was no one who wanted to hear them anymore. His body was laid in the tomb.
At Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. In the Creed we will solemnly sing that we believe in “the Resurrection of the body”. That is indeed what Easter is about: about our faith in the resurrection of the body. Jesus is risen completely and forever. Everything in Him has been brought to completion and glory by the Father. Nothing was left behind, least of all the body with which He had confirmed His words and completed His sacrifice. After Easter Jesus carried in His hands and sides the scars from the Cross. Thomas could put his fingers in them. That completed the wonder and joy of the disciples. In Jesus, the Father most certainly made a man of flesh and blood rise from death!
The power of the Resurrection does not hover like cloud above the earth. It enters this world and our loves, into the core of our humanity. And especially: it enters the language of the body. Places where the Resurrection breaks through have everything to do with the proof of the pudding, which has to come from the body. Where strangers shake hands, where a volunteer pushes a wheelchair, where a child is born, where an ill person struggles with pain, where partners remain loyal, where the gun is put down, where a kiss is genuine, where food aid is being distributed, where gossip falls silent, where solidarity can come from gut feeling: that is where the power of the Resurrection breaks through. Where the body can put the signature of God, that is where the world has a future.
I wholeheartedly wish you a happy Easter!”
A short personal note from Bishop Antoon Hurkmans of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, in which he encourages us to seek “open encounters” with people, especially those outside the Church.
In a few days Holy Week begins. A “holy time” during which I am happy to meet you through this short letter. I wish you a week full of bountiful mercy and a Blessed Easter.
Allow me to accompany my Easter wishes with a thought.
Personally, my experience is that open encounters are live-giving. You, as priest, deacon, pastoral worker, pastoral assistant, as faithful, as man and woman, are called to encounter one another. Pope Francis ask to find opportunities to encounter people ‘on the periphery’ in Church and society. Our work is often about many official meetings and about organisation. That is hard. For that reason it would be good for us to regularly seek an open encounter with someone. To give concrete expression to our being faithful.
An open encounter
Simplicity, humility, openness. These are important requirements for an open encounter. Give the other first place. To be there for the other. To listen to the other. To very much leave the other free. This places a major demand to the person seeking such an encounter. To not immediately come to the other with a message or with plans. Meet the other from the starting point of prayer. It gives depth. Remain in God. Remain in love. So prepared, go to the other and the rest will follow. The man or woman across from you will often be the first to speak about disappointment, about pain pressing on the heart. He or she will speak about “the others” who make so many mistakes. Sometimes that is all. But you can often hear the hope that lives in the heart. When you can listen deeply, you also hear the desire for repairing broken threads of life.
People who experience that they can be at home with us, will feel that there is room for their life history. When they in turn – who knows when – meet us in Church, they will be able to open up to God who waits for them. They can then experience that they can be a child of God. That God is a merciful Father. That Jesus gives His life on the Cross out of love for all people. To repair the broken threads of life. That the Holy Spirit has lived in them since their Baptism and Confirmation. That Jesus strengthens them at the altar. They will, when the time is there, begin to surmise that God is indeed as great that He made His Son rise from the dead. Step by step, they will open up to the Resurrection and to life after death.
In our time it is more than ever necessary that we present the faith to our fellow men and women with simplicity, humility, along the road of open encounters. By living it ourselves and making witness of it.
I sincerely wish for you to be able to give priority, amid all the work, to open encounters. It will do you good.
I warmly wish you all a Blessed Easter.”
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, Apostolic Administrator of Freiburg im Breisgau, speaks about the freedom and life that God gives at Easter, through the Resurrection of His Son.
“Dear sisters, dear brothers in the community of faith,
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” That is the question that the youngest member present must ask the head of the family during the Jewish feast of Pesach. And in answer, the latter describes year after year the liberation of his people from slavery in Egypt, as we have just heard in the reading from the book Exodus. Of course, all who have come together for the feast known this: and yet it is valuable to hear this history anew every time. And this becomes clear to them: It is God who leads to freedom! He who entrusts himself to Him, can stand up to even superior numbers. With His strong arm he gives new courage and leads us to His goal.
