Necessary clarification- of Amoris laetitia or of Tradition?

I am becoming increasingly convinced that Amoris laetitia itself does not need a clarification, but the Tradition in a way does. It is much like what Cardinal Müller has long been saying: the Apostolic Exhortation must be read in the context of the entire Tradition of the Church. Without the Biblical foundation, as well as the various interpretations, declarations and conclusions drawn by scholars and Popes over the centuries, Amoris laetitia, and especially the leeway it seems to create for people living in irregular situations to receive the sacraments (and especially Holy Communion), is bound to be interpreted incorrectly. And it is, as judged by the various and differing, even opposing, policies drawn up by bishops and conferences on the basis of what they read in it.

Just yesterday, the two bishops of Malta, one of them a canon lawyer, wrote that people who feel at peace with God, despite living in objectively irregular situations, can not be denied Communion. Other bishops, for example those of Poland, have been consistently saying that they can not. Four cardinals asked for clarification about Amoris laetitia and earlier papal documents about marriage and family, citing the existence of obvious confusion regarding their implementation and magisterial status. They have still received no answer, and it is clearly very unlikely that they will ever receive one. Perhaps Pope Francis believes that Amoris laetitia is clear enough – if it is read correctly, ie., as Cardinal Müller has been saying, within the context of the Tradition. If a bishop or bishops’ conference does that, there need not be any questions about the status or validity of earlier magisterial documents by previous Popes.

But instead of documents, bishops first look at people, and that is understandable and right. They have a mission to care for their faithful, and the law is ever at the service of the people and the faith. But is is a necessary service, not one that should be done away with in difficult circumstances. For the understanding and interpretation of magisterial teachings, of which Amoris laetitia is one, knowledge of what came before is indispensable. Not to safeguard the law for itself, but to be able to add to the string of signposts leading to God. A single signpost on a long road with many crossings and side roads is useless. There should always be more, if only to show us if we are still on the right track after a while.

There are always exceptions to rules, because life – and faith too – is too big to be caught on paper. Jesus also had an eye for that. He came to fulfill the law, and not to change on iota (Matthew 5:18-19), but always reached out to those who failed in keeping those laws. That is also our mission as Christians: to uphold the law, but stand with people who did or could not keep it, regardless of their reasons. Amoris laetitia does just that: it upholds the law because it is part of Tradition, and it invites us to stand with people who failed. And that is where we can always grow and develop more: not in changing laws, but in creatively helping people. Perhaps the hardest task. But also the most Christian.

“Seeing with the eyes of the Lord” – Christmas message from the bishops of Utrecht

In their Christmas message, the archbishop and auxiliary bishops of Utrecht look back at the Holy Year of Mercy, urging us not to let the fruits of that Year go to waste. We should always try to look at others with Jesus’ eyes, as the logo if the Holy Year shows us.

Kardinaal%20Eijk%202012%20kapel%20RGB%204%20klein“At Christmas we celebrate that our God became visibly and tangibly among us in the Child of Bethlehem, our Lord Jesus Christ. Pope Francis has said about him, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 1). The Holy Father wrote these words when he announced the Holy Year of Mercy on 11 April 2015. This Holy Year began with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and subsequently with the opening of Holy Doors in all the world’s dioceses. In our Archdiocese of Utrecht, these were in Utrecht, Hengelo and Groenlo. The Holy Year is now ended, or perhaps we could say, whisked by. But we should be watchful that what the Holy Year of Mercy has brougth us, will not simply disappear. For this year has brought the Church – also in the Archdiocese of Utrecht – much that is good and encouraging.

mgr_%20hoogenboomAs bishops of the Archdiocese of Utrecht we are very grateful to the Pope for the past Holy Year of Mercy. Much has been received and shared in our parishes and establishments, in faith, hope and love. Much work has been done to make the Holy Year a reality in the liturgy, catechesis and charity. Both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy have been frequently highlighted and put into practice. People – young and old(er) – have received the sacrament of God’s mercy – the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, or Confession – and that is a source of great grace and joy.

