“Gaudete et exsultate” – A summary and some reflections on Chapter 1

Pope-Francis-writing-740x493As is characteristic of Pope Francis, his latest document, the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate, is not “a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions helpful for understanding this important subject, or a discussion of the various means of sanctification”. Instead, the Holy Father has the practicality of daily life in mind: he simply wants to repropose the call to holiness “for our own time”.

In this post I will take a look at the first chapter of this new document. I will try to add some thoughts and connections of my own, as well as provide a summary for those who haven’t gotten around to reading the whole thing yet. I haven’t either, so what you read here very much is a collection of first impressions.

The first paragraph of the exhortation emphasises that the call to holiness lies at the heart of being a Christian. Too often it seems as if Christianity is just a system of rules and regulations, but, Pope Francis reminds us, “[The Lord] wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” for He created us for true life and happiness. That is the goal of following Christ. Quoting Pope Benedict XVI in paragraph 21, Pope Francis writes, “holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.”

Holiness is not something to be achieved alone. On the contrary, there are countless numbers of saints that lead by example. They “may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord,” the Pope writes. In paragraph 5, he reminds us of a recent change he made to the reasons why a person can be declared to be a blessed or saint: when “a life is constantly offered for others, even until death”. The processes of beatification and canonisation recognise the heroic virtues, which people in the past, but also “our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones” consistently display to inspire and guide us on the path to holiness.

And holiness is not just a goal on the horizon, distant or otherwise. In paragraph 7, Pope Francis speaks of “the middle class of holiness”: parents, people who work hard for their loved ones, for the sick, our next-door neighbours who display God’s presence among us. It is these people who make real history.

Holiness also unites, especially when we look at the martyrs. People are persecuted or killed for their Christian faith, and the persecutors make no distinction between Catholics, Orthodox or Protestants. Theirs is a ecumenism of blood.

But these are just some factual statements, important as they may be. In Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis “would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; cf. 1 Pet 1:16). The Exhortation should, then, be read as a personal letter to all of us. Paragraphs 14 to 18, under the header “For you too”, are essential reading in this regard. Each has their own way of achieving holiness, and while examples are good and helpful, they are not meant to simply be copied, “for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us.” We are tasked to find our own path, our own vocation in life, because that is what is attainable for us.

In paragraph 12, the Holy Father stresses the “genius of women” which is “seen in feminine styles of holiness”. While listing a number of important female saints, he returns again to the “middle class”: “all those unknown or forgotten women who, each in her own way, sustained and transformed families and communities by the power of their witness.”

Holiness, or the attempt at achieving it, is essential to the mission of a Christian in the world. That mission, which each of us has, is “to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.”

But what is that holiness, then? Pope Francis offers a deceptively simple answer: “[H]oliness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love.” We can incorporate these mysteries in our lives by contemplating them, he writes, quoting St. Ignatius of Loyola.

It is important to recall that saints, which we are called to be, are not perfect human beings. After all, only God is perfect. “Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect.” That is why we must look at “the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person”. We must also look at the totality of our own lives, not just dwell on individual mistakes or successes. Pope Francis encourages us to always listen to the Holy Spirit and the signs He gives us; we should ask in prayer what Jesus expects from us at every moment and for every decision we make.

Holiness requires an openness to God. “Let yourself be transformed. Let yourself be renewed by the Spirit,” we read in paragraph 24. If we don’t, our mission to speak the message of Jesus that God wants us to communicate to the world by our lives will fail.

Our striving for holiness is intimately connected to Christ. We must work with Him to build His Kingdom: this is thus a communal effort. We cannot seek one thing while avoiding another. “Everything can be accepted and integrated into our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holiness. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission,” the Pope writes in paragraph 26.

What are the sort of activities that can help us on the path to holiness, then? As each path is different, it is impossible to provide a simple list, but the Holy Father does give some directions: “Anything done out of anxiety, pride or the need to impress others will not lead to holiness.” We must be committed, so that everything we do has evangelical meaning. But that “does not mean ignoring the need for moments of quiet, solitude and silence before God. Quite the contrary.” We live in a world of distractions, a world not filled with joy, but with discontent (the social media world is certainly no stranger to that). In moments of silence we are able to open ourselves to God, which, as we have read, is a prerequisite for starting on our path to holiness.

Paragraph 31 summarises the above well: “We need a spirit of holiness capable of filling both our solitude and our service, our personal life and our evangelizing efforts, so that every moment can be an expression of self-sacrificing love in the Lord’s eyes. In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness.”

But that path can also be scary, as it seems to take us away from what is familiar. In paragraph 32, Pope Francis echoes a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, who said, “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything.” Pope Francis writes the same about holiness: “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self.” This, as I have written above, is the heart of being a Christian: the path to holiness leads us to becoming the fullest version of ourselves.

In this first chapter, Pope Francis establishes that this is a personal letter to each of us. It explains that holiness lies at the heart of being a Christian, and that it precludes neither the contemplative nor the active sides of life: we should never choose one over the other, but both are required. With this text he also emphasises his own focus on spirituality: Christianity is a faith with its roots in the muck of daily life. Holiness is not something high and unattainable, no, it can become visible in the most mediocre things. Holiness has a middle class of hard work which is at least as important as the first class of theology and contemplation. I found the various references to the fullness of life which God has created us for especially striking. I think it is a beautiful invitation to find our own path to holiness and follow Christ every day.