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” For us as Christians the focus of this question goes even further. The night of Easter is more than the feast of the one liberation from slavery of a superior people. It is about more than the experience that we can trust God in our lives. We celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we celebrate life having defeated death and sin once and for all. We have become “free from sin”, as we have heard in the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (6:7). Jesus having risen from the dead means for us that we “should begin living a new life” (Rom. 6:4). Everything is different from one moment to the next. The event of the Resurrection of Jesus changes the view on our lives. From now on it stands under a different sign. In the end, meaningless and emptiness do not remain. Life is victorious, hope defeats all doubt and fear. Yes, for us it is this night, in wich we experience permanent freedom, in which we are given new and eternal life. It is the basic message as given in an Easter song: “Freed we are from fear and distress, Life has defeated death: the Lord is risen.”
And yet, dear brothers and sisters, we do not find this message very easy. Can it be really true that death has lost its terror, that life has won the final victory? What we hear is almost too great. Do we really dare trust this news, even in the face of so much suffering and injustice in the world? We are at least not alone when we react hesitantly. The women, who wanted to go to the grave early in the morning to show their closeness to the deceased, find it difficult to have faith in the surprising news that jesus is risen and lives. It’s almost too bizarre: the message of the liberation of mankind from sin and death must be so strong that it works by itself . But that is not the case. In the face of the enormity of this message, the joy of the women at the empty grave is mixed with doubt. “Do not be afraid!” (Matt. 28:5, 10) – they need the encouraging words from the angel and from Jesus Himself to face the new situation and to take courage. It would have been far simpler if everything remained as it was! But perhaps we can somehow accept it. Every life ends at some point. The message of life and liberty is not so easy against this supposed realism. We much rather stay with our supposed certainties and are not so quick to let ourselves be surprised by God.
That is why this night differs from all others. It wants to encourage us. We must not be satisfied with too little. Supposed realism, which is often nothing more than pessimism in disguise, is only plausible on first glance. This night tells us: away with pessimism and all prophets of doom! Trust freedom and life! God Himself gives it to us! Pope Francis summarises it: “Let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! [...] Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.” Yes, dear sisters and brothers, the call of Jesus: “Do not be afraid!” – it also applies to us! We can trust the possibilities that God grants us. We can live in the freedom into which He leads us. We have every reason to be lieve the promise that He gives us life, eternal life. Like the small light of the paschal candle that has driven the darkness out of our cathedral, to God defeat all darkness and gloom of the world with the Light of Life. There may be needs and misery, sickness and death in our daily lives: these do not have the final word. Love and life are stronger than all indifference.
This night teaches us that we are fundamentally freed by God, because do not need to be held prisoner by our concerns and needs. It shows us that we should not have any fear, since life is stronger than death. But it is not content with that. It looks for our answer. The event of this night wants our voice for life and freedom! It wants us to be carriers of hope ourselves and distributors of light. We should gather the courage that the women had; while they were still fearful, but hurried with joy to the Apostles to tell them of this nigh-unbelievable news. Yes, he who has experienced that life is victorious, can’t keep it to himself but carries the message further into the world. Whoever it is, he stands for life and freedom.
This becomes especially clear, dear sisters and brothers, in the Sacrament of Baptism. “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19). This commandment from Jesus to His disciples concludes the encounters with the Risen One. The liberating message of His Resurrection is not ours alone. It applies to all people. That is why we bless the water of Baptism, with which the Sacrament of Baptism is conferred, in every Easter vigil. At the same time it reminds us of our own Baptism. That is why I am pleased that we will give, in this Easter night in our cathedral, new life through the water of Baptism, given to us in this special night, to Ms. Nina Shokira. And she wants to share this life with her son Yuri, who will also receive the Sacrament of Baptism. Baptism is the external sign in which we experience the liberation from the trappings of sin and are called to new life in Jesus Christ. In the extent that baptism changes our lives, so important it is that we agree with from within and always remember what it means to belong to Jesus Christ and to be blessed by Him with new life. When we live from this, we feel how much this night changes our lives. Because all our days are permeated and carried by the liberating power of God. So: “Freed we are from fear and distress, Life has defeated death: the Lord is risen.” Amen.
Marking Easter – which is more than just one day – I want to share some of the messages that our bishops have given for the Feast of the Resurrection. First is the archbishop of Berlin, Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, who speaks about how the hope of Easter opens us up to Christ, every day anew, so that we can help others to also meet Christ.
“”He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would” (Matt. 28:6). The angels’ Easter message is not only directed to the women at the empty tomb, but also directly to us. Full of joy we join in with the Alleluiah of Easter. At the same time, many people have difficulties believing in the Resurrection, which makes me think.