One has confessed for the first time in his or her life, the other sometimes after many years. That confession could have taken place in the parish, during the World Youth Days in Krakow or during a pilgrimage, such as the one to Rome. As bishops we have emphasised to our priests, deacons and pastoral workers the importance of a good preparation for the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation for children, before they make their First Holy Communion.

woortsWe are very grateful to our priests, deacons, religions, pastoral workers, coworkers, catechsists and all our volunteers for all the good and blessed work they have done for the success of the Holy Year of Mercy!

A high point in this Holy Year was without a doubt the pilgrimage that we made with some 2,000 people from all dioceses of the Dutch Church province to Rome, the ´eternal city´. Among them were some 200 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Utrecht. That pilgrimage has deepened and enriched our faith and being Church. Especially noteworthy was the Eucharist celebrated on the ‘Dutch day’ (15 November) in St. Peter´s, followed by the welcome of Pope Francis and his address to the Dutch faithful. The Pope was happy and impressed by such a large and enthusiastic group of pilgrims from the Netherlands. He was moved when a Catholic refugee from Syria presented him with a booklet detailing what has been done in and by the Dutch dioceses and parishes for the reception of refugees.

As mentioned, the Holy Year is over. The Holy Doors are closed. But the door of God’s merciful love is not – that remains always open for us and all people! And from this love we Christians are and remain called to make God’s mercy tangible and visible, especially to those who are ignorant, helpless or poor. Our Lord Jesus keeps asking us to look, to see with His eyes.

logoIn the Eucharistic celebration on the Dutch day, Cardinal Eijk said, for that reason, that the logo of the Holy Year of Mercy, the logo that was especially designed in Rome for this Hole Year, should remain etched in our minds. After all, it is a striking logo that highlights so clearly that mercy is a key word for the Christian faith. This logo depicts Jesus carrying a man on his back. It is based on the parable told by Jesus in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke (15:1-10). This parable speaks of the shepherd with a hundred sheep of which one gets lost. The shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness to search for that one lost sheep.

We could wonder: who would leave 99 sheep in the wilderness to look for that one lost sheep?! Isn’t that shepherd taking a lot of risks?! Shouldn’t he be leaving to sheep to its fate? The parable was told by Jesus in this way on purpose to show how far God will go to search for people who have strayed from His paths and save them. For that reason God became man in Christ and made Himself the sacrifice, through His suffering and the cross, that was needed to expiate our guilt and return us to God.

When we look at the logo closely the following becomes clear: Jesus has two eyes, and the person He carries on His back as well. But no matter how often we count those eyes, there are always three. The designer did this in purpose to make us think. It indicates that Jesus and the suffering person that He is carrying on His back and saves, share one eye together, so to speak. The logo expresses the following:

In the first place the logo invites us to look at our neighbours with the eyes of our Lord Jesus, that is: with His merciful and forgiving love. We shouldn;t certainly be concerned about moral shortcomings, but then especially about our own. When it comes to others who cause us harm, let us then consider them with Jesus’ eyes. Try, as it were, to share one eye with Him. This is the message of the logo of the Holy Year of Mercy: as the Lord looks at us with loving and merciful eyes, so look at your neighbours and be prepared to forgive them when they have done you wrong, and offer them new chances when they show remorse.

This is frequently the advice of a spiritual counsellor or confessor to someone who struggles with the people around him, especially because they find it difficult to forgive them their unpleasant traits and habits : “try to look at him or her with the eyes of Jesus”.

This is helpful. When we commit ourselves conscously to this and pray to the Lord to let us look at our neighbours with His eyes, He will not remain silent and comes to us with His grace.

There is a second layer to the logo, a second message. Jesus sharing one eye with that person in need shows that He looks in mercy at our need, our difficulties, our pain and our sorrow, with our eyes, as it were. He can do so with our eyes because He Himself became man and freely submitted Himself to the conditions of our lives, which – to put it mildly – are not always advantageous. He experienced this Himself too. Jesus makes our need, pain and sorrow His own and looks at it with our eyes. This means that Jesus makes our life His own and He can do so more than anyone.

