In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour! The Lord is with you.’
She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’
Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?’
The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’
Mary said, ‘You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.’ And the angel left her. (Luke 1, 2-38)
Today, nine months before Christmas, we celebrate the Annunciation, the announcement to the Virgin mary that she would be the mother of God’s Son. This is how our salvation begins, in the simple faithful ‘yes’ of a young woman in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. Her faith in God Who grants her this great privilege is an example to us all. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the first among the followers of Christ, and the first intercessor for us with Christ.
Since the counterproductive reception of the episcopal mandate of 1954 – which, among rather a lot else, forbade Catholics to be members of socialist parties and unions – the Dutch bishops have refrained from giving any advice on how to vote. An understandable thing to do, perhaps, certainly considering the climate of the decades to follow: Vatican II and the minor storm of iconoclasm that followed, and the general distrust of anything organised, including religion, in the 1960s. But at the same time, it is at odds with the bishops’ duties as shepherds. They are tasked to lead Christ’s flock, after all, in all things faith-related. Deciding on who to vote for may certainly be influenced by a person’s beliefs, so an episcopal declaration on what parties are more in line with Catholic thought and which are not would not be too strange.
Before the good old ‘separation of Church and State’ is dragged out again, it would be good to realise that no such thing actually exists in the Dutch constitution. As Tom Zwitser points out, the constitution speaks of a much more diffuse relation between Church and State. The concept of freedom of religion – which is a constitutional right – is much more applicable here. Of course, Church and State should not be at odds with one another, but in certain cases the relation between can certainly be mutually beneficial. And as for the individual voter: he or she gets inundated with all manner of advice on who to vote for anyway…
That said, the bishops’ conference maintains their position of not officially indicating parties that Catholics should not vote for, although they can certainly offer their own personal opinions. Bishop Gerard de Korte did so quite recently, and while he did warn against the trend of populism in politics (as he has done since 2007), no party is to be expressly excluded, he says.
Although the bishops reiterated their position in 2006, saying that it is not up to the Church to recommend specific parties, “but to put forward those issues that the Church considers important”, individual priests do sometimes speak out against specific parties. Recently, Father Harm Schilder, parish priest in Tilburg and focus of a long-running conflict about his church bells and the volume they are said to produce before early morning Mass, did so in his homily on Sunday:
“The parties who were expressly against the ringing of the church bells were the PvdA, Greenleft and the SP [left wing parties all]. They are also against the Church. They are allowed to. But it is desireable that churchgoers do not fall for that at the upcoming elections. As the old saying goes: do not kiss the hand of he who hits you.”
Although this is clearly an advice based on a specific local issue, it’s no less valid for it. Local politics will slightly differ per city and from national politics, but they do affect each other. The PvdA leading the call for protests at Mass in ‘s Hertogenbosch, for example, is in my opinion a clear indication that I can’t in good conscience vote for them in tomorrow’s municipal elections (if I was thinking of doing that, I might add).
The importance of politics and elections is for me a natural reason to look for advice and guidance from the corners that also help me in other situations. The Church in her teachings and personified in priests and bishops is one of those. I believe there is much to be gained with a bishops’ conference that is not afraid to speak out clearly and publically on matters, to offer advice when needed. That will certainly lead to much resentment initially, both within and without the Church. After all, we are a people that does not like being told what to do. But sometimes we need it. We needed it as children, and since we never stop growing up and learning, we will always need it.
In the temple in Jerusalem, old Simeon warned the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph that Jesus would be “a sign that is opposed” (Luke 2, 34). The same will be true for anyone who chooses to follow Him.
The homily that Father Luc Buyens gave last Sunday is online. It is, of course, the homily in which he explained to his parishioners (and the protesters who were also present) why he couldn’t give Communion to an openly homosexual man. What with all the media commotion surrounding that, I think it is interesting to see what Fr. Buyens actually said. Below is the homily in English (emphases mine).
Dear parishioners of Reusel, dear people from elsewhere,
After the feast of carnival last week, on Ash Wednesday we have entered our holy Lent, the Christian time of fasting. For us this is a time of more focus on prayer, the practice of confession and being solidary with our neighbour. A time which Jesus has entered before us in His mortal life. I believe that we, as postmodern people of the 21st century, can still learn from that. When a person chooses for such a time of purification, according to Luke the evangelist, there are three points which become clear.