Easter brought something new into the world: a hope which tells us, over the power of death: “For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Joh. 3:16). Easter is the answer of the Christian faith to the provocation of death.We are called to life in unity with the living Lord, we are called to eternal life. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminded us of this: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (EG 7)*. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ as the risen and the living. Scripture tells us of these encounters of people with the Risen: Jesus Christ is risen, He lives!
Only the Light “from Heaven” brightens our own life. Only the gaze “upwards” to Him opens up for us the meaning of all that Jesus Christ has done and said. His death on the cross seems to put into question his message and works. But through the Resurrection God the Father confirms the message and the work of His Son. The Resurrection, not death, is the final chapter of His and our life story.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!” (Joh. 20:29). This is verse from the Bible puts it succinctly: Whoever is open to the Easter message, in him it changes something. The Kingdom of God is near, and the promise is already active today. In the night before Easter this becomes visible when the Churches festively receives the catechumens. Through Baptism they arise into new life in Jesus Christ. The same is true for all of us, who are baptised and confirmed in His name. In Jesus we arise every new day to new life. And when we suffer some setback in our life, the hope of Easter give us the power to stand up anew every day.
In this way our own life becomes an answer to the questions of those who struggle with the message of Easter: Every Sunday, every day he can encounter the Risen One himself! In the Eucharist we meet the Risen One like the disciples met Him on the road to Emmaus. Similarly, we meet Him in prayer, where He listens to us and our concerns. And we meet Him in our neighbour, and vice versa: “It is no longer I, but Christ living in me” (Gal. 2:20). As easter people we are the “Light of the world”, the “Salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13-14), and we become signs of His salvation.
I wish you a happy and blessed Easter, Alleluiah!”
* Pope Francis quotes Pope emeritus Benedict XVI here
Exsultet, Alleluiah! Christ has risen!
I don’t know about anyone else, but my Easter has been a rollercoaster ride, both personally and in how I experienced the Triduum this year. It’s not a given, but this time around I was really struck by how the celebrations of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday form one organic whole. On Maundy Thursday Mass began in the usual way, but it did not end. There was no final blessing, no closing hymn, but a silent procession out, followed by the altar and the entire sanctuary being cleared of all decorations – candles, altar cloths, crucifix – while the Lord under the appearance of bread was removed to the altar of repose. The next day, Good Friday, we returned to the empty church – not empty of people, but lacking what makes the building come alive, the Lord Jesus Christ – to medidate on the Stations of the Cross and, later that day, mark the salvation that His death on the cross brough us. On Saturday then, there was silence. No Mass, a sense of loss. But then, late in the evening, in a darkened church, a fire burns and lights the new paschal candle. From that candle the candles held by the faithful ware lit and as light floods the church, the priest sang the Exsultet. We sing the Gloria again, the church bells ring throughout. Easter, and Christ was risen. What began on Maundy Thursday is now completed.
The symbolism is strong in these days, and it should be. Mere words can not adequately convey what happened, and nor can actions do so completely. But together they can help in lifting our hearts and minds to understand in some sense the resurrection of the Lord, after so much suffering and pain. The hope in our hearts was kindled anew. And when it is, it becomes visible to those around us.
Easter is not the end of Lent, but the beginning of something new. Let it be a new beginning for all of us.
On Saturday Pope Francis appointed Dutch Msgr. Hubertus Matheus Maria van Megen as Apostolic Nuncio to Sudan. A high-profile appointment, certainly for a Dutch priest. Msgr. Bert van Megen is a priest of the Diocese of Roermond, and that diocese’s Bishop Frans Wiertz considers the appointment “a great honour.” As Nuncio, he will be similar to a country’s ambassador in another country, maintaining contact with the government and also with the local Church.
Archbishop-elect van Megen was born in 1961 in the town of Eygelshoven and was ordained to the priesthood in 1987, after studying at the diocesan seminary Rolduc, which produced more than one other bishop. After his ordination, Father van Megen was stationed in parishes in Nieuweinde and Schaesberg, both in the Diocese of Roermond. He entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service and subsequently worked at Nunciatures in Sudan, Brazil, Slovakia, Israel, the United Nations and most recently in Malawi, where he was chargé d’affaires.