Jesus making our lives His own, is something He also says in Matthew 25:

“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).

And there is more: in this context the logo also invites us to look at our neighbours in need with Jesus’ eyes of mercy, and the sense of compassion, and really make their lives our own.

I happily wish you, your loved ones and all people of good will a blessed Christmas and God’s blessing for the new year 2017! A new year to look at each other and others, to see with the eyes of our Lord Jesus, of whom we celebrate at Christmas that He came among us through His incarnation.

With His eyes he continues to look at us, for us with His endlessly merciful love.

Utrecht, Christmas 2016

+Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk
Archbishop of Utrecht

Msgr. Th. C. M. Hoogenboom
Auxiliary Bishop of Utrecht

Msgr. H. W. Woorts
Auxiliary Bishop of Utrecht

Pope in Sweden – the Dutch translations

In this post I have collected my translations of the various homilies and addresses given by Pope Francis during his short visit to Sweden. Perhaps needlessly said, apart from this paragraph, the post will consist of Dutch text.

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Homilie tijdens de oecumenische gebedsdienst in Lund:

“”Blijf in mij zoals ik in u” (Joh. 15:4). Deze woorden, uitgesproken door Jezus bij het Laatste Avondmaal, laten ons een blik werpen in het hart van Christus, kort voor Zijn ultieme offer aan het kruis. We kunnen Zijn hart voelen kloppen met liefde voor ons en Zijn verlangen voor eenheid onder allen die in Hem geloven. Hij vertelt ons dat Hij de ware wijnstok is en wij de ranken die, net zoals Hij één is met de Vader, één met Hem moeten zijn, willen we vrucht dragen.

Hier in Lund, tijdens deze gebedsdienst, willen wij ons gezamenlijk verlangen laten zien om één te blijven met Christus, zodat we leven hebben. We vragen Hem: “Heer, help ons in uw genade om dichter met U verenigd te zijn en zo, samen, een effectievere getuigenis te geven van geloof, hoop en liefde.” Dit is ook een moment om God te danken voor het werk van onze vele broeders en zusters van verschillende kerkelijke gemeenschappen die weigerden genoeg te nemen met verdeeldheid, maar in plaats daarvan de hoop op verzoening van allen die in de ene Heer geloven levend hielden.

Als katholieken en Lutheranen zijn we een gezamenlijke weg van verzoening gegaan. Nu, in de context van de herdenking van de Reformatie van 1517, hebben we een nieuwe kans om een gezamenlijke weg te kiezen, één die in de afgelopen vijftig jaar vorm heeft gekregen in de oecumenische dialoog tussen de Lutherse Wereldfederatie en de Katholieke Kerk. Ook wij kunnen geen genoegen nemen met de verdeeldheid en afstand die onze scheiding tussen ons geschapen heeft. Wij hebben de kans een kritiek moment van onze geschiedenis te repareren door voorbij de controverses en meningsverschillen, die ons er vaak van hebben weerhouden elkaar te begrijpen, te gaan.

Jezus zegt ons dat de Vader de “wijngaardenier” is (vg. vers 1) die de wijnstok verzorgt en snoeit om te zorgen dat die meer vrucht draagt (vg. vers 2). De Vader heeft steeds zorg voor onze relatie met Jezus, om te zien of we werkelijk één met Hem zijn (vg. vers 4). Hij waakt over ons, en Zijn blik van liefde zet ons aan ons het verleden te zuiveren en in het heden te werken om een toekomst van eenheid tot stand te brengen, die Hij zozeer verlangt.