I will look at Chapter 2 in the near future.


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Lectures and meetings – baby bishops’ school in Rome

This past week, the bishops who have been appointed in the last year were in Rome for what has become known as ‘baby bishops’ school’, a series of lectures on things related to being a bishop. Among the participants was Bishop Ron van den Hout of Groningen-Leeuwarden, appointed in April of this year. The last time a Dutch bishop participated was in 2012. The week-long course has existed since 2001 and is jointly organised by the Congregations for Bishops and for the Oriental Churches.

20170908-_C817730.jpgBishop Ron van den Hout, at left, concelebrates the daily Mass during the course for newly-appointed bishops.

This year’s topic of the course was ‘Teachers in discernment’, and, according to a factual report on the website of Bishop van den Hout’s diocese, the bishops heard lectures on mutual collegiality, the relationships with the priests of the bishop’s new diocese, ecumenism, pastoral care for priests and their affective life, Church and media, the missionary Church, and the role of canon law in managing a diocese.

The German bishops were with six in Rome, among them Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, who shared the photo below on his Facebook page, of bishops (and one priest) at dinner.

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From left to right: Franz Josef Gebert (auxiliary, Trier), Georg Bätzing (Limburg), Fr. Stefan Langer (Hamburg), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), Horst Eberlein (auxiliary, Hamburg), Dominicus Meier (auxiliary, Paderborn (albeit not a newly-ordained bishop)) and Rupert Graf zu Stolberg (auxiliary, München und Freising). Absent from the gathering were Bishops Mattäus Karrer (auxiliary of Rottenburg-Stuttgart) and Rolf Lohmann (auxiliary, Münster).

 

Next to the lectures, Bishop Kohlgraf identifies another important element of the week. “Another at least equally important part is formed by the conversations between the individual participants. It allowed me to get to know brothers who work in very sober and sometimes difficult situations and yet radiate great joy”. A participant in last year’s edition, Bishop Richard Umbers of Sydney, Australia (a bishop you should follow in Facebook or Twitter, by the way), said something similar in a recent conversation with Crux: “Make sure you organize a few lunches and dinners along the way. Make sure you make time to get to know some of those bishops in a more intimate setting. Build friendships there.”

The new bishops were received in audience by Pope Francis on Thursday afternoon. In his address, the Holy Father reminded them that “[t]he mission that awaits you is not to bring your own ideas and projects, nor solutions that are abstractly designed by those who consider the Church a home garden but humbly, without attention-seeking or narcissism , to offer your concrete witness of union with God, serving the Gospel that should be cultivated and helped to grow in that specific situation.” He spoke about discerning God in everything the bishops does and says. “Remember that God was already present in your dioceses when you arrived and will still be there when you are gone. And, in the end, we will all be measured not by counting our works but on the growth of God’s work in the heart of the flock that we keep in the name of the “Pastor and keeper of our souls” (cf. 1 Pt 2:25)”.

 

Remembering Baptism – Archbishop Schick’s Letter for Lent

schickIt’s time again for bishops writing their faithful on the occasion of the season of Lent. I will share a selection of these letters here over the coming weeks. First of is Archbishop Ludwig Schick of Bamberg, who writes about Lent as the season of preparation for Baptism, or, as in the case of many faithful, a remembrance of our Baptism.

“Oh Blessedness of being baptised”

Dear sisters and brothers!

In the liturgical year, Lent is the time in which the “joy of the Gospel” is to be renewed. We are invited to engage deeper into the imitation of Jesus. We will experience anew: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

The year 2015 will be celebrated as a “Year of Orders”. Pope Francis has set it is a “Year of the Vocation to Religious Life”. Additionally, in the Archdiocese of Bamberg we celebrate 1,000 years of religious life among us since the establishment of the Benedictine monastery on the Michaelsberg in the year 1015. In this year we will get to know above all the orders and other religious communities better, consider religious life, express our appreciation for the religious Christians and pray for and promote vocations for them.

But this can only be meaningful and successful when we strengthen the meaning and feeling of the vocation and consecration of all Christians. Not just the religious and the priests, but all Christians are called by Jesus Christ and consecrated by the Baptism of God. In the second reading from the First Letter of Peter we have heard: “It is the baptism corresponding to this water which saves you now — not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience given to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand, with angels, ruling forces and powers subject to him” (1 Pet. 3:21-22).

I have been baptised and consecrated to God

All Christians are consecrated to God through Jesus Christ, who in Baptism gave us a clear conscience and has inextricably linked us to Himself; in HIM, the Risen One, we have “life in full”, here in faith, hope and love, there in unending joy with all who are saved. All baptised are also called to cooperate in building the Kingdom of God, “the saving justice, the peace and the joy” (cf. Rom. 14:17). Pope Francis expressed this as follows: “This offering of self to God regards every Christian, because we are all consecrated to him in Baptism. We are all called to offer ourselves to the Father with Jesus and like Jesus, making a generous gift of our life, in the family, at work, in service to the Church, in works of mercy.”

Ik would ask you to think about your calling to Baptism and the consecration to God through Baptism in the time of Lent that lies before us.