Archbishop-elect van Megen joins a very select club, as he is only the fourth Dutch prelate to represent the Holy See at the highest level in a given country. The other members of this club are Archbishop Bernhard Gijlswijk (Apostolic Delegate to South Africa from 1922 to 1944), Archbishop Adriaan Smets (Apostolic Delegate to Persia from 1922 to 1930) and Archbishop Martin Lucas (Apostolic Delegate to South Africa from 1945-1952, Apostolic Internuncio to India from 1952 to 1959 and Apostolic Delegate to Scandinavia from 1959-1961). There are currently two other Dutch-born bishops active abroad: Bishop Willem de Bekker of Paramaribo, and Bishop John Oudeman, auxiliary of Brisbane. In addition, six more are retired.
The Apostolic Nunciature to Sudan was established in 1972 and seven archbishops have preceded Msgr. van Megen there. The most recent was Archbishop Leo Boccardi, who was transferred to Iran in July of last year. Previous Nuncios to Sudan also represented the Holy See in other parts of Africa at the same time, specifically Eritrea and Somalia. While Somalia currently has a Nuncio assigned, Eritrea has not, so Msgr. van Megen may eventually also be assigned to that country.
The Catholic Church in Sudan is covered by two circumscriptions; the Archdiocese of Khartoum and the Diocese of El Obeid. The archbishop of Khartoum, Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako is 73, so Msgr. van Megen will very likely be involved in the appointment of his successor.
About 5% of the population of Sudan is Catholic, mainly in the south and in Khartoum. Officially there is freedom of religion, but socially there is a strong pressure against conversion from Islam to Christianity. The violence and civil war that has affected the country in recent years makes for an interesting first posting for a new Nuncio.
Msgr. van Megen will probably be consecrated soon after Easter, but the location is not yet known, although Rome seems likely. If so, Pope Francis or Cardinal Parolin may well perform the consecration. But Mgr. van Megen has also said that he hopes that the ceremony will take place in the Netherlands. In that case I can imagine that Bishop Wiertz will consecrate him. As archbishop, Msgr. van Megen will hold the titular see of Novaliciana, located in modern Algeria. Previous holders of this see were, for example, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, Nuncio to Great Britain from 2004 to 2010, and Cardinal Achille Silvestrini when he was Secretary of the Council for Public Affairs of the Church from 1979 to 1988
Various bishops have written messages to their faithful on the occasion of Lent. In this post I want to go over six of them, written by bishops in and around the Netherlands. I have been scanning the various diocesan websites for them, and an interesting conclusion from that is that there aren’t a lot. I have found one in the Netherlands, and a few in Belgium and the Nordic countries. Oh, and one from Luxembourg. None from Germany, oddly enough.
Anyway, let’s see what the bishops who did write a message found important to share.
From Utrecht, Cardinal Wim Eijk speaks about charity. He writes:
“For many of us [Lent] is a time of abstinence, a period in which we deny ourselves “the pleasures of life” or at least limit ourselves. Lent is a journey through the darkness to the Light of Easter, a journey through the desert to the Source. And we take the time for that: this is not ‘merely’ a Four-Day March, but one of forty days. We do not fast with an eye on losing weight or adopting a healthier lifestyle – although these can certainly be positive side effects… [...] During Lent we place not ourselves but God and also our neighbours at the centre. It is the we have in mind when we downsize our consumption pattern.”
But the cardinal warns, Lent is not just about saving money to give to some charity. He quotes Pope Francis, who said that if we do not have Christ and the Cross, we are a enthusiastic NGO, but not a Church. In other words, we can’t lose sight of our faith when doing good. In addition to fighting material poverty, we must also fight spiritual poverty.
“[Lent] is after all a time in which we make room to enrich our heart and our spirit, through prayer and reading Scripture, by directing these on what the should be the heart of our existence: our personal relationship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. We remove the frills and side issues from our life to experience that our wellbeing does not depend on them.”
In essence, Cardinal Eijk explains, our charitable actions can not be seen separate from the Eucharist.
“In the sacrament of the Eucharist we come closest to Our Lord Jesus Christ. In receiving the Eucharist we are conformed to Him. This creates obligations and holds an assignment: from now on, try to act in His Spirit.”
He concludes with pointing out several “desert experiences” that deserve our attention: the loneliness of people around us, and the loneliness that we as faithful can sometimes experience.
“We live in a time in which faith has long since ceased to be a matter of course, in which not belonging to a religion is increasingly becoming normative. Going to Church on Sunday has almost become “socially maladjusted behaviour” now that this day is beginning to look more and more like every other day of the week. And then there is the unavoidable fact that several churches will have to be closed in the coming period, churches in which parishioners have often had decades worth of precious experiences and memories. It is clear: a person of faith in the year 2014 must stand firm to continue following Jesus faithfully.