Ook wij moeten met liefde en eerlijkheid naar ons verleden kijken, fouten herkennen en vergeving zoeken, want God alleen is onze rechter. Met dezelfde eerlijkheid en liefde moeten we inzien dat onze verdeeldheid ons scheidt van de oorspronkelijke intuïtie van het volk van God, dat van nature verlangt één te zijn, en dat die verdeeldheid historisch bestendigd werd door de machthebbers van deze wereld, en niet zozeer het gelovige volk, dat altijd en overal met zekerheid en liefde door zijn Goede Herder geleid moet worden. Zeker, er was aan beide zijden een oprechte wil om het ware geloof te belijden en te behouden, maar tegelijkertijd weten we dat we in onszelf zijn opgesloten door angst voor of vooroordeel over het geloof dat anderen met een ander accent en taal belijden. Zoals Paus Johannes Paulus II zei: “We moeten niet toestaan dat wij worden geleid door de intentie onszelf te willen benoemen als rechters van de geschiedenis, maar alleen door de motivatie om beter te willen begrijpen wat er is gebeurd en om boodschappers van de waarheid te worden” (Brief aan Kardinaal Johannes Willebrands, President van het Secretariaat voor de Christelijke Eenheid, 31 oktober 1983). God is de wijngaardenier, die de wijnrank met immense liefde verzorgd en beschermd; laten wij geraakt zijn door Zijn waakzame blik. Het enige dat Hij verlangt is dat wij als levende ranken in Zijn Zoon Jezus blijven. Met deze nieuwe blik op het verleden beweren we niet een onpraktische correctie op wat er gebeurd is te willen realiseren, maar “het verhaal anders te vertellen” (Luthers-Rooms Katholieke Commissie over de Eenheid, Van Conflict naar Eenheid, 17 juni 2013, 16).

Jezus herinnerert ons eraan: “Los van Mij kunnen jullie niets” (vers 5). Hij is degene die ons onderhoudt en ons aanmoedigt manieren te vinden om onze eenheid steeds zichtbaarder te maken. Zeker, ons verdeeldheid is een enorme bron van lijden en onbegrip geweest, maar het heeft ons er ook toe geleid eerlijk te erkennen dat we zonder Hem niets kunnen; zo heeft het ons in staat gesteld bepaalde aspecten van ons geloof beter te begrijpen. Dankbaar erkennen we dat de Reformatie geholpen heeft de Heilige schrift een meer centrale plaats te geven in het leven van de Kerk. Door het gezamenlijk luisteren naar het woord van God in de Schrift zijn er belangrijke stappen voorwaarts gezet in de dialoog tussen de Katholieke Kerk en de Lutherse Wereldfederatie, wiens vijftigste verjaardag we nu vieren. Laten we de Heer vragen dat Zijn woord ons bijeen mag houden, want het is een bron van voeding en leven; zonder de inspiratie van het woord kunnen we niets.

De geestelijk ervaring van Maarten Luther daagt ons uit ons te herinneren dat wij zonder God niets kunnen. “Hoe kan ik een genadige God verkrijgen?” Deze vraag achtervolgde Luther. De vraag van een rechtvaardige relatie met God is in feite de bepalende vraag voor ons leven. Zoals we weten ontmoette Luther die genadige God in het goede nieuws van Jezus, mensgeworden, gestorven en verrezen. Met het concept van sola gratia herinnert hij ons eraan dat God altijd het initiatief neemt, nog voor enige menselijke reactie, zelfs als Hij dat antwoord wil opwekken. De rechtvaardigingsleer drukt zo de essentie van het menselijke bestaan tegenover God uit.

Jezus spreekt voor ons als onze bemiddelaar voor de Vader; Hij vraagt Hem dat Zijn leerlingen één mogen zijn, “zodat de wereld kan geloven” (Joh. 17:21). Dat geeft ons troost en inspireert ons om één te zijn met Jezus, en daarom te bidden: “Geef ons de gave van eenheid zodat de wereld kan geloven in de kracht van uw barmhartigheid”. Dit is de getuigenis die de wereld van ons verwacht. Wij christenen zullen geloofwaardige getuigen van de barmhartigheid zijn in zoverre dat vergeving, vernieuwing en verzoening dagelijks onder ons worden ervaren. Samen kunnen wij Gods barmhartigheid verkondigen en zichtbaar maken, concreet en met vreugde, door de waardigheid van ieder persoon hoog te houden en te bevorderen. Zonder deze dienst aan en in de wereld is het christelijk geloof onvolledig.

