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

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

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

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

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1. Image of the merciful Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. To be an instrument of the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Being an instrument of Christ: very specific

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Kardinaal Sarah: “Naar een authentieke toepassing van Sacrosanctum Concilium”

This is a Dutch translation of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s address on the first day of the Sacra Liturgia conference, held in London from 5 to 8 July. This translation is based on the text as released via the Sacra Liturgia Facebook page. It is not a complete transcript of what Cardinal Sarah said. This is expected to be released sometime next week, after the cardinal has added a few points once he returns to Rome. In due time, this address, as well as the conference’s other papers, will be published in book form.


Dit is een Nederlandse vertaling van de toespraak die Kardinaal Robert Sarah heeft gegeven op de eerste dag van de Sacra Liturgia conferentie, gehouden in Londen van 5 tot 8 juli. Deze vertaling is gebasseerd op de tekst zoals die op de Facebook-pagina van Sacra Liturgia werd gepubliceerd. Het is geen volledige transcriptie van wat Kardinaal Sarah heeft gezegd. Het is de verwachting dat deze in de loop van de komende week wordt uitgegeven, zodra de kardinaal een aantal punten toe heeft kunnen voegen na zijn terugkeer naar Rome. Uiteindelijk zal deze toespraak, samen met alle andere die tijdens de conferentie gehouden zijn, in boekvorm uitgegeven worden.

TOESPRAAK VAN ZIJNE EMINENTIE ROBERT KARDINAAL SARAH:
“NAAR EEN AUTHENTIEKE TOEPASSING VAN SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM”

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Ik wil in de eerste plaats mijn dank uitspreken aan Zijne Eminentie Vincent Kardinaal Nichols, voor zijn welkom in het Aartsbisdom Westminster en zijn vriendelijke begroetingswoorden. Eveneens wil ik Zijne Excellentie Bisschop Dominique Rey, bisschop van Fréjus-Toulon, danken voor zijn uitnodiging om hier met u aanwezig zijn bij de derde internationale “Sacra Liturgia” conferentie, en vanavond de openingstoespraak te presenteren. Uwe Excellentie, ik feliciteer u met dit internationale initiatief ter bevordering van de studie van het belang van liturgische vorming en viering in het leven en de missie van de Kerk.

In deze toespraak wil ik een aantal overwegingen aan u voorleggen over hoe de westerse Kerk naar een meer getrouwe toepassing van Sacrosanctum Concilium kan toewerken. Hiermee wil ik de vraag stellen: “Wat hadden de Vaders van het Tweede Vaticaans Concilie voor ogen met de liturgische hervorming?” Daarna wil ik bespreken hoe hun bedoelingen na het Concilie zijn toegepast. Uiteindelijk zou ik u een aantal voorstellen willen voorleggen over het liturgisch leven van de Kerk vandaag, zodat onze liturgische praktijk de bedoelingen van de Concilievaders beter kan weergeven.

Het is volgens mij overduidelijk dat de Kerk leert dat de katholieke liturgie de unieke bevoorrechte locus is van het verlossende handelen van Christus in onze huidige wereld, door middel van werkelijke participatie waarin wij Zijn genade en kracht ontvangen die zo nodig zijn voor onze volharding en groei in het christelijk leven. Het is de goddelijke vastgestelde plaats waar wij onze plicht tot het aanbieden van een offer, het Ene Ware Offer, aan God komen vervullen. Het is waar we onze diepgaande behoefte om God te aanbidden verwerkelijken. Katholieke liturgie is iets heiligs, iets dat door haar aard heilig is. Katholieke liturgie is geen gewone menselijke samenkomst.

Ik wil hier een zeer belangrijk feit onderstrepen: God, niet de mens, staat in het hart van de katholieke liturgie. We komen om Hem te aanbidden. De liturgie gaat niet om jou of mij; we vieren er niet onze eigen identiteit of prestaties, verheerlijken of promoten er niet onze eigen cultuur of plaatselijke religieuze gewoontes. De liturgie draait in de allereerste plaats om God en wat Hij voor ons gedaan heeft. In Zijn Goddelijke Voorzienigheid heeft de Almachtige God de Kerk gesticht en de heilige liturgie ingesteld waarmee wij Hem ware aanbidding kunnen opdragen in overeenstemming met het Nieuwe Verbond dat Christus gebracht heeft.Hierdoor, door het binnengaan van de vereisten van de heilige riten die in de traditie van de Kerk zijn ontwikkeld, krijgen wij onze ware identiteit en betekenis als zonen en dochters van de Vader.

Het is van essentieel belang dat we dit specifieke karakter van de katholieke eredienst begrijpen, want in recente decennia hebben we vele liturgische vieringen gezien waarin mensen, persoonlijkheid en menselijke prestaties te prominent aanwezig waren, bijna tot uitsluiting van God. Zoals Kardinaal Ratzinger ooit schreef: “Als de liturgie in de eerste plaats een werkplaats voor ons eigen handelen lijkt, dan wordt het essentiële vergeten: God. Het vergeten van God is het meest dreigende gevaar van onze tijd” (Joseph Ratzinger, Theology of the Liturgy, Collected Works vol. 11, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2014, p. 593). 

We moeten volkomen duidelijk zijn over de aard van de katholieke eredienst als we de Constutitie over de Heilige Liturgie van het Tweede Vaticaans Concilie op de juiste wijze willen lezen en als we deze getrouw willen uitvoeren.

Al vele jaren voor het Concilie, in zowel missielanden als in de meer ontwikkelde gebieden, was er veel discussie over de mogelijkheid om het gebruik van de volkstalen in de liturgie uit te breiden, vooral voor de lezingen uit de Heilige Schrift, alsook voor een aantal andere onderdelen van het eerste deel van de Mis (wat we nu de “dienst van het Woord” noemen) en de liturgische zang. De Heilige Stoel had al meerdere keren toestemming gegeven voor het gebruik van de volkstaal in het toedienen van de sacramenten. Dit is de context waarin de Concilievaders spraken over de mogelijke positieve oecumenische of missionaire gevolgen van liturgische hervorming. Het is waar dat de volkstaal een positieve plaats heeft in de liturgie. Hier zochten de Vaders naar, niet naar de protestantisering van de Heilige Liturgie of instemmend met haar onderwerping aan een valse inculturisatie.

Ik ben een Afrikaan. Laat me dit duidelijk maken: de liturgie is niet de plaats om mijn cultuur te promoten. Het is veeleer de plaats waar mijn cultuur gedoopt wordt, waar mijn cultuur in het goddelijke wordt opgenomen. Door de liturgie van de Kerk (die missionarissen door heel de wereld hebben meegedragen) spreekt God tot ons, verandert Hij ons en stelt ons in staat deel te nemen in Zijn goddelijk bestaan. Als iemand christen wordt, als iemand in volledige eenheid met de katholieke kerk komt, ontvangt hij iets meer, iets dat hem verandert. Zeker, culturen en andere christenen brengen gaven met zich mee in de Kerk – de liturgie van de Ordinariaten voor Anglicanen die nu in volle eenheid met de Kerk zijn is hier een prachtig voorbeeld van. Maar zij brengen deze gaven met nederigheid, en de Kerk, in haar moederlijke wijsheid, maakt er gebruik zoals zij dat goed acht.

Eén van de duidelijkste en mooiste uitdrukking van de bedoelingen van de Concilievaders is te vinden aan het begin van het tweede hoofdstuk van de Constitutie, dat het mysterie van de Hoogheilige Eucharistie behandelt. In nummer 48 lezen we:

“Daarom geeft de Kerk zich alle zorg en moeite, dat de christengelovigen dit geheim van het geloof niet als buitenstaanders of als zwijgende toeschouwers bijwonen, maar dat zij het door de riten en gebeden goed leren begrijpen en daardoor bewust, godvruchtig en actief deelnemen aan de heilige handeling, dat zij door Gods woord onderwezen worden, zich voeden aan de tafel van ‘s Heren Lichaam en God dank brengen, dat zij het onbevlekt Offer opdragen niet alleen door de handen van de priester, maar ook tezamen met hem, en zo zich zelf leren offeren, dat zij eindelijk steeds meer door Christus de Middelaar uitgroeien tot een volmaakte eenheid met God en met elkaar, opdat tenslotte Gods alles in allen moge zijn.”

Broeders en zusters, dit is wat de Concilievaders wilden. Jazeker, ze discussieerden en stemden over specifieke manieren om hun bedoelingen toe te passen. Maar laat ons glashelder zijn: de rituele hervormingen in de Constitutie, zoals het herstel van het gebed van de gelovigen tijdens de Mis (n. 53), de uitbreiding van de concelebratie (n. 57) of een aantal van haar beleidslijnen zoals de vereenvoudiging verlangd in nummers 34 en 50, zijn alle ondergeschikt aan de fundamentele bedoelingen van de Concilievaders die ik zojuist heb omschreven. Het zijn middelen tot een doel, en het is het doel dat wij moeten behalen.

