Christ and the Church

francis, solemnity of maryIn his homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on 1 January, Pope Francis emphasised why we not only need personal faith in Christ, but also the Church. Starting from the point that we can’t understand Jesus’ incarnation without understanding Mary, he continues that Mary’s motherhood is the motherhood of the Church, since Mary and the Church are as inseparable as Mary and Jesus.

To separate Jesus from the Church would introduce an “absurd dichotomy”, as Blessed Paul VI wrote (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 16). It is not possible “to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church” (ibid.). For the Church is herself God’s great family, which brings Christ to us. Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God who became man, was put to death, rose from the dead to save us, and is now living in our midst. Where can we encounter him? We encounter him in the Church, in our hierarchical, Holy Mother Church. It is the Church which says today: “Behold the Lamb of God”; it is the Church, which proclaims him; it is in the Church that Jesus continues to accomplish his acts of grace which are the sacraments.”

So many people today are willing to profess a belief in Christ, but want nothing to do with the Church. But there is a great risk in such an attitude, the Pope explains:

“Without the Church, our relationship with Christ would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods.”

The Church’s entire being is inconceivable without Christ. She is not a human construct, but a divine one built up out of human followers of the Lord. Christ reaches out to us and wants to be known. He has tasked the Church with making this possible, to be known from one human being to the next. Answering to this invitation to enter into a relationship with Him, we look to the Church, the greater body of faithful, greater than just ourselves, and to the sacraments He has given her to allow people to come to Him. This is what Christ has done, an achievement far greater than any human work or person.

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“Not very nice”- Protestants call Cardinal Eijk to explain himself

eijkThe comments by Cardinal Eijk on the Council of Trent continue to cause a stir, chiefly in Protestant circles, but also among Catholics. Accusations that Trent was centuries ago and that times have changed are mostly heard, but these ignore that the cardinal was not speaking about current affairs. He spoke out of the assumption – which is the general Catholic one – that the dogmatic statements of a Council remain so, even as time passes. The implementation and even need of specific statements may change, and so there are texts which came out of Trent which are interesting, but no longer of much use beyond the theoretical study of them.

Cardinal Eijk spoke about the validity of – especially – the anathemas decreed at Trent, aimed at those who wilfully, freely and in full knowledge that they were doing so proclaimed untruths, even heresies, against the faith as taught by the Church. He also emphasised that people who today have a different image of God or understanding of the faith can’t be blamed for that: upbringing and tradition are not a reason to declare anyone cursed in the sight of God. That judgement, as the cardinal also said, lies with God anyway. The Church here on earth, however, can and should underline the faith she teaches and point out when someone is in error. That is what Trent did: she emphasised the truths of the faith and put an end to certain practices which were in contradiction to that, such as the trade in indulgences.

But that is not the level on which the debate is taking place. There is no discussion about the reason, mistakes or truths about what the Church teaches or what was decided and done at the Council of Trent. This was what Cardinal Eijk was talking about, but his critics focus on something else altogether: the tone.

arjan-plaisier-04Today the secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Arjan Plaisier, wrote an open letter to Cardinal Eijk asking him certain questions about his comments. Below are these questions, translated into English:

“Firstly: Is it in order to let tradition speak in such a way, outside the context of any ecumenical conversation or encounter? Does it fit in a time when much has taken place in the field of ecumenism, to make such a statement “about you, without you”? Isn’t this a denial of an ecumenical history which we have gone through together? Does this not block any further dialogue about fundamental faith topics which we can have, unilaterally or in the context of the Council of Churches?”

The progress of ecumenical relations does not take place in changing teachings or traditions (the latter word will have a rather different meaning for Catholics and Protestants anyway). Ecumenism is relational, a tool for increased understanding, not of abandoning truths. Whether the cardinal’s comments would block any further dialogue is not up to him. It is up to our ecumenical partners, who deserve to know what the Church teaches, in plain sight, not hidden under a blanket of “being nice to each other”. Sure, we should strive for cordial relations, but that can not be the final goal of ecumenism. It should be noted, in this context, that Cardinal Eijk has stated that he is fully behind ecumenism and agrees with Pope Francis on this topic.

The letter continues:

“Secondly: Do you have the opinion that the fundamental differences that exist between the Church of Rome and the Protestants, still need to be condemned in terms of “cursed” and “banned”?”

The cardinal never said anything of the kind. There are differences, and these must be addressed and named, but modern Protestants and the faith the proclaim are not addressed by Trent.

“Paul addressed that curse to the proclamation of a different Gospel, namely different than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Crucified. Various dialogues between Rome and the Reformation have concluded that we recognise and acknowledge each other in this Gospel. That recognition has everything to do what the patient and honest efforts to better  understand each other in this. Fundamental differences remain, especially concerning ecclesiology. But is it in order, especially in light of the recognition mentioned above, to speak about these differences in the language of “cursing”? How, by the way, is this related to the mutual recognition of  the others Baptism?”