Als Lutheranen en katholieken bidden wij samen in deze kathedraal, in het bewustzijn dat we zonder God niets kunnen. Wij vragen Zijn hulp om levende ledematen te zijn, blijvend in Hem, steeds met behoefte aan Zijn genade, zodat we samen Zijn woord aan de wereld kunnen geven, die zijn tedere liefde en barmhartigheid zo nodig heeft.”

Gezamenlijke verklaring ter gelegenheid van de gezamenlijke Katholiek-Lutheraanse herdenking van de Reformatie:

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“”Laten we met elkaar verbonden blijven, jullie en Ik, want zoals een rank geen vrucht kan dragen uit eigen kracht, maar alleen als ze verbonden blijft met de wijnstok, zo kunnen ook jullie geen vrucht dragen als je niet met Mij verbonden blijft” (Johannes 15:4).

Met dankbare harten

Met deze Gezamenlijke Verklaring drukken wij vreugdevolle dankbaarheid aan God uit voor dit moment van gezamenlijk gebed in de kathedraal van Lund, aan het begin van het jaar waarin we het vijfhonderdste jubileum van de Reformatie herdenken. Vijftig jaar aanhoudende en vruchtbare oecumenische dialoog tussen katholieken en Lutheranen heeft ons geholpen vele verschillen te overbruggen, en heeft ons wederzijds begrip en vertrouwen versterkt. Tegelijkertijd zijn we dichter tot elkaar gekomen door de gezamenlijke dienst aan onze naasten – vaak in situaties van lijden en vervolging. Door dialoog en gedeelde getuigenis zijn we niet langer vreemden. We hebben veeleer geleerd dat wat ons verenigdt groter is dan wat ons scheidt.

Van conflict naar gemeenschap

Hoewel we ten diepste dankbaar zijn voor de geestelijke en theologische gaven van de Reformatie, belijden en betreuren we voor Christus ook dat Lutheranen en katholieken de zichtbare eenheid van de Kerk hebben beschadigd. Theologische verschillen gingen samen met vooroordelen en conflicten, en religie werd een instrument voor politieke doeleinden. Ons gezamenlijk geloof in Jezus Christus en ons doopsel vereist van ons een dagelijkse bekering, waarmee we de historische meningsverschillen en conflicten die het dienstwerk van de verzoening verhinderden van ons afwerpen. Hoewel het verleden niet verandert kan worden, kan wat er herinnert wordt en hoe het wordt herinnert wel veranderen. Wij bidden voor de genezing van onze wonden en van de herinneringen die ons beeld van de ander blokkeren. We verwerpen nadrukkelijk alle haat en geweld, in het verleden en heden, vooral wanneer uitgevoerd in de naam van religie. Vandaag horen we het gebod van God om alle strijd aan de kant te zetten. We erkennen dat we, bevrijd door genade, voorwaarts gaan naar de eenheid waartoe God ons steeds roept.

Onze toewijding aan gezamenlijke getuigenis

Nu we die periode in de geschiedenis als een last achter ons laten, beloven wij plechtig samen te getuigen van Gods barmhartige genade, zichtbaar in de gekruisigde en verrezen Christus. In het bewustzijn dat de manier waarop wij ons tot elkaar verhouden onze getuigenis van het Evangelie vorm geeft, wijden wij ons toe aan de verdere groei van gemeenschap, geworteld in het doopsel, terwijl we proberen de overblijvende obstakels die volledige eenheid nog verhinderen te verwijderen. Christus verlangt dat we één zijn, zodat de wereld kan geloven (vg. Joh. 17:21).