But the person of faith and his faith can also be shaken from within. Every faith life has fruitful and barren periods. Barren periods during which we are locked up in ourselves, imprisoned by doubt and sorrow. Sorrow for the loss of a loved one or the disappearance of what was once familiar. In those dark nights of abandonment it may seems as it of our prayer do not reach beyond that barrier of sorrow, as if they return to us like a boomerang.”
Countering that is the realisation that Christ is with us, even in times of sorrow and suffering, even of sin.
Brussels’ Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard sheds a light on the three constituent elements of Lent – fasting, almsgiving and prayer – and asks his audience some direct questions. About fasting, he writes:
“Properly understood, fasting is an act of love for God. Is it not right to happily deny ourselves something for the people we love the most? [...] The way in which our Muslim brother and sisters practice Ramadan can inspire us in an exemplary manner to be at our most generous in this field.”
About almsgiving, the archbishop explains:
“This is an important aspect of Lent. Brotherly sharing starts at home. With that I mean the sharing of friendship, respect, patience and service.”
Lastly, there is prayer. Archbishop Léonard remind sus that the most important prayer is the Eucharist. About personal prayer, he asks us a question:
“We all know, at least in theory, the importance of prayer. But reality shows that a solid reminder sometimes does wonders! I ask you again: “How much time did we spend on prayer over the past month? Where were we?” Lent is an excellent opportunity to make a new start or, who knows, finally get started. Spending a few minutes a day with the Lord is not to much to ask, is it?”
And prayer is not hard:
“We must at least realise that every one of us can pray, even a longer prayer. Prayer is not reserved to priests and religious. It does not require a diploma or any special talent. The desire for prayer and asking Jesus, like His Apostles did, “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Luke 11:1), is enough. Let su listen to the voice of the Lord, who asks us, “Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share a meal at that person’s side” (Rev. 3:20).”
Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg uses his message to urge the his faithful to devote themselves even more to the practices of Lent and Easter. In order the hear the voice of God, we must be ready to do so, he writes.
“I [...] propose we fast and do abstinence every Friday during this time of preparation for Easter. A simple meal can help us break down barriers in our daily routine and to open ourselves to Christ’s call. It is also a gesture of solidarity with the poor. And it would be good to not do it alone, but to do so in our various communities. Fasting and abstinence open our hearts and make us better able to pray. Would this not be an opportunity to pray more, to maintain dialogue and contact with the living God? Without personal prayer these things elude us!”
Archbishop Hollerich also speaks about almsgiving, about giving something up for the other. And this is also good for ourselves:
“Let’s shake ourselves up during this Lent! Let’s open our hearts to the distress of the world, which also exists in Luxembourg. Only someone who opens their hands to share can receive this gift: the freedom of the children of God.”
The archbishop urges us to celebrate all of Lent, not just Easter, but also Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, in order to encounter Christ fully in our hearts.
Despite the problems the Church faces, and we as individual faithful also, Lent is ultimately a season of hope, and that hope grows the closer we come to the Living Lord.
Bishop Anders Arborelius of Stockholm takes a slightly different approach to his message for Lent, as he does not explicitly discuss what we can and should do during this season. Instead, he begins with the image of a forgotten God, opening his letter with these blunt lines:
“We forget God. We live in age where God has become the forgotten God. Even the one who says, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me” (Isaiah 49:14) has in fact himself forgotten God.”
But God does not forget us, he continues. We can’t imagine how close God is to is, and how much he loves us. It is up to us to remind others that, while they may forget Him, He never forgets them. And that is hard to communicate, but we must remain hopeful.
Forgetting God contains an enormous risk for us, the bishop explains:
“When we forget God, there is a great risk that we also forget man and fail to see him in his dignity of being created in the image of God. When God is forgotten, creation itself is diminished and so are all created beings. In a time and environment where consumerism is paramount, everything – and everybody – is easily reduced to things that can be consumed. When God is out of sight, so is humanity – indeed all of creation is brought down and diminished.”
But God is knowable in His creation, Bishop Arborelius states. “His presence permeates everything”. And when we get to know God, our respect for His creation grows. In Lent, that respect is shown by our refraining from making unnecessary use of created things.