Als we naar een authentiekere toepassing van Sacrosanctum Concilium willen toewerken, dan moeten we op de allereerste plaats deze einddoelen in het oog houden. Misschien dat, als we ze met een frisse blik en met het voordeel van de ervaring van de laatste vijf decennia bestuderen, we sommige rituele hervormingen en bepaalde liturgische beleidslijnen in een ander licht zullen zien. Als sommige van deze nu moeten worden heroverwogen, om zo “het christelijk leven onder de gelovigen steeds hoger op te voeren” en “alle mensen tot de Kerk te roepen”, laat ons dan de Heer vragen ons de liefde en de nederigheid en wijsheid te schenken om dit te doen.

Ik noem deze mogelijkheid om opnieuw naar de Constitutie en de hervorming die volgde op de publicatie ervan te kijken, omdat ik niet denk dat we vandaag zelfs ook maar de eerste paragraaf van Sacrosanctum Concilium eerlijk kunnen lezen en tevreden kunnen zijn dat we de doelstellingen ervan hebben bereikt. Broeders en zusters, waar zijn de gelovigen waarover de Concilievaders spraken? Vele gelovigen zij nu ongelovig: ze komen helemaal niet meer naar de liturgie. In de woorden van de heilige Johannes Paulus II: vele christenen leven in een staat van “stille afvalligheid;” zij “leven alsof God niet bestaat” (Apostolische Exhortatie Ecclesia in Europa, 28 juni 2003, 9). Waar is de eenheid die het Concilie hoopte te bereiken? We hebben het nog niet bereikt. Hebben we werkelijk vooruitgang geboekt in het roepen van alle mensen tot de Kerk? Ik denk het niet. En toch hebben we heel veel in de liturgie gedaan!

In mijn 47 jaar als priester en na meer dan 36 jaar aan bisschoppelijk dienstwerk kan ik verklaren dat vele katholieke gemeenschappen en individuen de liturgie, zoals hervormd na het Concilie, met geestdrift en vreugde leven en vieren, en er veel van, zo niet al, het goede uit halen dat de Concilievaders verlangden. Dit is een grote vrucht van het Concilie. Maar uit mijn ervaring – nu ook als Prefect van de Congregatie voor de Goddelijke Eredienst en de Regeling van de Sacramenten – weet ik ook dat er vele vervormingen van de liturgie in heel de Kerk van vandaag bestaan, en er zijn vele situaties die verbeterd kunnen worden zodat de doelstellingen van het Concilie behaald kunnen worden. Voor ik over een aantal mogelijke verbeteringen spreek, laten we bedenken wat er gebeurde na de publicatie van de Constitutie over de Heilige Liturgie.

Terwijl het officiele hervormingswerk plaatsvondt ontstonden er een aantal zeer ernstige verkeerde interpretaties van de liturgie en deze schoten wortel in verschillende plaatsen in de wereld. Deze misbruiken van de Heilige Liturgie ontwikkelden zich vanwege een foutief begrip van het Concilie en resulteerden in liturgische vieringen die subjectief waren en meer gericht op de verlangens van de individuele gemeenschap dan op de offerdienst van de Almachtige God. Mijn voorganger als Prefect van de Congregatie, Francis Kardinaal Arinze, noemde dit ooit eens “de doe-het-zelf Mis”. De heilige Johannes Paulus II vond het zelfs noodzakelijk het volgende te schrijven in zijn encycliek Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17 april 2003):

“Deze dienst van de verkondiging van de kant van het Leergezag heeft een antwoord gekregen in de innerlijke groei van de christelijke gemeente. Zonder twijfel heeft de liturgiehervorming van het Concilie in hoge mate bijgedragen aan een bewustere, actievere en vruchtbaarder deelname aan het heilig Offer van het Altaar van de kant van de gelovigen. Op veel plaatsen is Aanbidding van het Allerheiligst Sacrament ook een belangrijke dagelijkse praktijk en wordt een onuitputtelijke bron van heiligheid. De vrome deelname van de gelovigen aan de eucharistische processie op Sacramentsdag is een genade van de Heer die ieder jaar vreugde brengt aan hen die eraan deelnemen. Andere positieve tekenen van geloof in en liefde voor de Eucharistie zouden nog genoemd kunnen worden.

Helaas is er naast dit licht ook schaduw. Op sommige plaatsen is de praktijk van de eucharistische Aanbidding vrijwel volledig verwaarloosd. In verschillende delen van de Kerk zijn misbruiken opgetreden, die lijden tot verwarring met betrekking tot het gezonde geloof en de katholieke leer ten aanzien van dit wonderbaarlijke Sacrament. Soms komt men een uiterst verengd begrip van het eucharistische mysterie tegen. Beroofd van zijn betekenis als offer wordt het gevierd als ware het eenvoudigweg een broederlijke maaltijd. Daarenboven wordt van tijd tot tijd de noodzaak van het ambtelijke priesterschap dat wortelt in de apostolische opvolging verduisterd en de sacramentaliteit van de Eucharistie wordt teruggebracht tot louter werkdadigheid in de verkondiging. Dit heeft hier en daar geleid tot oecumenische initiatieven die hoewel edel in hun motieven, toegeven aan eucharistische praktijken die in tegenspraak zijn met de discipline waarmee de Kerk haar geloof uitdrukt. Kunnen wij anders dan onze diepe droefheid over dit alles uitdrukken? De Eucharistie is een te groot geschenk dan dat wij dubbelzinnigheid en verschraling van de betekenis zouden kunnen dulden.

Ik vertrouw erop dat deze encycliek er effectief aan kan bijdragen om de schaduwen van onaanvaardbare doctrines en praktijken te verdrijven, opdat de Eucharistie verder moge stralen in heel de glans van haar mysterie (n. 10).”

Hier bestond ook een pastorale werkelijkheid: om goede redenen of niet, sommige mensen konden of wilden niet deelnemen aan de hervormde riten. Zij bleven weg of namen alleen deel aan de niet-hervormde liturgie waar ze die konden vinden, zelfs als de viering ervan niet was toegestaan. Zo werd de liturgie een uitdrukking van verdeeldheid in de Kerk, in plaats van één van katholieke eenheid. Het Concilie wilde niet dat de liturgie ons van elkaar scheidde! De heilige Johannes Paulus II werkte aan het genezen van deze verdeling, met de hulp van Kardinaal Ratzinger die, als Paus Benedictus XVI, de nodige interne verzoening in de Kerk wilde faciliteren door in zijn Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (7 juli 2007) te bepalen dat de oudere vorm van de Romeinse ritus zonder beperkingen beschikbaar moet zijn voor die individuen en groepen die uit haar rijkdom willen putten. In Gods Voorzienigheid is het nu mogelijk onze katholieke eenheid te vieren met respect voor, en zelfs vreugde in, een legitieme diversiteit van de rituele praktijk.

We mogen dan een hele nieuwe, moderne liturgie in de volkstaal hebben opgebouwd, maar als we niet de juiste basis hebben gelegd – als onze seminaristen en geestelijkheid niet “diep doordrongen zijn van de geest en de kracht van de liturgie”, zoals het Concilie vroeg – dan kunnen zij zelf de mensen die aan hun zorg zijn toevertrouwd niet vormen. We moeten de woorden van het Concilie zelf zeer serieus nemen: het zou “kansloos” zijn te hopen op een liturgische vernieuwing zonder een grondige liturgische vorming. Zonder deze essentiële vorming zouden geestelijken zelfs schade toebrengen aan het geloof van mensen in het eucharistisch mysterie.

Ik wil niet bovenmatig pessimistisch overkomen, en ik zeg nogmaals: er zijn vele, vele gelovige mannelijke en vrouwelijke leken, vele geestelijken en religieuzen voor wie de liturgie zoals hervormd na het Concilie een bron van veel geestelijke en apostolische vruchten is, en daar dank ik de Almachtige God voor. Maar ik denk dat u het met mij eens zal zijn, zelfs op basis van mijn korte analyse hierboven, dat we beter kunnen doen, zodat de Heilige Liturgie werkelijk de bron en het hoogtepunt van het leven en de missie van de Kerk wordt, nu, aan het begin van de eenentwintigste eeuw, zoals de Concilievaders zozeer verlangden.

Gezien de fundamentele verlangens van de Concilievaders en de verschillende situaties die na het Concilie zichtbaar zijn geworden, zou ik een aantal praktische overwegingen willen presenteren over hoe we Sacrosanctum Concilium vandaag beter kunnen toepassen. Ook al dien ik als Prefect van de Congregatie voor de Goddelijke Eredienst, ik doe dit in alle nederigheid als een priester en een bisschop in de hoop dat dit een volwassen reflectie en studie en goed liturgisch handelen in heel de Kerk zal bevorderen.