Vele leden van onze gemeenschappen verlangen ernaar de Eucharistie aan één tafel te ontvangen als een concrete uitdrukking van volledige eenheid. Wij ervaren de pijn van degenen die hun hele leven delen, behalve de verlossende aanwezigheid van God aan de Eucharistische tafel. Wij erkennen onze gezamenlijke pastorale verantwoordelijkheid om een antwoord te geven op de geestelijke dorst en honger van onze mensen om één te zijn in Christus. Wij verlangen ernaar dat deze wond in het Lichaam van Christus zal genezen. Dit is het doel van onze oecumenische inspanningen, die we willen bevorderen, ook door onze toewijding aan de theologische dialoog te hernieuwen

We bidden tot God dat katholieken en Lutheranen samen zullen kunnen getuigen van het Evangelie van Jezus Christus, en de mensheid uitnodigen het goede nieuws van Gods verlossende handelen te horen en ontvangen. We bidden tot God om inspiratie, aanmoediging en kracht zodat we naast elkaar kunnen staan in het dienstwerk, de menselijke waardigheid en rechten hooghouden, met name van de armen, werken voor gerechtigheid en alle vormen van geweld afwijzen. God roept ons op allen die verlangen naar waardigheid, gerechtigheid, vrede en verzoening nabij te zijn. Vandaag in het bijzonder verheffen we onze stemmen voor een einde aan het geweld en extremisme dat zo vele landen en gemeenschappen, en talloze zusters en broeders in Christus, treft. We sporen Lutheranen en katholieken aan om samen te werken in het ontvangen van de vreemde, degenen die gedwongen zijn te vluchten vanwege oorlog of vervolging te hulp te komen, en de rechten van vluchtelingen en asielzoekers te verdedigen.

Meer dan ooit beseffen we dat ons gezamenlijk dienstwerk in deze wereld moet reiken tot aan Gods scheppen, die lijdt onder uitbuitingen en de gevolgen van onverzadelijke hebzucht. We erkennen het recht van toekomstige generaties om te genieten van Gods wereld in al haar potentieel en schoonheid. We bidden voor een omslag in harten en hoofden die leidt tot een liefdevolle en verantwoordelijke zorg voor de schepping.

Eén in Christus

Op deze gunstige gelegenheid drukken wij onze dankbaarheid uit aan onze broeders en zusters die de verschillende christelijke wereldgemeenschappen en broederschappen vertegenwoordigen die hier aanwezig zijn en zich aansluiten bij ons gebed. Nu we ons opnieuw toewijden aan de beweging van conflict naar gemeenschap, doen we dat als ledematen van het ene Lichaam van Christus, waarin we door het doopsel zijn opgenomen. We nodigen onze oecumenische partners uit ons aan onze verplichtingen te herinneren en ons te bemoedigen. We vragen hen voor ons te blijven bidden, met ons op weg te gaan en ons te ondersteunen in het uitvoeren van de gebedsvolle verplichtingen die wij vandaag uitspreken.

Oproep aan katholieken en Lutheranen in de wereld

Wij roepen alle Lutherse en katholieke parochies en gemeenschappen op om stoutmoedig en creatief, vol vreugde en hoop te zijn in hun toewijding om de grote reis voor ons voort te zetten. In plaats van conflicten uit het verleden, zal Gods geschenk van eenheid onder ons de samenwerking leiden en onze solidariteit verdiepen. Door dichter in het geloof tot Christus te komen, door samen te bidden, door naar elkaar te luisteren, door de liefde van Christus voor te leven in onze relaties, zullen wij, katholieken en Lutheranen, onszelf openstellen voor de kracht van de Drieëne God. Geworteld in Christus en van Hem getuigend vernieuwen wij onze vastberadenheid om trouwe voorboden te zijn van Gods grenzeloze liefde voor de hele mensheid.”

Toespraak tijdens het Oecumenisch evenement in Malmö Arena:

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“Ik dank God voor deze gezamenlijke herdenking van het vijfhonderste jubileum van de Reformatie. We gedenken dit jubileum met een hernieuwde geest en erkennen dat de christelijke eenheid een prioriteit is, omdat we weten dat er meer is dat ons verenigt dan ons scheidt. De weg die we gegaan zijn om die eenheid te bereiken is zelf een groot geschenk dat God ons geeft. Met deze hulp zijn we vandaag hier bijeen gekomen, Lutheranen en katholieken, is een geest van broederschap, om onze blik te richten op de ene Heer, Jezus Christus.