“We eat less. We disengage ourselves from our covetousness. We try to help our neighbour. We meet God in the poor and naked. We forget ourselves so that we can set God in the centre. We serve those who need us. We praise Go for His goodness. We deepen our faith. Lent helps us to seek God with greater eagerness. We are more receptive to God’s will for us.” St. Birgitta likens God to a washerwoman, who constantly washes us clean of our sins and guilt. During Lent we are serious about our conversion. We prepare ourselves for the triumph and joy of Easter through contrition and penance, by receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation and by participating in the Eucharist more often. We unite ourselves to the suffering and crucified Christ so that we can meet Him as the Risen and glorified Lord. The cross always leads us to the joy and peace of Easter.”
During Lent we must make a choice, the bishop insists.
“We must choose sides. We cannot limp on both sides. Mediocrity and half-heartedness must give way to devotion and commitment. We must begin each day anew in the new life of grace. We must seek the face of God each day by praying to Him and serving Him in our neighbour.”
But we need not stand alone in this radical choice. We are part of the community of the Church, which strengthens us, and the saints in heaven support us by their prayer. This is an antidote against selfishness and forgetting God.
Bishop Arborelius concludes his letter by presenting the Blessed Virgin, to whom the bishops of the Nordic countries will consecrate their nations on 22 March in Lund, Sweden, as our great help in heaven. She helps us be more evangelising and a better witness of Christ.
Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny devotes a major part of his message to the Belgian bill which allows euthanasia on minors. He quotes part of the bishops’ response to that immoral piece of legislation, which was sadly signed into law by King Philippe only days ago.
“The bishops agree with all who have expressed themselves unambiguously against this law on the basis of their experience and expertise. They fully support the rights of the child, of which the rights to love and respect are the most fundamental. But the right of a child to request his or her own death is a step too far for them. It is a transgression of the prohibition to kill, which forms the basis of our humane society.”
Following this reminder of the Church’s opposition to the laws of death, Bishop Bonny writes about the two complementary topics of freedom and solidarity.
“From where does our freedom come, and what does it consist of? Where does our solidarity consist of and what does it consist of? In the Christian view of humanity and the world freedom and solidarity are inseparable. They are like twins who belong together and strengthen each other.”
Using the example of St. Damian, Bishop Bonny then asks what connection we still make between freedom and solidarity. Lent leads us to the answer to that question.
“What was Good Friday but the ultimate unity of those two: freedom and solidarity. Why did Jesus end up on a cross? On the one hand because He wanted to be free: free to witness to the truth free to say and do what the Spirit of God inspired Him to do, free to give His life for His friends. On the other hand because He wanted to remain solidary: solidary with poor and broken people, solidary with the martyrs of all times, solidary with a weak and sinful humanity. He did not make a success story out of His life. He lost His trial. He was carried off through the backdoor of society.”
And so we come full circle, as the bishop seems to want to imply a link between the victims of draconian laws and Jesus Christ.
Reykjavík’s Bishop Pétur Bürcher writes about the Year for Consecrated Life that Pope Francis has announced for 2015, and uses the opportunity the address the religious communities in Iceland which, he says, “are a sign of hope for our Church!” The bishop goes on to relate the contributions that the religious communities have made to Catholic Iceland and announces a plan for the future:
“I would like to establish a male monastery, if possible with the Benedictines or Augustinians who in the Middle Ages possessed several monasteries in Iceland. We have already found a large piece of land with houses and a heated church in Úlfljótsvatn. Now we have to find a monastic community! I have undertaken a lot to find it and hope soon for a fulfillment of my dream which has become one of many people in Iceland and abroad!”
Lastly, Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt opens his message by acknowledging that our environment does not make it easy for us to have the right attitude to start Lent.
“There is very little around us which calls us to it. The chocolate Easter eggs are already in the supermarket and commercials and media have always spoken with more easy about carnival, dieting and the Ramadan than about Christian fasting. Lent is apparently considered to be a private matter which we had better not discuss too much.”
But Lent is a precious time of conversion, the bishop says, drawing parallels with Christ’s time in the desert and the forty years that the people of Israel spent in the desert. It is a time of conversion from worldly things, in preparation for the future. And that conversion begins with the person of Jesus. Quoting Pope Francis, Bishop Hoogmartens says we must understand Christ’s deepest ‘being’.