Above all, Lent, the time of penance before Easter is in the Church dedicated to immediate preparation of the catechumens, who will receive the sacrament of Baptism at Easter. With the catechumens, those who have already been baptised will experience anew the gratitude and joy of their Baptism. In the Easter night, then, all baptised are called to solemnly renew their baptismal promises, a burning candle in their hand. Before all individual callings in the Church, who all have in common “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, over all, through all and within all” (cf. Eph. 4:5-6).

Baptism as a gift and a task

We are Christians since Jesus Christ has given us his irrevocable yes. It was His initiative – not of our making – to call us into his “wonderful communion”. In Baptism we say our yes to this calling and are consecrated to God.

Almost all of us were baptised as small children. Our parents and godparents spoke the yes of our Baptism on our behalf. This has been common in the Church, the family of Jesus Christ, since the beginning. Like the parents give their children everything what is important to themselves and what they consider valuable for life from the start, they also let their children receive the divine gift of Baptism immediately after birth. Over the course of life every Christian, independently and on their own responsibility, will then discover their calling to Christian life ever deeper and confirm his consecration to God. Our being Christians is never complete. Ever deeper we will “grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth” of God’s love for us (cf. Eph. 3:18-19). We will express this love ever more in our daily life through active love of God and neighbour. That is what are invited to do in every Lent.

Considering the baptismal promises

Dear sisters and brothers!

Baptism effects our belonging to Jesus Christ, our following and becoming similar to Him. At the beginning of Lent 2015 I would cordially invite you to think about your calling of Baptism and your consecration to God through Baptism. Suggestions for “remembering Baptism” can be found in our Gotteslob, n. 576. In the coming weeks, read the baptismal promises. Speak about your Baptism in your family and among your friends, in the parish council, youth group, society and seniors’ club. Ask yourself what it means for you to be called by and baptised in Jesus Christ. Read – or even better sing – the hymns in Gotteslob: “Ich bin getauft und Gott geweiht” (GL 491) or: „Fest soll mein Taufbund immer stehen” (GL 870). Think about what it means to answer the question “Do you believe?” every time with “I believe” and “Do you renounce?” with “I renounce”! A good confession should be a part of Lent: it can encourage the joy of being a Christian. The sacrament of Penance is called a “second Baptism” by theologians. It renews the grace of Baptism as it frees one from sin and makes a new start in one’s Christian life; put differently: the sacrament of Penance renews the vocation of following Christ and the consecration to God.

We Christians need more self-awareness, which makes us humble and modest, like true Christians. We find this self-awareness in the living encounter with Jesus Christ, who, through Baptism, “called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light”. This allows us to work zealously and firmly for the propagation of faith and to cooperate in the building of the Kingdom of God. Thus prepared, we can join joyfully in the celebration of Easter and renew our baptismal promises.

Baptism – Life in the Church

Baptism is always a calling to the Church, to a life in the mystical Body of Christ and to walking with the people of God towards Heaven. We can also better serve one another in the community of Christians with the gifts that each has received, and which also have an effect on the community. For that we regularly need spiritual support; the most important of which is the Sunday Eucharist. When attended the Eucharist is not possible, we should come together in a celebration of the Word of God or a prayer service, in which we hear God’s Word, pray and sing together. In our pastoral plan “Den Aufbruch wafen – heute!” from 2005 everything relevant for the celebration of the Eucharist is outlined on the pages 52 to 54. The daily morning, evening and table prayers are connected to the Eucharist. These should all be a matter of course for us. It is also important that we show ourselves publicly, in word and action, as Christians. That strengthens us and helps maintaining Christian standards and values in our society. The spirit of Jesus Christ is  indispensable for a good future and a good working relationship between us and the world.

 Blessed Lent

Dear brothers and sisters!

I wish you a blessed lent in the “Year of Orders” and in the “Year of the Vocation to Religious Life”. May the time of penance before Lent help us increase the joy of our Baptism, the joy of the community with Jesus Christ and the Gospel, the joy of the Church and the cooperation in the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis writes to us: “During the season of Lent, the Church issues two important invitations: to have a greater awareness of the redemptive work of Christ; and to live out one’s Baptism with deeper commitment.” Let us accept this double invitation.

May the good God therefore bless you, the + Father and the + Son and the + Holy Spirit.

Your Archbishop,

Dr. Ludwig Schick

Catholic Voices launches a Dutch chapter

catholic voicesGood news this week as Catholic Voices launches a Dutch group. This weekend, a group of 20 Catholics follow the initial training in order to become informed and communicative voices for the Catholic Church and the Catholic faith in the media. Founder of Catholic Voices as a whole, Jack Valero, summarises the purpose of the initiative as follows: “It’s not about winning the discussion, but giving a positive witness.”

The original Catholic Voices was formed in 2010 in the United Kingdom, on the eve of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to that country, in order to be able to answer questions of the media and inform the public about all sort of subjects related to the Church and the faith. A Catholic Voice may be contacted via the group to be a guest commentator, a participant of a discussion or a source of information for all sorts of media.

catholic voices nederland

Since 2010, groups ave been established in a number of countries, including Italy, the United States and Australia.

In addition to training the first group of Catholic Voices, they also offer a three-part training course in Strategic Communication of the Faith, on three Saturdays in 2015. This is for people who want to be able to give good answers to the difficult questions they may get in their daily life.