Onze dialoog heeft ons geholpen te groeien in wederzijds begrip; het heeft wederzijds vertrouwen bevordert en ons verlangen om verder te gaan naar volledige eenheid bevestigd. Eén van de vruchten van deze dialoog is de samenwerking tussen verschillende organisaties van de Lutherse Wereldfederatie en de Katholieke Kerk. Dankzij deze nieuwe sfeer van begrip zullen Caritas Internationalis en de World Service van de Lutherse Wereldfederatie vandaag een gezamenlijk overeengekomen verklaring ondertekenen die gericht is op het ontwikkelen en versterken van een geest van samenwerking ter bevordering van de menselijke waardigheid en sociale gerechtigheid. Ik groet van harte de leden van beide organisaties; in een wereld die door oorlogen en conflicten uit elkaar getrokken wordt, zijn en blijven zij een lichtend voorbeeld van toewijding tot en dienst aan de naaste. Ik moedig u aan voort te gaan op de weg van samenwerking.

Ik heb aandachtig geluisterd naar de mensen die getuigenis hebben gegeven, hoe zij te midden van zoveel uitdagingen dagelijks hun leven toewijden aan het opbouwen van een wereld die steeds meer wil reageren op het plan van God, onze Vader. Pranita sprak over de schepping. De schepping zelf is duidelijk een teken van Gods grenzeloze liefde voor ons. Als gevolg kunnen de geschenken van de natuur ons tot het overwegen van God aanzetten. Ik deel je zorg over het misbruik dat onze planeet, ons gezamenlijk thuis, schaadt en ernstige gevolgen heeft voor het klimaat. Zoals we in ons, in mijn land zeggen: “Uiteindelijk zijn het de armen die de kosten betalen voor ons feesten”. Zoals jij terecht opmerkte hebben zij de grootste impact op degenen die het meest kwetsbaar en behoeftig zijn; zij worden gedwongen te emigreren om aan de gevolgen van klimaatverandering te ontsnappen. Wij allemaal, en wij christenen in het bijzonder, zijn verantwoordelijk voor de bescherming van de schepping. Onze manier van leven en ons handelen moet altijd overeenstemmen met ons geloof. Wij zijn geroepen harmonie op te wekken in onszelf en met anderen, maar ook met God en Zijn handwerk. Pranita, ik moedig je aan vol te houden in je toewijding in naam van ons gezamenlijk thuis. Dank je!

Mgr. Hector Fabio vertelde ons over het gezamenlijk werk van katholieken en Lutheranen in Colombia. Het is goed om te weten dat christenen samenwerken om gemeenschappelijke en maatschappelijke processen van algemeen belang op te starten. Ik vraag jullie in het bijzonder te bidden voor dat grootse land, zodat, door middel van de samenwerking van iedereen, de vrede, waar zo naar verlangd wordt en die zo nodig is voor een menswaardig samenleven, eindelijk kan worden behaald. En omdat het menselijk hart, als het naar Jezus kijkt, geen grenzen kent, moge het dan een gebed zijn dat verder reikt, en al die landen omvat waar ernstige conflicten voortduren.

Marguerite maakt ons bewust van de hulp aan kinderen die het slachtoffers zijn van wreedheid en het werk voor de vrede. Dit is zowel bewonderenswaardig en een oproep om de talloze situaties van kwetsbaarheid van zo vele personen die zich niet kunnen laten horen serieus te nemen. Wat jij als missie beschouwd is een zaadje, een zaadje dat overvloedig vrucht draagt, en vandaag, dankzij dat zaadje, kunnen duizenden kinderen studeren, groeien en in goede gezondheid leven. Je hebt geïnvesteerd in de toekomst! Dank je! En ik ben dankbaar dat je zelfs nu, in ballingschap, een boodschap van vrede blijft verspreiden. Je zei dat iedereen die jou kent denkt dat wat je doet gek is. Natuurlijk, het is de gekte van de liefde voor God en onze naaste. We hebben meer van die gekte nodig, verlicht door het geloof en vertrouwen op de voorzienigheid van God. Blijf werken, en moge die stem van hoop die je aan het begin van je avontuur hebt gehoord, en je investering in de toekomst, je eigen hart en de harten van vele jonge mensen blijven raken.