“Jesus reveals Himself, not with worldly power and wealth, both more so in weakness and poverty. He came to us with a love which does not hesitate to sacrifice itself. He became like us in every way, except in sin. He carried our suffering and died on the Cross. It is He who we must open our hearts and lives much more to during Lent. From out of the love of Jesus, out of His mercy as the Christ, we can, as it were, ‘practice’ our witnessing, in honest love for the other, during Lent.”
The bishop emphasises the two sorts of poverty we must address, material and moral. About the latter he says:
“The extreme emphasis on human autonomy, for example, which became to shockingly visible in the recent amendments in Belgium regarding euthanasia, must urge us Christians to even more support care and nearness to suffering people according to the Gospel.”
In the first place, the bishops concludes, we must first make a conversion ourselves, before we can address the various sorts of poverty we see around us, for it is in Jesus that we find the means to fight it.
As many styles as there are bishops. Some offer deep theology, others outline plans for the future, but all offer points that we can keep in mind during Lent.
It’s almost Lent. Snuck up on you, didn’t it? But it’s true, Less than a week away the great time of fasting and penitence will begin and prepare us for Easter.
Time to plan ahead.
For this Lent and Holy Week I want to take the Gospel readings of every day and do some lectio divina with them, a spiritual reading. I’ll be posting the relevant passage every day (well, that’s the plan) and reflect on it. These reflections will be short, as lectio divina is by definition a personal exercise: we prayerfully read a Bible text for ourselves and are open to learn from it. The reflections are therefore what I take from the text: your experience may be a different one, but I hope that comparing what others learn with what you have learned can set you off on new avenues of thought, prayer and discovery.
For those who want to read and reflect in their own time, or if I am unable to post every day, here is a list of the Gospel reading of every day:
Wednesday 5 March (Ash Wednesday): Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
- Thursday 6 March: Luke 9: 22-25
- Friday 7 March: Matthew 9:14-15
- Saturday 8 March: Luke 5:27-32
- Sunday 9 March (First Sunday of Lent): Matthew 4:1-11
- Monday 10 March: Matthew 25:31-46
- Tuesday 11 March: Matthew 6:7-15
- Wednesday 12 March: Luke 11:29-32
- Thursday 13 March: Matthew 7:7-12
- Friday 14 March: Matthew 5:20-26
- Saturday 15 March: Matthew 5:43-48
- Sunday 16 March (Second Sunday of Lent): Matthew 17:1-9
- Monday 17 March: Luke 6:36-38
- Tuesday 18 March: Matthew 23:1-12
- Wednesday 19 March (Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary): Matthew 116, 18-21, 24a or Luke 2: 41-51a
- Thursday 20 March: Luke 16:19-31
- Friday 21 March: Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
- Saturday 22 March: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
- Sunday 23 March (Third Sunday of Lent): John 4:5-42 or John 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42
- Monday 24 March: Luke 4:24-30
- Tuesday 25 March (Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord): Luke 1:26-38
- Wednesday 26 March: Matthew 5:17-19
- Thursday 27 March: Luke 11:14-23
- Friday 28 March: Mark 12:28-34
- Saturday 29 March: Luke 18:9-14
- Sunday 30 March (Fourth Sunday of Lent): John 9:1-41 or John 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38
- Monday 31 March: John 4:43-54
- Tuesday 1 April: John 5:1-16
- Wednesday 2 April: John 5:17-30
- Thursday 3 April: John 5:31-47
- Friday 4 April: John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
- Saturday 5 April: John 7:40-53
- Sunday 6 April (Fifth Sunday of Lent): John 11:1-45 or John 11:3-7, 20-27, 33b-45
- Monday 7 April: John 8:1-11
- Tuesday 8 April: John 8:21-30
- Wednesday 9 April: John 8:31-42
- Thursday 10 April: John 8:51-59
- Friday 11 April: John 10:31-42
- Saturday 12 April: John 11:45-56
- Sunday 13 April (Palm Sunday): Matthew 26:14-27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54
- Monday 14 April: John 12:1-11
- Tuesday 15 April: John 13:21-33, 36-38
- Wednesday 16 April: Matthew 26:14-25
- Thursday 17 April: John 13:1-15
- Friday 18 April (Good Friday): John 18:1-19:42
- Saturday 19 April (Holy Saturday): Matthew 28:1-10
- Sunday 20 April (Easter Sunday): John 20:1-9
It’s much, to be sure, but it is an investment that’s worth the effort. Lent is especially a time to return to the basis, to the Word, and allow the Lord to join us on our way.