In the First Letter of Peter we read, “If anyone asks you to give an account of the hope which you cherish, be ready at all times to answer for it” (3:15), and that is exactly what Catholic Voices wants to do. In our modern media, driven by concerns of a financial as nature as well as the need to offer good journalism and information, the subject of religion is often forgotten. No longer are there specific, well-informed reporters appointed to cover these topics, and often we see the results: incorrect information and subjective reporting coloured by opinions. Catholic Voices can be a tool to correct that, as well as a wonderful opportunity for individual faithful to learn more, not just about their faith and Church, but also about their own communication.

Seventh Station: Jesus falls for the second time

He bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2:24

For the second time as he makes his way along the narrow path to Calvary, Jesus falls. We can sense his physical weakness after the long night and the torture he had endured. Perhaps it was not just that ordeal, his own exhaustion and the heavy cross on his shoulders that made him fall. An unfathomable burden weighs on Jesus, something personal and profound which makes itself felt more clearly with each step.

We see you as a just another poor man,
one who made a mistake in life and now must pay for it.
You seem to have no physical or moral strength left
to face the new day. And so you fall.

We recognize ourselves in you, Jesus,
even in this further, exhausted fall!
Yet you get up again; you want to carry on.
For us, for all of us,
to give us the courage to get up again.
We are weak indeed,
but your love is greater than our failures;
it is always ready to accept and understand us.

Our sins, which you took upon yourself,
crush you, yet your mercy
is infinitely greater than our misery.
Yes, Jesus, thanks to you we get up again.
We made our mistakes.
We let ourselves be taken in by the temptations of the world
perhaps for nothing more than a glimmer of satisfaction,
at the thought that someone still wants us,
that someone says he or she likes us, even loves us.
At times it is a struggle even to maintain
the commitment to fidelity made in our marriage vows.
We no longer feel the freshness or the enthusiasm we once had.
Everything is repetitious, every act seems a burden,
We just want to escape.

But we try to get up once more, Jesus,
And not to fall into the greatest temptation of all:
that of not believing that your love can accomplish all things.

Cardinal watch: Cardinal Zen turns 80

As a class of 18 new cardinal electors awaits their creation, the current group falls to 107 as Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun turns 80 and loses his right to vote in a conclave. The former archbishop of Hong Kong was for years China’s only cardinal, and the number doesn’t seem to increase anytime soon, considering the difficult relations between the Communist superpower and the Holy See. Cardinal Zen’s successor in the former British colony, Bishop John Tong Hon, is already lined up to become China’s next sole cardinal and elector.

Cardinal Zen, a priest since 1961, was ordained as coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong, finally succeeding Cardinal Wu Cheng-Chung in 2002. He was created a cardinal in the first consistory called by Pope Benedict XVI, in 2006.

His episcopal motto, “Ipsi cura est”, comes from 1 Peter 5:7, and means “he cares (about you)”, something that Cardinal Zen took to heart, often being publicly critical of the governments of both China and Hong Kong. His latest action was a three-day hunger strike last October, to protest how the government handled the school system.

Cardinal Zen of course retains his cardinal title church of Santa Maria Madre del Redentore a Tor Bella Monaca on Rome’s eastern outskirts.

Papal soundbytes, Aquileia and Venice

Pope Benedict XVI speaks with Archbishop Dino De Antoni of Gorizia upon his arrival in Aquileia

It took a while, but the Vatican website now features the English texts of all the pope’s speeches, homilies and other remarks made during the pastoral visit to Aquileia and Venice on 7 and 8 May. So, without further ado, here are the papal soundbytes of this first pastoral visit of the year. Go visit the above link to read the full texts.

Christ, God and man

What made the Church which Chromatius loved and served great was her profession of faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man. In commenting on the Gospel narrative of the woman who pours perfume first on Jesus’ feet and then on his head, Chromatius says: “The feet of Christ indicate the mystery of his Incarnation which is why he deigned to be born of a virgin in these recent times; the head, on the other hand, indicates the glory of his divinity which proceeds from the Father before all the ages. This means that we must believe two things about Christ: that he is God, and that he is man, God begotten by the Father, a man born of a virgin…. We cannot otherwise be saved, unless we believe these two things about Christ” (Chromatius of Aquileia, Catechesis to the People, Cittá Nuova, 1989, p. 93). (Meeting with the people of Aquileia, 7 May.)

The Holy Spirit speaks through community

It is through the “synodal assembly” that the Holy Spirit speaks to your beloved Churches and to all of you individually, strengthening you for a more mature growth in fellowship and mutual cooperation. This “ecclesial gathering” allows all the Christian communities that you represent here, first of all to share the original experience of Christianity, that of the personal encounter with Jesus, who fully discloses to every man and every woman the meaning and direction of our path, both through life and through history. (Preparatory assembly for the Second Ecclesial Convention of Aquileia, 7 May.)

“He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev 2:7). Your pastors have repeated this invitation of the Book of Revelation to all your individual Churches and the various ecclesial realities. In this way they have urged you to discover and to “narrate” what the Holy Spirit has done and is doing in your communities; to read with the eyes of faith the profound changes taking place, the new challenges and questions emerging. (Idem.)

Faith and family

Be sure to put at the centre of your attention the family, the cradle of love and life, the fundamental cell of society and the ecclesial community; this pastoral commitment is made more urgent by the growing crisis of married life and the declining birth rate. In all your pastoral activities make sure that you reserve a very special care for young people: they, who today look to the future with great uncertainty, often live in a state of unease, insecurity and fragility, but who carry in their hearts a great hunger and thirst for God, which calls for a constant attention and response! (Idem)

From faith lived with courage, today as in the past, flows a rich culture of love for life, from conception until its natural end, the promotion of human dignity, of the elevation of the importance of the family based on faithful marriage and open to life, and of the commitment to justice and solidarity. (idem.)