Het zal geen verrassing zijn wanneer ik zeg dat we in de eerste plaats de kwaliteit en diepgang van onze liturgische vorming moeten onderzoeken, hoe we de geest en kracht van de liturgie overbrengen op onze geestelijken, religieuzen en lekengelovigen. Te vaak nemen we aan dat onze wijdingskandidaten voor het priesterschap of het permanente diaconaat genoeg over de liturgie “weten”. Maar het Concilie drong hierin niet aan op kennis, hoewel de Constitutie natuurlijk het belang van liturgiestudie onderstreepte (zie n. 15-17). Nee, de eerste en essentiële liturgische vorming is meer een onderdompeling in de liturgie, in het diepe mysterie van God, onze liefhebbende Vader. Het is een kwestie van de liturgie beleven in al haar rijkdom, zodat we, na gedronken te hebben uit haar bron, altijd dorsten naar haar verrukkingen, haar orde en schoonheid, haar stilte en bezinning, haar verheerlijking en aanbidding, haar vermogen ons ten diepste te verbinden met Hem die in en door de riten van de Kerk werkt.

Als we hier zorg voor dragen, als onze nieuwe priesters en diakens werkelijk dorsten naar de liturgie, zullen zij op hun beurt in staat zijn degenen die aan hun zorg zijn toevertrouwd te vormen – zelfs als de liturgische situatie en mogelijkheden van hun kerkelijke missie bescheidener zijn dan die van het seminarie of de kathedraal. Ik weet van vele priesters in zulke omstandigheden die hun mensen vormen in de geest en kracht van de liturgie, en wier parochies voorbeelden zijn van grote liturgische schoonheid. We moeten niet vergeten dat waardige eenvoud niet hetzelfde is als reductief minimalisme of een verwaarloosde en vulgaire stijl. Zoals onze Heilige Vader, Paus Franciscus, leert in zijn Apostolische Exhortatie Evangelii Gaudium: “De Kerk evangeliseert en evangeliseert zichzelf met de schoonheid van de liturgie, die ook viering is van de evangeliserende activiteit en bron van een hernieuwde impuls tot zelfgave.” (n. 24)

Ten tweede denk ik dat het zeer belangrijk is dat we duidelijk zijn over de aard van liturgische participatie, van de participatio actuosa waar het Concilie toe opriep. Hierover is veel verwarring geweest in de laatste decennia. Nummer 48 van de Constitutie zegt: De Kerk wil “dat de christengelovigen dit geheim van het geloof niet als buitenstaanders of als zwijgende toeschouwers bijwonen, maar dat zij het door de riten en gebeden goed leren begrijpen en daardoor bewust, godvruchtig en actief deelnemen aan de heilige handeling.” Het Concilie beschouwt participatie als voornamelijk intern, voortkomend uit een goed begrip van de riten en gebeden. Zeker, de Concilievaders vragen de gelovigen te zingen, de priester te antwoorden, liturgische taken op zich te nemen die rechtmatig de hunne zijn, maar staan erop dat allen zich bewust zijn van wat ze doen, “godvruchtig en actief”.

Als we het belang van de internisalisatie van onze liturgische participatie begrijpen zullen we het luidruchtige en gevaarlijke liturgische activisme, dat in de laatste decennia zo prominent aanwezig is geweest, vermijden. We gaan niet naar de liturgie om op te treden, om dingen te doen zodat anderen het kunnen zien: we gaan om verbonden te worden met het handelen van Christus door een internalisatie van de uitwendige liturgische riten, gebeden, tekenen en symbolen. Wellicht dat degenen die geroepen zijn tot liturgisch dienstwerk dit zich beter moeten herinneren dan anderen! Maar we moeten anderen ook vormen, in het bijzonder onze kinderen en jonge mensen, in de ware betekenis van liturgische participatie, in de ware manier om de liturgie te bidden.

Ten derde, ik heb gesproken over het feit dat een aantal hervormingen die na het Concilie zijn ingevoerd mogelijk zijn samengesteld volgens de tijdsgeest en dat er een groeiende hoeveelheid studie door trouwe zonen en dochters van de Kerk is geweest, waarin wordt gevraagd of wat was ingevoerd werkelijk de doelstellingen van de Constitutie toepaste, of dat ze er in werkelijkheid aan voorbij gingen. Deze studie vindt soms plaats onder de noemer “hervorming van de hervorming” en ik weet dat EH Thomas Kocik over deze kwestie een doorwrochte studie heeft gepresenteerd tijdens de Sacra Liturgia conferentie in New York, een jaar geleden.

Ik denk niet dat we de mogelijkheid of de wenselijkheid van een officiële hervorming van de liturgische hervorming kunnen afwijzen, omdat haar voorstanders een aantal belangrijke beweringen doen in hun pogingen trouw te zijn aan de nadruk van het Concilie in nummer 23 van de Constitutie “om de gezonde traditie te bewaren en toch de weg te openen voor een gewettigde vooruitgang”, en dat “vernieuwingen niet plaats hebben, tenzij deze door een werkelijk en duidelijk nut van de Kerk worden vereist, waarbij men er op dient te letten, dat de nieuwe vormen als het ware organisch voortkomen uit de reeds bestaande vormen.”

Ik kan meedelen dat, toen ik afgelopen april door de Heilige Vader in audiëntie werd ontvangen, Paus Franciscus mij vroeg de kwestie van een hervorming van een hervorming te bestuderen en hoe beide vormen van de Romeinse ritus te verrijken. Dat zal een fijngevoelig werk zijn en ik vraag om uw geduld en gebed. Maar als we Sacrosanctum Concilium beter willen toepassen, als we willen bereiken wat het Concilie verlangde, dan is dit een serieuze kwestie die zorgvuldig moet worden bestudeerd en behandeld met de nodige duidelijkheid en voorzichtigheid.

Wij priesters, wij bisschoppen dragen een grote verantwoordelijkheid. Hoe leidt ons goede voorbeeld tot goed liturgisch handelen; hoe kwetst onze onachtzaamheid of wangedrag de Kerk en haar heilige liturgie!

Wij priesters moeten in de allereerste plaats aanbidders zijn. Onze mensen zien het verschil tussen een priester die met geloof viert en één die haastig viert, veel op zijn horloge kijkt, bijna alsof hij zo snel mogelijk weer terug naar de televisie wil! Priesters, we kunnen niets belangrijkers doen dan de heilige mysteries te vieren: laten we oppassen voor de verleiding van liturgische luiheid, want dat is een verleiding van de duivel.

We moeten onthouden dat wij niet de makers van de liturgie zijn. Wij zijn haar nederige bedienaars, onderworpen aan haar discipline en wetten. Wij hebben ook de verantwoordelijkheid om degenen die ons bijstaan in liturgische functies te vormen in zowel de geest en kracht van de liturgie en zeker ook haar regels. Ik heb soms priesters een stap terug doen zetten om buitengewone bedienaars de Heilige Communie uit te laten delen: dit is fout, het is een ontkenning van het priesterlijk dienstwerk evenals een klerikalisering van de leken. Wanneer dit gebeurt is het een teken dat de vorming verkeerd is gegaan, en dat het gecorrigeerd moet worden.

Ik heb ook priesters en bisschoppen gezien die, gekleed om de Heilige Mis te vieren, telefoons en camera’s tevoorschijn haalden en in de heilige liturgie gebruikten. Dit is een verschrikkelijke aanklacht tegen het begrip dat zij hebben over wat ze doen als ze de liturgische gewaden aantrekken, dus zich als een alter Christus kleden – en nog meer, als ipse Christus, als Christus zelf. Dit is heiligschennis. Geen bisschop, priester of diaken die is gekleed voor het liturgisch dienstwerk of aanwezig op het priesterkoor moet foto’s nemen, zelfs niet tijdens grote geconcelebreerde Missen. Dit priesters dit vaak doen tijdens zulke Missen, of met elkaar praten of nonchalant zitten, is volgens mij een teken dat wij opnieuw moeten nadenken over de gepastheid van deze Missen, vooral als het priesters aanzet tot zulk schandalig gedrag dat het gevierde mysterie zo onwaardig is, of als de grootte van deze geconcelebreerde vieringen tot het risico van ontheiliging van de heilige Eucharistie leidt.

Ik wil een beroep doen aan alle priester. U heeft misschien mijn artikel in L’Osservatore Romano van een jaar geleden (12 juni 2015) gelezen, of mijn interview met het tijdschrift Famille Chrétienne in mei van dit jaar. Bij beide gelegenheden heb ik gezegd dat ik denk dat het heel belangrijk is dat we zo snel mogelijk terugkeren naar een gezamenlijke richting, van priesters en gelovigen samen in dezelfde richting – naar het ooster of tenminste naar de apsis – naar de Heer die komt, in die delen van de liturgische riten waarin we ons tot God richten. Dit is toegestaan onder de huidige liturgische regels. Het is volledig legitiem in de moderne ritus. Ik denk dat het een heel belangrijke stap is om te verzekeren dat in onze vieringen de Heer werkelijk in het centrum staat.