The fact is that the various Protestant churches have different teachings about certain matters related to the Gospel than the Catholic Church has. Does this mean that they follow a different Gospel? No, but there are differences. Acknowledging that both the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church follow Christ does not change anything about that. And once more, the anathemas of Trent, as the cardinal has said, do not automatically refer to modern Protestants and certainly not to persons. The Gospel text from St. Paul  was not presented by Cardinal Eijk as a reason to curse anyone, but merely as a possible motivation for the work of the Council of Trent. What mutual recognition of Baptism has to do with that, is anyone’s guess. Recognising that the Church and the Protestant communities use the same valid means of Baptism is no reason to assume that they are the same in everything.

Secretary Plaisier invites Cardinal Eijk to discuss this further in a future meeting. Perhaps that would be a good opportunity to explain a few things. About Catholic tradition, the meaning of Councils, ecumenism, anathemas, identity and truth. This would be good, because the criticism has generally not yet transcended the level of emotion: it is not nice what the cardinal has said, so therefore we are hurt. That is an injustice to the cardinal and certainly also to the churches and faith of the critics themselves

Photo credit: [1] ANP

Gearing up for Bootcamp 2011

The flyer for Bootcamp 2010, designed by Brother Hugo

When good Catholic catechesis and education beyond the basic topics is hard to find, you sometimes need to provide for it yourself. That is the basic reason why the Credimus Bootcamp was held for the first time in 2008. This year it will be organised for the fourth time and already the PR machine is gearing up. To the left you’ll notice the design of the flyer by Brother Hugo, the diocesan hermit who has been involved with Bootcamp from the start. He was also the host of the first edition.

The topic of Bootcamp 2011 is ‘shepherds’. I don’t know anything beyond that either, but I am sure that, over the course of the coming months, we will find out a bit more.

Bootcamp 2011 will be held from 16 to 22 July in Geffen, Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, where Father David van Dijk will be host for the third time running.

An impression of my experiences of Bootcamp 2010 can be found in my blog post Back from Bootcamp.

Credimus Bootcamp is a week of liturgy and lectures, but also social activities and relaxation, aimed at people roughly between 16 and 35. There will be daily Mass in both forms of the Latin rite, offered by various guest priests, the Liturgy of the Hours, Adoration, and every day guests will come and speak about all kinds of topics (past topics included the sacrifice of the Mass, Gregorian chant (also in workshop form), ecclesiology, a first-hand account of an approved miracle and people’s innate urge to find God.

Next to that, there is ample time for relaxation, meals together, a day trip on the free day in the middle of the week and random Catholic encounters with people, traditions and artifacts from the dark attic of the faith, to paraphrase Brother Hugo. For most people attending it is also a week that does not leave them unaffected: in the end, Bootcamp is all about the encounter with the living God.

Follow the Bootcamp organisation, which includes the authors of Ingrid Airam and David’s Weblog, on Twitter via CmusBootcamp and on Facebook.

Credimus Bootcamp, edition 3

For the third time I’ll be attending the so-called Credimus Bootcamp, this year from 17 to 23 July. It’s been suggested I should advertise it a bit here, and I gladly do so.

So, what is this Bootcamp thing? On the website it is described as a ‘Catholic catechesis camp for young people who want to learn more about their faith’, and that’s as good a description as I can think of. Whereas conventional catechesis in most parishes is necessarily general and superficial, the Credimus Bootcamp wants to delve into the depths of the Catholic faith, to answer the difficult questions and come up with all manner of treasures from the wealth of our faith.

In my experience it is not only a learning experience where you’re made to think and learn, both intellectually and spiritually, but also a pleasant week spent with like-minded people. Serious Catholics can have fun too, and Bootcamp offers plenty of fun.

During most days, guest speakers (priests, religious and lay people) will come and speak about subjects in their field of expertise, we will have Mass in both forms of the Latin rite, we will pray the Liturgy of the Hours together and of course sit down for meals and a drink or two in the evenings.

Of the guest speakers there have already been three confirmed for this year: Father Marc Heemels, parish priest in the parish of St. John the Baptist/Holy Curé of Ars in Eygelshoven in the Diocese of Roermond; Brother Federico of the Institute of the Incarnate Word; and Father Harry van der Vegt, cathedral administrator of the cathedral of St. Catherine and priest of the church of St. Willibrord, both in Utrecht.

Past speakers (who have included Father Tim Finigan, Father Cor Mennen, Deacon Peter Vermaat and Brother Hugo) discussed all manner of topics, ranging from the liturgy to the saints to ecclesiology. Anyone with a functioning brain should be able to follow the lectures and meetings, even if they go deeper than what you’re used to.

This years edition will take place in the parish of St. Mary Magdalen in Geffen, in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, where Father David van Dijk will host us for the second time.

For more information you can hop over to the Bootcamp website and sign up. Bootcamp will be in Dutch, although many attendees will speak English too.