Pope Benedict XVI, pictured here with Angelo Cardinal Scola, arrives in St. Mark's Square

The eyes of faith and reason

I invite you all, dear Venetians, always to seek and to preserve harmony between the eyes of faith and reason, which enables the conscience to perceive the true good, so that the decisions of the civil community may always be inspired by ethical principles that correspond to the deep truth of human nature. Man cannot renounce the truth about himself without his sense of personal responsibility, solidarity with others and honesty in economic and working relations, suffering. (Meeting with the faithful at St. Mark’s Square, Venice, 7 May.)

Conversion

Sometimes, when we speak of conversion we think solely of its demanding aspect of detachment and renunciation. Christian conversion, on the contrary, is also and above all about joy, hope and love. It is always the work of the Risen Christ, the Lord of life who has obtained this grace for us through his Passion and communicates it to us by virtue of his Resurrection. (Mass at San Giuliano Park, Mestre, 8 May.)

The Holy Father arrives in Mestre by boat

Doubt, sadness and disappointment

The many testimonies that have spread everywhere are an eloquent expression of this faith: churches, works of art, hospitals, libraries and schools; the actual environment of your cities, of the countryside and the mountains, is everywhere spangled with references to Christ. Yet today this existence of Christ risks being emptied of its truth and of its deepest content; it risks becoming a horizon that only superficially — and rather, in its social and cultural aspects — embraces life; it risks being reduced to a Christianity in which the experience of faith in the Crucified and Risen Jesus fails to illuminate the journey of life, as we have heard in today’s Gospel concerning the two disciples of Emmaus, who after the crucifixion of Jesus were going home immersed in doubt, sadness and disappointment. Unfortunately such an attitude is beginning to spread in your region too. This happens when today’s disciples drift away from the Jerusalem of the Crucified and Risen One, no longer believing in the power and in the living presence of the Lord. The problem of evil, sorrow and suffering, the problem of injustice and abuse, fear of others, of strangers and foreigners who come to our lands and seem to attack what we are, prompt Christians today to say sadly: we hoped that the Lord would deliver us from evil, from sorrow, from suffering, from fear, from injustice. (Idem.)

Staying with Jesus who has stayed with us, assimilating his lifestyle, choosing with him the logic of communion with each other, of solidarity and of sharing. The Eucharist is the maximum expression of the gift which Jesus makes of himself and is a constant invitation to live our lives in the Eucharistic logic, as a gift to God and to others. (Idem.)

Defending the eternal values

I know that you have made and are making a considerable effort to defend the eternal values of the Christian faith. I encourage you never to give in to the recurring temptations of the hedonistic culture and to the appeal of materialistic consumerism. Accept the invitation of the Apostle Peter, contained in today’s Second Reading, to conduct yourselves “with fear throughout the time of your exile” here below (1 Pt 1:17); an invitation that is put into practice by living intensely on the thoroughfares of our world in the awareness of the destination to be reached: unity with God, in the Crucified and Risen Christ.  (Idem.)

Be holy! Make Christ the centre of your lives! Build the edifice of your existence on him! In Jesus you will find the strength to open yourselves to others and to make yourselves, after his example, a gift for the whole of humanity. (Idem.)

Strength and encouragement

Today, symbolically, I come to redeliver the Gospel to you, the spiritual children of St Mark, in order to strengthen you in the faith and encourage you in the face of the challenges of the present time. Move ahead with confidence on the path of the new evangelization, in loving service to the poor and with courageous testimony in the various social realities. Be aware that you bear a message meant for every man and and for the whole man; a message of faith, of hope and of love. (Assembly for the conclusion of the pastoral visit, Venice, 8 May.)

The holiness of the laity

May you always and everywhere know how to account for the hope that is in you (cf. 1 Pt 3:15). The Church needs your gifts and your enthusiasm. Know how to say “yes” to Christ who calls you to be his disciples, to be holy. I would remind you, once again, that “holiness” does not mean doing extraordinary things, but following the will of God every day, living one’s own vocation really well, with the help of prayer, of the Word of God, the sacraments and with the daily effort for consistency. Yes, it takes lay faithful who are fascinated by the ideal of “holiness”, to build a society worthy of man, a civilization of love. (Idem.)

The Eucharist

[O]ur spiritual life depends essentially on the Eucharist. Without it, faith and hope are extinguished, love cools. I therefore urge you increasingly to pay special attention to the quality of Eucharistic celebrations, especially those on Sunday, so that the day of the Lord is lived fully and may illuminate the happenings and activities of daily life. From the Eucharist, the inexhaustible source of divine love, you can tap into the energy needed to bring Christ to others and to bring others to Christ, to be daily witnesses of charity and solidarity and to share the goods that Providence gives you with brothers and sisters who lack the necessities of life. (idem.)