En dus, beste priesters, vraag ik u dit waar mogelijk toe te passen, voorzichtig en met de nodige catechese, zeker, maar ook met het zelfvertrouwen van een herder dat dit iets goeds is voor de Kerk, iets goeds voor onze mensen. Uw eigen pastorale oordeel zal bepalen hoe en wanneer dit mogelijk is, maar wellicht is de eerste zondag van de Advent van dit jaar, wanneer we uitkijken naar “de Heer die zal komen” en “die niet aarzelt”, een hele goede tijd om dit te doen. Beste priesters, we zouden opnieuw moeten luisteren naar de klaagzang van God zoals verkondigd door de profeet Jeremia: “ze hebben Mij de rug toegekeerd” (2:27). Laat ons weer naar de Heer terugkeren!

Ik zou ook een beroep willen doen op mijn broeders bisschoppen: leidt u alstublieft uw priesters en mensen op deze manier naar de Heer, in het bijzonder in grote vieringen in uw bisdommen en in uw kathedraal. Vorm uw seminaristen alstublieft in de werkelijkheid dat we niet tot het priesterschap geroepen zijn om zelf in het hart van de liturgische eredienst te staan, maar om de gelovigen van Christus als medegelovigen naar Hem te leiden. Maak deze eenvoudige maar diepgaande hervorming alstublieft mogelijk in uw bisdommen, uw kathedralen, uw parochies en uw seminaries.

Wij bisschoppen hebben een grote verantwoordelijkheid, en ooit zullen we ons voor de Heer moeten verantwoorden over ons beheer. Wij bezitten niets! Zoals de heilige Paulus ons leert, wij zijn slechts “helpers van Christus, belast met het beheer van Gods geheimen” (1 Kor. 4:1). Wij hebben de verantwoordelijkheid ervoor te zorgen dat de heilige werkelijkheid van de liturgie wordt gerespecteerd in onze bisdommen en dat onze priesters en diakens zich niet alleen aan de liturgische voorschriften houden, maar de geest en de kracht van de liturgie waaruit deze voortkomen kennen. Ik was zeer bemoedigd door het lezen van de presentatie getiteld “The Bishop: Governor, Promoter and Guardian of the Liturgical Life of the Diocese”, gegeven voor de Sacra Liturgia conferentie in Rome in 2013 door aartsbisschop Alexander Sample van Portland in Oregon in de VS, en ik raad mijn broeders bisschoppen op broederlijke wijze aan zijn overwegingen zorgvuldig te bestuderen.

Hier herhaal ik wat ik elders heb gezegd: dat Paus Franciscus mij heeft gevraagd het liturgisch werk voort te zetten dat Paus Benedictus begonnen is (zie: Boodschap aan Sacra Liturgia 2015, New York City). Het feit dat we een nieuwe paus hebben betekent niet dat de visie van zijn voorganger nu niet langer geldig is. Integendeel, zoals we weten heeft onze Heilige Vader Paus Franciscus het grootste respect voor de liturgische visie en maatregelen die Paus Benedictus heeft uitgevoerd in opperste trouw aan de wensen en doelstellingen van de Concilievaders.

Staat u mij, voor ik afrond, toe een aantal andere kleine manieren te noemen die ook bij kunnen dragen aan een meer getrouwe toepassing van Sacrosanctum Concilium. Eén daarvan is dat we de liturgie moeten zingen, we moeten de liturgische teksten zingen, met respect voor de liturgische tradities van de Kerk en ons verheugend in de schatkist aan gewijde muziek die de onze is, in het bijzonder die muziek die hoort bij de Romeinse ritus, het Gregoriaans. We moeten gewijde liturgische muziek zingen, en niet slechts religieuze muziek of, erger, wereldse muziek.

We moeten de juiste balans vinden tussen de volkstalen en het gebruik van het Latijn in de liturgie. Het Concilie heeft nooit de bedoeling gehad dat de Romeinse ritus volledig in de volkstaal gevierd zou worden. Maar het wilde wel een breder gebruik ervan toestaan, in het bijzonder voor de lezingen. Tegenwoordig zou het mogelijk moeten zijn, vooral door moderne druktechnieken, om voor ieder het begrijpen van het Latijn te vergemakkelijken, wellicht voor de liturgie van de Eucharistie, en dit is natuurlijk met name gepast bij internationale samenkomsten waar de plaatselijke volkstaal door velen niet verstaan wordt. En wanneer de volkstaal gebruikt wordt moet het natuurlijk een juiste vertaling van het originele Latijn zijn, zoals Paus Franciscus recent aan mij heeft bevestigd.


Tussenkomst van Bisschop Rey

Met grote vreugde hebben we vandaag gehoord dat onze Heilige Vader, Paus Franciscus, u heeft gevraagd een studie te beginnen van de liturgische hervorming na het Concilie, en mogelijkheden te verkennen van wederzijdse verrijking tussen de oudere en nieuwere vormen van de Romeinse ritus, oorspronkelijk besproken door Paus Benedictus XVI.

Uwe Eminentie, uw oproep dat wij “zo snel mogelijk terugkeren naar een gezamenlijke richting” in onze liturgische vieringen, “naar het ooster of tenminste naar de apsis – naar de Heer die komt,” is een uitnodiging tot een radicale herontdekking van iets dat aan de wortel ligt van de christelijke liturgie. Het roept ons op om wederom te beseffen dat, in al onze liturgische vieringen, de christelijke liturgie in essentie gericht is op Christus, wiens komst wij met vreugdevolle hoop afwachten.

Uwe Eminentie, ik ben slechts één bisschop van één bisdom in het zuiden van Frankrijk. Maar als antwoord op uw oproep wil ik nu aankondigen dat, in ieder geval op de laatste zondag van de Advent van dit jaar, in mijn viering van de heilige Eucharistie in mijn kathedraal en bij andere gelegenheden zoals het past, ik ad orientem zal vieren – in de richting van de Heer die komt. Voor de Advent zal ik een brief schrijven aan mijn priesters en mensen over deze kwestie om mijn beslissing toe te lichten. Ik zal hen aanmoedigen mijn voorbeeld te volgen. Ik zal hen vragen mijn persoonlijke getuigenis, als eerste herder van het bisdom, te ontvangen in de geest van iemand die zijn volk wil oproepen om hierdoor het primaatschap van de genade in hun liturgische vieringen te herontdekken. Ik zal uitleggen dat deze verandering ons zal helpen de fundamentele aard van de christelijke eredienst te herinneren: dat het steeds op de Heer gericht moet zijn.


Kardinaal Sarah, Addendum

We moeten ervoor zorgen dat aanbidding het hart is van onze liturgische vieringen. Te vaak maken we niet de beweging van viering naar aanbidding, maar als we dat niet doen ben ik bang dat we niet altijd volledig intern hebben deelgenomen aan de liturgie. Twee lichaamshoudingen zijn hier nuttig, zelf onmisbaar. De eerste is stilte. Als ik nooit stil ben, als de liturgie mij geen ruimte geeft voor stil gebed en bezinning, hoe kan ik dan Christus aanbidden, hoe ik mij dan in mijn hart en ziel met Hem verbonden voelen? Stilte is zeer belangrijk, en niet alleen voor en na de liturgie.

Zo is ook het knielen bij de consecratie (tenzij ik ziek ben) van belang. In het westen is dit een lichamelijke handeling van aanbidding die ons nederig maakt voor onze Heer en God. Het is in zichzelf een gebedshandeling. Waar knielen en buigen uit de liturgie zijn verdwenen moeten ze worden teruggebracht, in het bijzonder in verband met het ontvangen van onze Heer in de heilige communie. Beste priesters, vorm uw mensen, waar mogelijk en met pastorale prudentie, zoals ik eerder zei, in deze prachtige handeling van aanbidding en liefde. Laat ons wederom neerknielen in aanbidding en liefde voor de Eucharistische Heer!

In verband met het geknield ontvangen van de heilige communie  wil ik verwijzen naar de brief van de Congregatie voor de Goddelijke Eredienst en de Regeling van de Sacramenten uit 2002, die duidelijk maakt dat “elke weigering van de Heilige Communie aan één van de gelovigen op basis van zijn of haar knielende houding is een ernstige overtreding van één van de meest fundamentele rechten van de christengelovigen” (Brief, 1 juli 2002, Notitiae, n. 437, nov-dec 2002, p. 583).