1. The temptation to turn stones into loaves… apparently, a lot is possible from the world of spirits. But Jesus replies: “Man lives not by bread alone”, and everyone who knows the Bible, knows what actually follows next: “but by every word of God”. It is sublime to know that Jesus will eventually feed His own with the bread of heaven, which makes us people grow into the ‘living rock’, into the spiritual building that He establishes and of which He is the cornerstone that holds everything together. But apparently the devil isn’t caught that easily. He comes with a second challenge: “If you therefore will adore before me, all shall be yours”, and Jesus replies, “You shall adore the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve”: the God for Whom every knee must bend. How can we, dear people, adore and honour Him here on Earth? The only right answer is: there where Jesus shows Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, especially in Adoration. ‘God with us’ in the form of consecrated bread. That is how He shall be with us until the end of days. And how can we serve Him? In our neighbour, by serving him or her as we would want to be helped ourselves. Jesus lives in the first place in the poor, the small, the abandoned and fragile, the least of all. If we apply God’s word to what is called temptation, the enemy or tempter is sent back from the very start, and so follows the third temptation: Cast yourself down and you will be carried, in other words: the challenge to cross boundaries, to tempt fate as happens so often these days. What does Jesus say then? “You shall not the tempt the Lord you God”. Creature: know your place. Know what you are doing if you want to tempt the Lord your God. Woe that man…
At that point Satan leaves until the designated time to take his revenge, which will cost him dearly, because Jesus’ death has given eternal life to people of good will and the restoration of all things. This is what God’s Church stands for. He who beliefs and is baptised will be saved from a death that will last forever. From now on man can consider his life from the principle of eternity and let this dictate his values. Jesus entrusted this faith to the Church and, by spreading the Word and administering the sacraments to the people, the Church sanctifies the world.
Following the commotion after pastoral matters were leaked to the press, I would like to say the following. When we Catholics come together to celebrate the Eucharist we do this to consider God’s word and possibly to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, Communion or Holy Host. “Truly my Body and Blood”, as Christ teaches us. This ‘bread from heaven’ is one of the seven sacraments of the Church. In 2008 the Dutch bishops published a letter asking the ministers of the Eucharist to make the faithful aware of what communicating in God’s Church means. They gave four models to achieve a good formulation towards the faithful. All four of those models indicate that one can’t receive Communion under certain circumstances, and that, including the amendments in the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism, goes for everyone.
Dear people, why do I mention all this? To tell you that there is nothing wrong when something is lived orderly. There are boundaries for homosexuals and heterosexuals, and for everyone else possible.
There are rules which the Church must apply so that people approach and receive God in the right manner. The Church has the task to keep and protect the people. Especially when they threaten to make mistakes out of ignorance, the Church warns like a concerned mother. On the football field, the referee also engages with a player who acts inappropriately. It can’t be that in the Church, which is eternal, all rules which stem from the Ten Commandments, are cast aside just like that. When I participate in carnival festivities I know I have to respect their rules and the same goes for when I want to participate actively in the life of the Church. Faith reveals itself in acts and here too the Law is what everything is measured by, to the benefit of all. “One jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled”, the Lord of heaven and earth says.
I have said a lot and I could say more, but I know that I will feel like a useless help who only tried to do his work in good conscience. I did not want to single out anyone. Everything took place in private. I don’t want to discriminate or hurt anyone. I know that there is often a lot of pain and sorrow for the people concerned but also, despite all difficulties, the intention to do and be good. The Church is called to be specifically close to those concerned and to help them carry the sacrifices of such a disposition as a cross, together with the crucified Christ. I believe that bringing such a sacrifice can be a great blessing to the Church and the world who needs that so much.They who are willing to carry this cross are even invited and encouraged to frequently receive the sacraments and the blessings of the Church to be strengthened to persevere. After every fall or mistake every believer can and must reconcile himself with God through an honest confession, if he wants to sit at the table of the Lord. That goes for every grave sin of any nature.
To you, who have come here in such large numbers, I would like to say that I, as a priest, am willing to suffer for the sign I stand for. Just like I wish to be respectful to each and every one of you I would want to receive the same respect in return. Sadly, I must inform you, that things do not automatically point in that direction. I do not declare war on anyone, but I ask the Lord of heaven and earth that His peace may soon descend on Reusel once more. Our people here do no benefit from what is happening and do not work that way.
To the press I would like to say thatI did not want this disturbance. This parish has been entrusted to my care by the bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. This is my workplace that has been given and nothing more. I think that I have given enough clarity and ask that you turn towards persons of the diocese of Den Bosch and specialists in these matters.
In our Church it is not usual that priests act autonomously. In the case that I have been blamed I have only acted after discussion with the bishop and my colleagues.
I wish to close with the word of the great apostle Paul with his words to the Christians of Philippi: “Be followers of me, brethren: and observe them who walk so as you have our model. For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping) that they are enemies of the cross of Christ”.
“Whose end is destruction: whose God is their belly: and whose glory is in their shame: who mind earthly things. But our conversation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of his glory, according to the operation whereby also he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”