Health

Salute” is an all-encompassing, integral reality: it extends from “being well” which enables us to live serenely a day of study and work or of vacation, to the salus animae, on which our eternal destiny depends. God takes care of all this, excluding nothing. He takes care of our health in the full sense. Jesus demonstrates this in the Gospel: he healed the sick, suffering from every kind of illness, but he also freed those possessed by the devil. He forgave sins; he resurrected the dead. Jesus revealed that God loves life and wants to deliver it from every denial, even to the point of rescuing it from that radical denial which is spiritual evil, sin, a poisonous root that contaminates all things. (Meeting with the worlds of culture and economy, Venice, 8 May).

The Council fathers

We must not […] forget that the Council Fathers […] lived in the period of the two World Wars and totalitarianism. Their perspective was certainly not dictated by an easy optimism, but by Christian faith which enlivens hope at the same time great and patient, open to the future and attentive to the historical situations. (Idem.)

The Gospel

The Gospel is the greatest power for transformation in the world, but it is neither a utopia nor an ideology. The first Christian generations called it rather the “way”, that is, the way of living that Christ practised first and invites us to follow. (Idem.)

Photo credit:
[1] AP Photo/Paolo Giovannini
[2], [4] Marco Secchi/Getty Images
[3] Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
[5] AP Photo/Luigi Costantini
[6] Barbara Zanon/Getty Images

Papal soundbytes, part 2

At the Chapel of Apparitions in Fátima

“In our time, in which the faith in many places seems like a light in danger of being snuffed out for ever, the highest priority is to make God visible in the world and to open to humanity a way to God. And not to any god, but to the God who had spoken on Sinai; the God whose face we recognize in the love borne to the very end (cf. Jn 13:1) in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Dear brothers and sisters, worship Christ the Lord in your hearts (cf. 1 Pet 3:15)! Do not be afraid to talk of God and to manifest without fear the signs of faith, letting the light of Christ shine in the presence of the people of today, just as the Church which gives birth to humanity as the family of God sings on the night of the Easter Vigil.”

“The recitation of the rosary allows us to fix our gaze and our hearts upon Jesus, just like his Mother, the supreme model of contemplation of the Son. Meditating upon the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries as we pray our Hail Marys, let us reflect upon the interior mystery of Jesus, from the Incarnation, through the Cross, to the glory of the Resurrection; let us contemplate the intimate participation of Mary in the mystery of our life in Christ today, a life which is also made up of joy and sorrow, of darkness and light, of fear and hope. Grace invades our hearts, provoking a wish for an incisive and evangelical change of life so that we can say with Saint Paul: “For me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21) in a communion of life and destiny with Christ.” 

Homily during Mass at Fátima

“The Scriptures invite us to believe: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29), but God, who is more deeply present to me than I am to myself (cf. Saint Augustine, Confessions, III, 6, 11) – has the power to come to us, particularly through our inner senses, so that the soul can receive the gentle touch of a reality which is beyond the senses and which enables us to reach what is not accessible or visible to the senses. For this to happen, we must cultivate an interior watchfulness of the heart which, for most of the time, we do not possess on account of the powerful pressure exerted by outside realities and the images and concerns which fill our soul (cf. Theological Commentary on The Message of Fatima, 2000). Yes! God can come to us, and show himself to the eyes of our heart.”

Blessing of the sick

“Dear friends who are sick, welcome the call of Jesus who will shortly pass among you in the Most Blessed Sacrament, and entrust to him every setback and pain that you face, so that they become – according to his design – a means of redemption for the whole world. You will be redeemers with the Redeemer, just as you are sons in the Son. At the cross… stands the mother of Jesus, our mother.”

Meeting with social pastoral care organisations 

“The pressure exerted by the prevailing culture, which constantly holds up a lifestyle based on the law of the stronger, on easy and attractive gain, ends up influencing our ways of thinking, our projects and the goals of our service, and risks emptying them of the motivation of faith and Christian hope which had originally inspired them. The many pressing requests which we receive for support and assistance from the poor and marginalized of society impel us to look for solutions which correspond to the logic of efficiency, quantifiable effects and publicity. Nonetheless, the synthesis which I mentioned above is absolutely necessary, dear brothers and sisters, if you are to serve Christ in the men and women who look to you. In this world of division, all of us are called to have a profound and authentic unity of heart, spirit and action.”

Meeting with the bishops of Portugal 

“[T]he Pope needs to open himself ever more fully to the mystery of the Cross, embracing it as the one hope and the supreme way to gain and to gather in the Crucified One all his brothers and sisters in humanity. Obeying the word of God, he is called to live not for himself but for the presence of God in the world.”

“In truth, the times in which we live demand a new missionary vigour on the part of Christians, who are called to form a mature laity, identified with the Church and sensitive to the complex transformations taking place in our world. Authentic witnesses to Jesus Christ are needed, above all in those human situations where the silence of the faith is most widely and deeply felt: among politicians, intellectuals, communications professionals who profess and who promote a monocultural ideal, with disdain for the religious and contemplative dimension of life. In such circles are found some believers who are ashamed of their beliefs and who even give a helping hand to this type of secularism, which builds barriers before Christian inspiration.”

“The courageous and integral appeal to principles is essential and indispensable; yet simply proclaiming the message does not penetrate to the depths of people’s hearts, it does not touch their freedom, it does not change their lives. What attracts is, above all, the encounter with believing persons who, through their faith, draw others to the grace of Christ by bearing witness to him. The words of Pope John Paul II come to mind: “The Church needs above all great currents, movements and witnesses of holiness among the ‘Christifideles’ because it is from holiness that is born every authentic renewal of the Church, all intelligent enrichment of the faith and of the Christian life, the vital and fecund reactualization of Christianity with the needs of man, a renewed form of presence in the heart of human existence and of the culture of nations (Address for the XX Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Conciliar Decree “Apostolicam Actuositatem”, 18 November 1985). One could say, “the Church has need of these great currents, movements and witnesses of holiness…, but there are none!””