Het correct kleden van alle liturgische bedienaren op het priesterkoor, inclusief de lectoren, is ook van groot belang, wil dit dienstwerk als authentiek beschouwd worden en wil het uitgevoerd worden met het decorum passend bij de heilige liturgie – ook de bedienaren zelf dienen de juiste eerbied te tonen voor de mysteries die zij toedienen.

Dit zijn enkele voorstellen: ik ben er zeker van dat er vele andere gedaan kunnen worden. Ik leg ze u voor als mogelijke manieren om verder te gaan naar “de juiste manier om de liturgie innerlijk en uiterlijk te vieren”, dat natuurlijk het verlangen was dat Kardinaal Ratzinger aan het begin van zijn grootse werk, De Geest van de Liturgie, uitdrukte (Joseph Ratzinger, Theology of the Liturgy, Collected Works vol. 11, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2014, p. 4). Ik moedig u aan om alles te doen dat u kunt om dit doel te realiseren, dat volledig in overeenstemming is met dat van de Constitutie over de Heilige Liturgie van het Tweede Vaticaans Concilie.

 

 

An ‘existential document’- Cardinal Eijk present Amoris laetitia

Per the request of Pope Francis, bishops’ conferences everywhere officially presented his Post-Synodal Exhortation Amoris laetitia today. In the Netherlands, Cardinal Wim Eijk, president of the conference and two-time participant in the Synod of Bishops assemblies that are now concluded with this document, did the local honours here. Below is my translation of his remarks:

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^Cardinal Eijk with Patrizia, Massimo and Davide Paloni at the presentation of Amoris laetita this afternoon. The cardinal attended both Synod assemblies, and the Paloni’s, including little Davide, participated in the second. (photo credit: KN/Jan Peeters)

“Today is an important day in the pontificate of Pope Francis. Today is the crowning moment of an extensive journey which he began soon after the start of his pontificate: a journey with the goal of starting a process of reflection in the Church regarding pastoral care in the fields of marriage and family. There are different reasons for that: the Christian vision on marriage and family is understood, accepted and practised less and less in a world which is getting increasingly secularised. This is manifested most clearly in the western world, where secularisation has advanced so much that in many places, and especially in western Europe, Christians have become a minority. But a secularisation trend is manifest everywhere in the world under the influence of social media, albeit not to the same extent in all places and in some parts of the world only in certain circles. Partly because of distrust towards institutions and the reluctance to make definitive choices for life, certainly in western Europe a minority of Catholics enters into sacramental marriage. In addition, there are fewer people who get married civilly and the choice for simply living together is generally made. On the other hand we see many people who have chosen marriage and get stuck in it and – often after a painful process for both – divorce.

The openness of marriage to receiving and raising children, as the teaching of the Church upholds on Biblical basis, is also no longer seen as an essential value of marriage. Other relationships than that between man and woman are increasingly treated as equivalent to marriage, either de facto or by law. Under the influence of gender theory, the differences between the genders are generally no longer traced to the biological differences between man and woman, but seen as a personal and autonomous choice.

The pressing question with all these developments is: how can the Church find ways of pastoral care and proclamation to present her teachings about marriage and family in such a way that it is understood better and reaches more people? Ways by which she can also help couples and families to live according to God’s intentions. In order to find answers to these questions Pope Francis started this aforementioned journey of reflection. This journey included two assemblies of the Synod of Bishops. An Extraordinary Assembly, in which the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of the entire world Church took part and which took place in October 2014. Subsequently an Ordinary Assembly took place in October of 2015, in which bishops who were selected by the conferences they belonged to took part. I attended the Extraordinary Synod in 2014 as president of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference. In 2015 I attended the Ordinary Synod as elected representative of the Dutch Bishops’ Conference.

For both Synods, Pope Francis appointed a number of Synod fathers of his own choosing. He also invited married couples to witness of the way in which they put the Catholic vision of marriage and family into practice. He also invited a Dutch couple for the last Synod, Massimo and Patrizia Paloni. They attended with their youngest child, Davide. They will speak later.

It should be clear that this was a major journey, requiring a lot of work, when we realise that a preparatory document, the Lineamenta, was written for both Synods by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. A worldwide consultation was held about it. Based on this a working instrument, an Instrumentum laboris, was created for both Synods. Both Synods recorded the result of their deliberations, each in their own final document. The final documents were the Synod fathers’ advice to the Pope.

Today we witness the conclusion of this major journey, with the publication of the so-called Post-Synodal Exhortation, with the title Amoris laetitia (The joy of love). In it Pope Francis presents his final conclusions about the Synod’s discussions. Regarding the journey’s length and the importance of the topic for the Church we can comfortably charactise the publication of this Post-Synodal Exhortation as a decisive moment in the pontificate of Pope Francis.

As before he surprised Church and world with this publication, in several ways. Personally, I had to re-arrange my agenda for this week to prepare this presentation of this document of 325 paragraphs and almost one hundred closely-printed pages. It will take some time before one has absorbed the complete and rich content. The Pope himself advises not to read the Exhortation hurriedly, but study it and take it in in peace.

Also surprising is the character of the document. I would qualify the Post-Synodal Exhortation as ‘a Church document with a notably existential character’. This is something we are used to with Pope Francis, you will say, but here, at least, it is even more notable than in his other publications. Of course in the first place Pope Francis presents the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church regarding marriage and family. He also devotes plenty of space to the difficulties that people experience in understanding, applying and upholding those teachings.

Pope Francis is aware that this does not always involve resistance to the teachings of the Church. The choice for a civil marriage alone or cohabitation alone is often not motivated by a rejection of Christian marriage, but also by cultural and contingent situations: prevailing distrust towards institutions in general, the difficulties many have in accepting a specific state of life and obligations for the rest of their lives, problems finding work, finding permanent employment or assuring themselves of an adequate income, because of which they consider marriage a “luxury” (n. 294).

Regarding so-called irregular situations, that is to say situations in which people are in a relationshop which is not, or not in all aspects, in accord with the demands of Church teachings, the Pope urges all who work in pastoral care to approach these people with great mercy. Without letting go of Church teachings or compromising them, but by accompanying and being close to these people with a lot of love and patience. People in irregular situations should not be excluded from Church activities, but be integrated as much as possible. It is essential, according to the Pope, that priests and others who work in marriage care try and make the best possible ‘discernment’. He understands this as the constant effort to illuminate the concrete reality of life, the situations and relationships in which people live, with the Word of God. And he also recommends that they look for the openness that may be present in people in irregular situations, to yet shape their relationship according the teachings of the Church.

The Exhortation has nine solid chapters. It is of course no surprise that Pope Francis describes the Biblical vision on marriage and family in the first chapter “in light of the Word”. In the second chapter he comprehensively discusses modern reality and the current challenges of the family. The Pope emphasises in Chapter III that amidst all modern difficulties for the family, we must look towards Jesus, who will fulfill God’s plan with us, and so (re)discover the vocation of the family. In short, this chapter present a summary of Church teachings regarding marriage and family. Chapter IV continues this line with an exposition on marital love, based on the canticle of love written by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 13:4-7; n. 90). In Chapter V, “Love made fruitful”, the Pope emphasises that conjugal love presumes an openness to new life. In Chapter VI, “Some pastoral perspectives”, the Pope discusses the need to find new ways for marriage and family care, limiting himself to several general starting points. He sees the development of more practical initiatives as a task for the various bishops’ conferences, parishes and communities. Chapter VII is about the raising of children and Chapter VIII about the accompaniment of fragile relationships. The final Chapter IX, about the spirituality of marriage and family, is emblematic for the existential character of the document, as it points out some ways to develop a solid faith life in the family, as well giving common and personal prayer an established place in it.

I want to address one other topic seperately, which has played a major role during both Synods, and this is the question of whether people who are divorced and civilly remarried can receive Communion. In the Post-Synodal Exhortation, Pope Francis addresses this topic in two places, but he does not speak of people who are divorced and civilly remarried, but more broadly about people who are divorced and live in a new relationship. These people, the Pope says, should not have the feeling that they are excommunicated (n. 243 and 199). It is important to emphasise that he is not saying anything new here. Excommunication is an ecclesiastical punishment which someone can legally incur automatically, which can be legally declared after having been incurred or which can be imposed by verdict after serious misbehaviour or crimes. The situations in which this happens are limited: they includes a limited number of situations, and the situation of people who are divorced and have begun a new relationship is not among these. But nowhere in the Exhortation does the Pope say that they can receive Communion. Regarding people who are divorced and in a new relationship, this means that the traditional praxis, that they can not receive Communion, and which was formulated as follows by Pope John Paul II in Familiaris consortio in 1981 remains current:

“However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.” (n. 84)

In Chapter VIII of the Exhortation Pope Francis answers the question of what the Church could offer people in these situations, and says what has been mentioned above: people working in pastoral care must accompany these people and consider how they can be involved in the life of the Church as much as possible. It is important to realise here that God’s mercy is not only received by means of the sacraments, but also by listening to and reading the Word of God and through prayer.