“The bearers of a particular charism must feel themselves fundamentally responsible for communion, for the common faith of the Church, and submit themselves to the leadership of their Bishops. It is they who must ensure the ecclesial nature of the movements. Bishops are not only those who hold an office, but those who themselves are bearers of charisms, and responsible for the openness of the Church to the working of the Holy Spirit. We, Bishops, in the sacrament of Holy Orders, are anointed by the Holy Spirit and thus the sacrament ensures that we too are open to his gifts. Thus, on the one hand, we must feel responsibility for welcoming these impulses which are gifts for the Church and which give her new vitality, but, on the other hand, we must also help the movements to find the right way, making some corrections with understanding – with the spiritual and human understanding that is able to combine guidance, gratitude and a certain openness and a willingness to learn.”

“This is not a matter of turning back to the past, nor of a simple return to our origins, but rather of a recovery of the fervour of the origins, of the joy of the initial Christian experience, and of walking beside Christ like the disciples of Emmaus on the day of Easter, allowing his word to warm our hearts and his “broken bread” to open our eyes to the contemplation of his face. Only in this way will the fire of charity blaze strongly enough to impel every Christian to become a source of light and life in the Church and among all men and women.”

Homily during Mass in Porto 

““One of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection,” said Peter. His Successor now repeats to each of you: My brothers and sisters, you need to become witnesses with me to the resurrection of Jesus. In effect, if you do not become his witnesses in your daily lives, who will do so in your place? Christians are, in the Church and with the Church, missionaries of Christ sent into the world. This is the indispensable mission of every ecclesial community: to receive from God and to offer to the world the Risen Christ, so that every situation of weakness and of death may be transformed, through the Holy Spirit, into an opportunity for growth and life.”

“We impose nothing, yet we propose ceaselessly, as Peter recommends in one of his Letters: “In your hearts, reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). And everyone, in the end, asks this of us, even those who seem not to.”

Farewell ceremony 

“In Fatima I prayed for the whole world, asking that the future may see an increase in fraternity and solidarity, greater mutual respect and renewed trust and confidence in God, our heavenly Father.”

The nature of the Church

This past week, Bishops Frans Wiertz and Everard de Jong, respectively ordinary and auxiliary of the Diocese of Roermond, have been in Rome with a few hundred Catholics from their diocese. On Tuesday they celebrated Mass at the basilica of St. Peter, and Bishop Wiertz spoke about the nature of the Church in his homily. Since it’s a topic that has semi-regularly appeared in my blog as well, it is perhaps interesting to see what the bishop had to say about it.

Tuesday 4 May 2010 – St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Votive Mass of St. Peter

First reading: 1 Peter 5, 1-4
Gospel: Matt. 16, 13-19

When you look behind you – over that marvellous canopy by Bernini – you’ll see a Latin text in the dome. And if you can’t see it, you should take a look  later. It says, “Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam” – “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.”

This is a text from the Gospel of Matthew, from which we just a heard a passage. Jesus appoints Peter as leader of the Church, as the rock upon which He will build His Church. Peter als means rock or stone.

That makes it very clear where we celebrate the Eucharist today. Not in just a church in Rome, but in the Church of Rome. This basilica is built on top of the tomb of Peter, first among the Apostles.

The man who Christ Himself appointed as leader of His Church, as the central stone upon which the entire machine of the Church rests, the foundation upon which our faith community is built.

I’ll point something else out to you. Above and behind me you see an enormous and empty chair. That is the cathedra of Peter, the seat from which he leads the Church. Symbolically, because the chair and all the baroque around it date from much later, of course. But that is not what matters. What is important is that we can point out a place where the Church is. Literally and figuratively. That is here.

After Peter many took his place, up until the current Pope Benedict. He represents the daily management of the Church, but is also the connection to the Church of all ages. People didn’t just start building a Church here one day. No we build here on Peter, the rock. Sent by Christ Himself did he lay the foundation of the Church here. Or put even better: he is the foundation of the Church here.

Through the laying on of hands and the consecration that mission has been transmitted from bishop to bishop. Throughout the ages. That is what we call the apostolic succession. The Church did not invent or assume her mission, but received it through Peter from Christ.

That apostolic line in relation to out diocese is very nicely represented in this basilica, by the way. In one of the chapel there is a fresco on which we see an angel giving the key of heaven to St. Servatius, the very first bishop of Maastricht. You’ll find an image of that fresco in your program.

It is the key to the kingdom of heaven, the same one that Christ also gave to Peter. That is also what we heard in today’s Gospel. It is a confirmation of the role of the Church as the link between God and the faithful.

Now, I do know that many people have problems with the institutional nature of the Church. Who are touched by Jesus, but who think they should be able to experience their faith in their own way. To that I gladly quote the old Church father St. Cyprian. He said, “You can not say that you have God as father and at the same time not want the Church as mother.” They are two communicating vessels who are irrevocably connected.

That is why there is another beautiful symbol above the chair of Peter. The famous window with the image of a dove: the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Not the pope or the bishops run the Church, but the Holy Spirit does. Bishops and priests are merely instruments in His hands.

That is how I myself experience it as well. I am not the manager of the Diocese of Roermond company . But as parents live with their family, so I travel as a father with the faithful of Limburg through the times. No more and no less. In that I feel expressly carried by the world Church and the Church of all ages.

As Peter told the elders of the assembly in the first reading of today, I try to gladly watch over the flock. But it is the Holy Spirit who shows the way.

That is why it is good to be here as a diocese on pilgrimage, to find strength and support with Peter and his successor Benedict XVI, who we will meet tomorrow.

Connected to the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church we were able to celebrate or 450th anniversary this past year. We continue to experience that connection when we will have returned to Limburg and return to our daily affairs. We may look to the future with confidence, for we are built on Peter, the rock. Amen.
 
+ Frans Wiertz
bishop of Roermond

Homily at the consecration of the new auxiliary bishops

The text of Archbishop Eijk’s homily at the consecration of auxiliary bishops Hoogenboom and Woorts was published today on the website of the Archdiocese of Utrecht. Here is my translation.    

Archbishop Eijk flanked by his new auxiliary bishops, Msgr. Theodorus Hoogenboom and Msgr. Herman Woorts

In today’s Gospel reading we witnessed the meeting of Jesus, the Risen Lord, with some of His disciples at the Sea of Galilee. At that occasion Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” When Jesus asks the same question for the third time, it becomes painfully clear to Peter that he betrayed Jesus in the night of Gethsemane three times, before the cock’s crowing. That saddens him.    

The meeting with Jesus confronts Peter with his own weakness, insignificance and failure. That is always painful. But from Peter one thing must be mentioned: his love for Jesus is true and he is remorseful, as his sadness shows. And that is why Jesus fulfills the promise He made to Peter, when he changed His name from Simon to Peter: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matt. 16,18). Now Jesus truly appoints Peter as leader of the apostles and first pope, by saying: “Look after My sheep”.    

 And that is what Peter would do, until they bring him to the place where he does not want to be, as Jesus had predicted to him: the cross upon he too will die a martyr’s death under Emperor Nero in 64.    

Elsewhere in the New Testament, “look after my sheep” is also said to bishops and priests (1 Pet. 5, 2-4; Acts 20, 28), Looking after, shepherding means here that the pope, bishops and priests bring the people entrusted to their pastoral care to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, that they will feed them with God’s Word and the sacraments.    

Msgr. Hoogenboom and Msgr. Woorts: you too have been called by the Risen Lord to look after His sheep. When meeting candidates for confirmation, the bishop is always  asked, “How did you become a bishop, did you really want it?”    

There are no adverts on the Internet or in the newspapers for bishops. Not because advertising is expensive, but simply because you are not expected to apply for it. You are asked. Officially someone is bishop “through the mercy of God and the favour of the Holy See.” In the request from the Holy Father, the steward of Christ on Earth, to become auxiliary bishops of Utrecht, lies the voice of Christ for both of you. We are grateful to you both that you said ‘yes’ to the vocation of the priesthood and that you today say ‘yes’ to the vocation of the episcopate.    

What may you expect from the episcopate? I can assure you one thing, from my own experience: being a bishop is never boring! That may sound quite positive, but – to be honest – a bishop’s could sometimes be a bit more boring, as far as I am concerned. There have been very intense moments, not just for the apostle Peter and the other apostles, but for all their successors, the bishops all over the world.    

I am not telling you anything new. After all, you are both already part of the diocesan curia. You, Msgr. Hoogenboom, have been my vicar general since my appointment as Archbishop of Utrecht, now more than two years ago. And you, Msgr. Woorts, have been diocesan vicar of Utrecht and vicar for the policy sector liturgy since last February. You both have been working with merit in pastoral and official business in our diocese, and that in a period in which we have to make difficult decisions to make the archdiocese healthy again. You can only do that if you are not striving for the popularity prize. And neither of you is. That is why you both expressly chose the following text from the second letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians as today’s first reading: “It is not ourselves that we are proclaiming, but Christ Jesus as the Lord.” You do not work to improve your own image or popularity and falsify God’s Word, but you proclaim it openly.    

Like Peter, bishops can get into situation and be face with decisions that they had preferred to avoid. In that regard, you did not avoid your responsibility as vicar general and diocesan vicar in difficult circumstances. But what is necessary for God’s Church, for the shepherding of the flock, we should also do out of love for the Lord. Looking after the sheep, the pastoral care for the people entrusted to their care, also requires that the bishops make sure that there is enough wholesome and healthy grass in the field for the grazing; more so, they must make sure there even is a field for the grazing.    

Can a man take on such a difficult task? Like Peter all bishops are men with talents and weaknesses. It is often thought that the priesthood and the episcopate ask too much, especially considering celibacy and the limited access to modern society for Christ and His Gospel? As we saw, Peter gains next to forgiveness also a new spirit and a new life because of his encounter with Jesus, the Risen Lord. It is a St. Paul says: “But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own.”    

For that power we pray during the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration: the consecrating bishops pray that God may pour the Spirit of authority that He gave to His Son Jesus Christ and the apostles, also over you. We pray for the intercession of Saint Willibrord, the founder and patron saint of our archdiocese, that the Holy Spirit may abundantly bless and make fruitful your pastoral duties as auxiliary bishops. Amen.