As mentioned, this papal document has the title Amoris laetitia, the “joy of love”. It is our duty as Church to promote and protect that joy, convinced that that joy is beneficial for married couples and families as well as for us as society. It is therefore our duty to be close to married couples and families and accompany them according to our abilities with our prayer and pastoral care, especially when they carry the heavy and painful burden of a marriage or family life that is broken. With this Exhortation the Pope urges us to do so.

Pope Francis concludes his Exhortation with a prayer to the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph):

“Holy Family of Nazareth,
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.””

Network of love – Bishop van den Hende on what makes a diocese

Last month, the Dioceses of Groningen-Leeuwarden and Rotterdam marked the 60th anniversary of their foundation. A week ago, the website of the latter diocese published the text of the Bishop Hans van den Hende’s homily for the festive Mass on 6 February. In it, the bishop puts the sixty years that the diocese has existed in perspective, and goes on the describe the diocese not as a territory, but as a part of the people of God, as the Second Vatican Council calls it in the decree Christus Dominus. Following Blessed Pope Paul VI, Bishop van den Hende explains that a diocese is a network of love. following the commandment of Jesus to remain in His love. This network starts in the hearts of people and as such it contributes to building a society of love and mercy.

20160206_Rotterdam_60JaarBisdom_WEB_©RamonMangold_08_348pix“Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we mark the sixtieth year of the existence of the Diocese of Rotterdam. “Sixty years, is that worth celebrating?”, some initially wondered. “We celebrated fifty years in a major way. One hundred years would be something.”

In the history of the Church, sixty years is not a long period of time. But sixty years is a long time when you consider it in relation to a human life. Many people do not reach the age of sixty because of hunger and thirst, war and violence. There are major areas where there hasn’t been peace for sixty years. Sixty years is long enough to contain a First and a Second World War.

Every year that the Lord gives us has its ups and downs, can have disappointments, great sorrow and joy. Sixty years we began as a diocese. In 1955, Pope Pius XII had announced that there would be two new dioceses in the Netherlands. The north of the country received the Diocese of Groningen. And here the Diocese of Rotterdam was created from the Diocese of Haarlem.

In 1956, on 2 February, both dioceses began. The new bishops came later. The bishops of the older dioceses of Utrecht and Haarlem initially were the administrators of the new dioceses. But in May of 1956 the first shepherds of the two new dioceses were consecrated (the consecration of Msgr. Jansen as bishop of Rotterdam was on 8 May 1956).

Describing the division of dioceses in provinces and areas, I could give you the impression that a diocese is in the first place a territory that can be pointed out geographically. But a diocese is not primarily a firmly defined area or a specific culture. The Second Vatican Council describes a diocese in the first place as a part of the people of God: “portio populi Dei” (CD, 11). The Vatican Council avoids here the word “pars”, that is to say, a physical piece.

A diocese is a part of the people of God. And that automatically makes a diocese a network of people united in faith around the one Lord. A network in the heart of society, connected to people that they may travel with. Pope Paul VI characterised the Church as a “network of love”, with the mission to contribute to a society of love in the entire world.

A network of love in unity with Jesus, who tells His disciples in the Gospel (John 15: 9-17), “Remain in my love”. Now that we are marking sixty years, we must recognise that things can go wrong in those sixty years, that there are things which do not witness to the love of Christ. How we treat each other, how parishes sometimes compete with each other, and also the sin of sexual abuse of minors and how we deal with that, these are part of our history.

Should we then say that this network of love is too difficult a goal to achieve? If we think that, we should remember what St. Paul says in the first reading (1 Cor. 1:3-9). He says: the network of love does not just belong to people, but is united with Jesus Christ, who helps us persevere until the end. Jesus is God’s only Son who has lived love to the fullest, who died on the cross, who rose from the dead and who made no reproaches but said, “Peace be with you” (cf. John 20:21).

The network of love is inspired by the Holy Spirit whose efficacy becomes visible where there is unity, where forgiveness is achieved, where people can bow to each other and serve one another.

To be a network of love is a duty that we must accept ever anew as a mission from the Lord. We are a diocese according to God’s heart, insofar as the witness to Christ has taken root in us (1 Cor. 1:5-6). When we do not consider the disposition of His heart we do not go His way. And when we do not store and keep His life in our hearts (cf. Luke 2:51), we are not able to proclaim His word and remain in His love.

As a diocese (as a local Church around the bishop) we are not just a part of the worldwide Church of Christ, but a part in which everything can happen which makes us Church in the power of the Holy Spirit: in the first place the celebration of the Eucharist as source and summit, and the other sacraments: liturgy. Communicating the faith in the proclamation of the Gospel: kerygma, which – in catechesis, for example – must be coupled with solidarity between the generations. And thirdly, that we, as a network of love, show our faith in acts of love: charity (cf. Deus caritas est, n. 23).

We celebrate this anniversary in a year of mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis. It is a holy year of mercy. Mercy means on the one hand to continue trusting in God’s love, asking for forgiveness for what’s not right, for what is a sin. Allowing Him into our hearts. On the other hand it means that we make mercy a mission in our lives and show it in our service to our neighbours, in acts of love, in works of mercy. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus summarises this for us: I was thristy and you gave me to drink, I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked, I was homeless and alone. Did you care for me? Jesus does not isolate people in need, but identifies Himself with them: You help me when you approach a person in need (vg. Matt. 25:40).

Characterising the diocese and the entire Church as a network of love is not a recent invention from our first bishop, Msgr. Jansen, but is an answer to Christ’s own mission for His Church. And many saints went before us on that path with that mission. Saint Lawrence was a deacon in third-century Rome (225-258), who helped the people where he could. And when the emperor wanted to take all the Church’s treasure, which wasn’t even in the form of church buildings, as the Christians did not have those yet, Lawrence did not come to him with the riches, but with the people in need. And he said, “These are the treasures of the Church”. These treasures don’t take the form of bank accounts or the wax candles the emperor loved so much, but people, who are images of God. Jesus looking into our hearts also asks us to see in the hearts of people. In this way we continue to celebrate Lawrence and his witness.

And what about Saint Elisabeth (1207-1231) who went out to give bread to people and help the sick? She was of noble birth and was expected not to do this, but she went out from her castle and helped people in need. In this way she was a face of God’s mercy. And consider Blessed Mother Teresa (1910-1997), of whom there is a statue in this church. She saw people collapsing in misery, lying in the gutter, and she saw in their hearts. And also in our city of Rotterdam we are happy to have sisters of Mother Teresa realising mercy in our time.

A network of love and building a society of love. What more can we do in love and mercy? Marking sixty years of our diocese, it is a good time to ask ourselves: has the witness of Christ, has His love properly entered our hearts? And then we should say, and I am answering on behalf of all of us: we could do better. We need mercy and are to communicate God’s merciful love. In this city and elsewhere we are to contribute to a civilisation of love, contribute to a community which builds up instead of tearing down. It is clear that neither the Kingdom of God nor a diocese can be found on a map, because it starts in the hearts of people.

I pray that we celebrate this anniversary today in the knowledge that God’s mercy accompanies us and that we may accept his mission of solicitude, compassion and mercy. This is more than enough work for us, but it is only possible when it fills our hearts. Amen.”

The last big step – the German language group’s third commentary

The last big contribution of the German language group, their commentary on the third part of the Instrumentum laboris. There are several interesting elements in it, to begin with the first paragraph in which the Synod fathers strongly criticise the comments of some of their colleagues about what happens in the deliberations. They also criticise a too-strict application of the rules, and especially the language used in doing so.

Despite the expectations of some, the group also comes out strong in defence of the family and magisterial documents sich as Humanae vitae and Familiaris consortio.

The most difficult topic is left until last: the question of allowing divorced and civilly remarried faithful access to the sacraments? The German language group seems to be in favour of it, but also emphasises that this is a decision that needs to be made in the internal forum, in conversation between the people concerned and the priest accompanying them, and it involves some tough questions.

The German original is here, and my translation follows:

We have witnessed with great concern and regret the public statements from certain Synod fathers about persons, content and course of the Synod. These contradict the spirit of walking together, the spirit of the Synod and its fundamental rules. The imagery and comparisons used are not simplistic and false, but also hurtful. We firmly distance ourselves from these.

It is a joint desire of the German language group to complement the title of the Relatio finalis, “The Vocation and the Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World”, with the subtitle “Considerations and suggestion for the Holy Father, Pope Francis, in order to better express the classification of the text, which is not a decisive document. We recommend for the introduction a mention of the global questionnaire and an expression of gratitude and esteem.

Regarding a clearer emphasis on the family as subject of pastoral care it should be specified that Christian families are call to witness of the Gospel of marriage which has been entrusted to them. The Christian spouses and families are part of a new family of Christ, His Church. In that way the spouses can be a sacrament for the world. The “new family of Jesus Christ”, the Church, should encourage, strengthen and enable  the spouses to be such witnesses. This allows, after all, the Church to always learn from the spouses’ and families’ experiences of life and faith.

Here, a confession was important to us: wrongly understood efforts to uphold the Church’s  teachings time and again led to hard and merciless attitudes, which hurt people, especially single mothers and children born out of wedlock, people living together before or in place of marriage, homosexually oriented people and divorced and remarried people. As bishops of our Church we ask these people for forgiveness.

We have also spoken extensively about the relation between speech, thought and action, especially regarding a humane understanding of human sexuality. A suitable and renewable language is is crucial, in the first place for the introduction of adolescent children and youth to a mature human sexuality. This is in the first place the task of the parent and can not be left to education at school or media and social media alone. Many parents and pastoral workers find it difficult to find an appropriate and at the same respectful language which places biological  sexuality in the overall context of friendship, love, enriching complementarity and the mutual commitment of woman and man.

The working group found it important to emphasise that the Christian conviction in its basis assumes that God has created humanity as man and woman and has blessed them so that they become one flesh and fruitful (cf. Gen. 1:27 onwards; 2:24). In their equal personal dignity, as in their distinctiveness, man and woman are Gods good creation. Although, according to the Christian understanding of the unity of body of soul, biological gender (“sex”) and social-cultural gender roles (“gender”) are analytically different from one another, they can not be fundamentally or arbitrarily separated. All theories that regard human sexes as a subsequent construct and encourage an arbitrary social interchangeability, are te be rejected as ideologies. The unity of body of soul includes that the concrete social self-image and social role of men and women in cultures are different and subject to pronounced change. Therefore, the awareness of the full personal dignity and the public responsibility of women is a positive sign of the times that the Church values and encourages (cf. Pope John XXIII, Pacem in terris, 22).

We have spoken about the connection between the sacraments of baptism and marriage and the necessity of faith.

The Catholic confession about marriage is based on the word of the Lord in Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition and is faithfully retained in its substance through the magisterium. Nevertheless, there are tensions between the dogmatic, moral-theological and canonical approaches in the theological development, which can lead to difficulties in pastoral practice.

For example, the axiom “every marriage contract between Christian is a sacrament per se” must be reconsidered. In societies that are no longer homogeneous Christian, or countries with different cultural and religious backgrounds, a Christian understanding of marriage can no longer be readily assumed, even among Catholics. A Catholic without faith in God and His revelation in Jesus Christ can not automatically enter into a sacramental marriage without or even against his knowledge or will. He lacks the intention to at least want what the Church understands as marriage. Although the sacraments are not effective through the faith of the recipient, they, but also not without or regardless of him; At the least, the grace remains fruitless, when it is not received freely and willingly with faith determined by love.

The question also arises among our fellow Christians whose religious convictions deny the sacramentality of marriage (with its essential properties), if a sacramental marriage has occurred despite this. This does not mean that the validity of non-Catholic marriages is denied by the Church, or that the the work of God’s  mercy in non-sacramental marriages is questioned. We acknowledged the variety of studies about this question and recommend and deeper study of these questions with the goal of a new magisterial reappraisal and a greater coherence of the dogmatic, moral-theological and canonical statements about marriage with pastoral practice.

We have an addition to interfaith marriages: In view of the topic of interfaith marriage the positive aspects and the special vocation of such a marriage must be mentioned in the first place, as the non-Catholic Christians are in no way outside the one Church, but are a part of it through Baptism and a certain, if imperfect, communion (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, 3). Interfaith marriages may also be considered as house churches and have a specific vocation and mission, consisting in the exchange of gifts in the ecumenism of life.

In view of the importance of the family in society and state, the working group underlines as starting point, that marriage and family precede the state. They are basis and “vital cell of society” (Apostolicam actuositatem, 11). There can be no common life without family. The political community is therefore obliged to do everything to enable and permanently promote this “vital cell”. The repeatedly bemoaned “structural disregard” for the family must be overcome. The means for that are in the first place access to housing and work, the facilitation of education and childcare, as well as fairer benefits for families in tax legislation which acknowledges in equitable manner what families give to society. It should ne clear: not the family must be subordinate to economic interests, but vice versa. The family is at the heart of Catholic social teaching, which is an indispensable part of the Church’s proclamation and evangelisation. All Christians are called to be engaged in the field of  the political design of social coexistence and so to help families live better lives and flourish. Additionally, politicians must especially observe the principle of subsidiarity and not restrict the rights of families. Here, the “Charter of the Rights of the Family” must be noted. The Church as a whole must play an active and exemplary part with her engagement in the realm of family education, child care, schools, counseling centers and institutions for family aid.

In view of marriage preparation it was a concern of the working group to point out that a short conversation or a brief introduction do not suffice. Since many couples are unable to build upon an education marked by faith, the introduction of a marriage catechumenate is strongly recommended, taking at least several months, to really come to a mature “yes”, carried by faith, that is aware of the finality of the marriage covenant and trusts in God’s  faithfulness.

The aspect of responsible parenthood was one of the central discussion topics in the working group. According to the order of God’s creation, the marital love of husband and wife and the transmission of human life are ordered towards one another. God has called man and woman to participate in his work of creation and at the same time as interpreters of His love and placed the future of mankind in their hands. Husband and wife should realise this mission of creation in responsible parenthood. Before the face of God, and with consideration of their medical, economic, psychological and social situation, their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of this children, as well as the wellbeing of the greater family and society, they will decide the number and spacing in time of their children (Gaudium et spes, 50). According to the integral personal and human character of conjugal love the right way of family planning is the consensual call of the spouses, the consideration of the rhythm and the respect for the dignity of the partner. In this sense the Encyclical Humanae vitae (10-12) and the Apostolic Letter Familiaris consortio (14, 28-35) should be redeveloped and the willingness to have children be awakened, contrary to a mentality that is often hostile to life and partly to children.

Young spouses should be encouraged time and again to give life to children. This will make the openness to life in family, Church and society grow. The Church, with her numerous facilities for children contribute to a greater childfriendliness for children in society, but also in the Church. Observing responsible parenthood requires the formation of conscience. Conscience is “the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et spes, 16). The more spouses set out to listen to God in conscience, and the more they allow themselves to be guided spiritually, the more their decisions will be inwardly free from affective inclinations and the adaptation of their behaviour to society. For the sake of this freedom of conscience the Church strongly rejects forced government measures in favour of contraception, sterilisation or even abortion.

We have also debated extensively about the integration of divorced and civilly remarried people in the Church community.

It is known that there has been strong struggle, in  both sessions of the Synod of Bishops, about the questions of whether and to what extent divorced and remarried, faithful, when they want to take part in the life of the Church, can, under certain circumstances, receive the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. The discussions have shown that there are no simple and general solutions to this question. We bishops have experienced the tensions connected to this question as many of our faithful, their concerns and hopes, warnings and expectations have accompanied us in our deliberations.

The discussions clearly show that some clarification and explanation to further develop the complexity of these questions in the light of the Gospel, the doctrine of the Church and with the gift of discernment. We can freely mention some criteria which may help in our discernment. The first criterium is given by Pope Saint John Paul II in Familiaris consortio 84, when he invites us: “Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid”. It is therefore the duty of the pastors to travel this path of discernment together with those concerned. It would be helpful to take, in an honest examination of conscience, the step of contemplation and penance together. The divorced and remarried should then ask themselves how they dealt with their children when their marital Union fell into crisis? Where there attempts at reconciliation? What is the situation of the partner left behind? What is the effect of the new relationship on the greater family and the community of faithful? What is the example for the young who are discerning marriage? An honest contemplation can strengthen trust in the mercy of God, which He refuses no one who brings their failures and needs before Him.

Such a path of contemplation and penance can, in the forum internum, with an eye on the objective situation in conversation with the confessor, lead to personal development of conscience and to clarification, to what extent access to the sacrament is possible. Every individual must examine himself according to the word of the Apostle Paul, which applies to all who come to the table of the Lord:  “Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died. If we were critical of ourselves we would not be condemned” (1 Cor. 11:28-31).

Like those of the first two parts, the modi to the third part of the Instrumentum laboris were worked upon in a good synodal spirit and adopted unanimously.

The consistory of the marginalised – a look back

Cardinals of St. LouisAnd so the Church gains twenty new cardinals. Much has already been said about the unique nature of the group, their places of origin and pastoral and other qualities which would spell out much regarding Pope Francis’ game plan for the future of the Church, both universally and locally in the dioceses and countries of the new cardinals.

Perhaps it can be best summarised as follows: The new cardinals bring the peripheries of the world Church to Rome and Rome to the peripheries. There is much variation in Catholic life across the world, and the needs and questions of one place are not necessarily the same as the needs of another. By creating cardinals from places as different as Communist Vietnam, violent Morelia, diaspora Myanmar, refugee-struck Agrigento and distant Tonga, Pope Francis acknowledges this and wants to make good use of the variety. The creation of these cardinals also expresses the closeness of Rome to these different locations, and lends extra weight to the Church’s presence and influence there.

pimiento rodriguezThe actual ceremony of the creation of the new cardinals was nothing out of the ordinary as these things go. One cardinal, José de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez (at right), stayed at home, but he may be excused for that, being 96 years old, and thus the third-oldest member of the College. Cardinals Rauber and De Magistris, respectively 80 and 88 and both physically incapable of kneeling before the Holy Father to receive ring and biretta, both received the signs of their title from a standing Pope Francis who came to them instead of the other way around. Of course, we saw something similar in last year’s consistory for wheelchair-bound Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa.

This consistory was unique in another regard: the appointment of title churches and deaconries. While there were a fair number of vacant titles, Pope Francis chose to fill only seven of these, and created thirteen new ones. Of course, every single cardinal has a title church or deaconry in Rome, which makes 227 of them. Creating thirteen new ones would seem somewhat unnecessary as there are now still one vacant title church and nine vacant deaconries available. But who knows, maybe they will soon be filled if the rumours of Pope Francis wanting to increase the number of cardinals who vote in a conclave from 120 to 140 turn out to be true…

Manuel Macário do Nascimento ClementeOf the pre-existing titles and deaconries there were some examples of continuity. The Patriarch of Lisbon, Cardinal Manuel Macário do Nascimento Clemente (at left), was given Sant’Antonio in Campo Marzio, previously held by his immediate predecessor in Lisbon. Santissimi Nomi di Gesù e Maria in Via Lata remained with a retired and experienced worker in the Curia: previously held by Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, it is now the deaconry of Cardinal Luigi De Magistris. Sant’Antonio di Padova a Circonvallazione Appia kept its Belgian connection: first held by Belgian Cardinal Julien Ries it is now in the possession of the former Nuncio to Belgium, Cardinal Karl-Josef Rauber.

Age-wise, this consistory not only created one of the oldest cardinals, the aforementioned de Jesús Pimiento Rodriguez, but also the two youngest: Cardinal Daniel Sturla Berhouet of Montevideo, 55, and Cardinal Soane Mafi of Tonga, 53.

hendriks mambertiThere was a Dutch delegation at the consistory, in addition to Cardinal Wim Eijk who, as a member of the College of Cardinals, attended all meetings. Bishop Frans Wiertz was in Rome with a group of pilgrims from his Diocese of Roermond, and Bishop Jan Hendriks attended because of his acquaintance with Cardinal Dominique Mamberti (pictured above). He blogged about it on his personal website, and writes about the presence of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI:

“Pope Benedict XVI […] [was] stormed by the cardinals and bishops present in order to briefly greet him.

Various members of the diplomatic corps followed. Other faithful were also able to find their way, but needed some more time to get to him.

In the photo [I took] one can discern a small white zucchetto: that is Pope emeritus Benedict!

[…]

The Pope emeritus underwent all these gestures, smiling friendly and almost shyly.”

hendriks wiertz

^Bishops Jan Hendriks and Frans Wiertz in St. Peter’s Square

Finally, in closing, the text of Pope Francis’ homily during the Mass with the new cardinals on Sunday. Some have called it a roadmap of his pontificate:

“Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean”… Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand and touched him, and said: “I do choose. Be made clean!” (Mk 1:40-41). The compassion of Jesus! That com-passion which made him draw near to every person in pain! Jesus does not hold back; instead, he gets involved in people’s pain and their need… for the simple reason that he knows and wants to show com-passion, because he has a heart unashamed to have “compassion”.

“Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed in the country; and people came to him from every quarter” (Mk 1:45). This means that Jesus not only healed the leper but also took upon himself the marginalization enjoined by the law of Moses (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46). Jesus is unafraid to risk sharing in the suffering of others; he pays the price of it in full (cf. Is 53:4).

Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized! These are the three key concepts that the Church proposes in today’s liturgy of the word: the compassion of Jesus in the face of marginalization and his desire to reinstate.

Marginalization: Moses, in his legislation regarding lepers, says that they are to be kept alone and apart from the community for the duration of their illness. He declares them: “unclean!” (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46).

Imagine how much suffering and shame lepers must have felt: physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually! They are not only victims of disease, but they feel guilty about it, punished for their sins! Theirs is a living death; they are like someone whose father has spit in his face (cf. Num 12:14).

In addition, lepers inspire fear, contempt and loathing, and so they are abandoned by their families, shunned by other persons, cast out by society. Indeed, society rejects them and forces them to live apart from the healthy. It excludes them. So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper, he would be punished severely, and often be treated as a leper himself.

True, the purpose of this rule was “to safeguard the healthy”, “to protect the righteous”, and, in order to guard them from any risk, to eliminate “the peril” by treating the diseased person harshly. As the high priest Caiaphas exclaimed: “It is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (Jn 11:50).

Reinstatement: Jesus revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality. He does not abolish the law of Moses, but rather brings it to fulfillment (cf. Mt 5:17). He does so by stating, for example, that the law of retaliation is counterproductive, that God is not pleased by a Sabbath observance which demeans or condemns a man. He does so by refusing to condemn the sinful woman, but saves her from the blind zeal of those prepared to stone her ruthlessly in the belief that they were applying the law of Moses. Jesus also revolutionizes consciences in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5), opening new horizons for humanity and fully revealing God’s “logic”. The logic of love, based not on fear but on freedom and charity, on healthy zeal and the saving will of God. For “God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4). “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Mt 12:7; Hos 6:6).

Jesus, the new Moses, wanted to heal the leper. He wanted to touch him and restore him to the community without being “hemmed in” by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected. Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences! For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family! And this is scandalous to some people!

Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (cf. Jn 10).

There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost. Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking. The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.

These two ways of thinking are present throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. Saint Paul, following the Lord’s command to bring the Gospel message to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19), caused scandal and met powerful resistance and great hostility, especially from those who demanded unconditional obedience to the Mosaic law, even on the part of converted pagans. Saint Peter, too, was bitterly criticized by the community when he entered the house of the pagan centurion Cornelius (cf. Acts 10).

The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold, but welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world. The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the “outskirts” of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: “Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners” (Lk 5:31-32).

In healing the leper, Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the “older brother” (cf. Lk 15:11-32), the burden of envy and the grumbling of the labourers who bore “the burden of the day and the heat” (cf. Mt 20:1-16).

In a word: charity cannot be neutral, antiseptic, indifferent, lukewarm or impartial! Charity is infectious, it excites, it risks and it engages! For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous! (cf. 1 Cor 13). Charity is creative in finding the right words to speak to all those considered incurable and hence untouchable. Finding the right words… Contact is the language of genuine communication, the same endearing language which brought healing to the leper. How many healings can we perform if only we learn this language of contact! The leper, once cured, became a messenger of God’s love. The Gospel tells us that “he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the word” (cf. Mk 1:45).

Dear new Cardinals, this is the “logic”, the mind of Jesus, and this is the way of the Church. Not only to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door, but to go out and seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant, freely sharing what we ourselves freely received. “Whoever says: ‘I abide in [Christ]’, ought to walk just as he walked” (1 Jn 2:6). Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honour!

Consider carefully that, in these days when you have become Cardinals, we have asked Mary, Mother of the Church, who herself experienced marginalization as a result of slander (cf. Jn 8:41) and exile (cf. Mt 2:13-23), to intercede for us so that we can be God’s faithful servants. May she – our Mother – teach us to be unafraid of tenderly welcoming the outcast; not to be afraid of tenderness. How often we fear tenderness! May Mary teach us not to be afraid of tenderness and compassion. May she clothe us in patience as we seek to accompany them on their journey, without seeking the benefits of worldly success. May she show us Jesus and help us to walk in his footsteps.

Dear new Cardinals, my brothers, as we look to Jesus and our Mother, I urge you to serve the Church in such a way that Christians – edified by our witness – will not be tempted to turn to Jesus without turning to the outcast, to become a closed caste with nothing authentically ecclesial about it. I urge you to serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked; to see the Lord present even in those who have lost their faith, or turned away from the practice of their faith, or say that they are atheists; to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper – whether in body or soul – who encounters discrimination! We will not find the Lord unless we truly accept the marginalized! May we always have before us the image of Saint Francis, who was unafraid to embrace the leper and to accept every kind of outcast. Truly, dear brothers, the Gospel of the marginalized is where our credibility is at stake, is discovered and is revealed!

Easter message – Bishop Jozef De Kesel

Bishop Jozef De Kesel of Bruges has an excellent message on the topic of suffering and death in the perspective of the Resurrection.

de kesel“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.”

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