Rose, de jongste, gaf een werkelijk ontroerende getuigenis. Ze heeft gebruik kunnen maken van het sporttalent dat God haar gaf. In plaats van haar energie te verspillen in negatieve situaties heeft ze voldoening gevonden in een vruchtbaar leven. Luisterend naar jouw verhaal, dacht ik aan de levens van zoveel jonge mensen die verhalen als het jouwe zouden moeten horen. Ik wil dat iedereen weet dat ze kunnen ontdekken hoe prachtig het is om kinderen van God te zijn en wat een privilege het is om door Hem geliefd en gekoesterd te zijn. Rose, ik dank je vanuit mijn hart voor jouw werk en toewijding om andere vrouwen aan te moedigen om weer naar school te gaan, en voor het feit dat je dagelijks bidt voor vrede in de jonge staat Zuid-Sudan, die dat zo erg nodig heeft.

En na het horen van deze krachtige getuigenissen, die ons deden nadenken over onze eigen levens en hoe we reageren op de noodsituaties overal om ons heen, wil ik al die regeringen danken, die vluchtelingen helpen, alle regeringen die ontheemde mensen asielzoekers helpen. Alles dat gedaan wordt om deze mensen in nood te helpen is een groots gebaar van solidariteit en een erkenning van hun waardigheid. Voor ons christenen is het prioriteit om erop uit te gaan en de verstotenen – want zij zijn werkelijk verstoten uit hun thuislanden – en de gemarginaliseerden van onze wereld te ontmoeten, en de tedere en barmhartige liefde van God, die niemand afwijst en iedereen accepteert, voelbaar te maken. Wij christenen zijn vandaag geroepen om actieve deelnemers te zijn in de revolutie van tederheid.

Straks horen we de getuigenis van Bisschop Antoine, die in Aleppo woont, een stad die op de knieën gedwongen is door de oorlog, een plaats waar zelfs de meest fundamentele rechten met minachting worden behandelt en vertrapt. In het nieuws horen we elke dag over het afschuwelijke lijden vanwege de strijd in Syrië, door dat conflict in ons geliefde Syrië, die nu al meer dan vijf jaar duurt. Te midden van zoveel verwoesting is het werkelijk heldhaftig dat mannen en vrouwen daar gebleven zijn om materiële en geestelijke hulp te bieden aan de noodlijdenden. Het is ook bewonderenswaardig dat jij, beste broeder Antoine, blijft werken tussen zulk gevaar om ons te kunnen vertellen over de tragische omstandigheden van het Syrische volk. We houden ieder van hen in onze harten en gebeden. Laten we de genade van oprechte bekering afsmeken over de verantwoordelijken voor het lot van de wereld, voor die regio en voor allen die daar ingrijpen.

Beste broeders en zusters, laat ons niet ontmoedigd raken tegenover vijandigheid. Moge de verhalen, de getuigenissen die we hebben gehoord, ons motiveren en ons een nieuwe impuls geven om steeds nauwer samen te werken. Als we weer thuiskomen, mogen we dan een toewijding meebrengen om dagelijkse gebaren van vrede en verzoening te maken, om moedige en trouwe getuigen van christelijke hoop te zijn. En zoals we weten, de hoop stelt ons niet teleur! Dank u!”

Homilie in de Mis voor Allerheiligen:

“Vandaag vieren we met de hele Kerk het hoogfeest van Allerheiligen. Hiermee herdenken we niet alleen hen die in de loop der eeuwen heiligverklaard zijn, maar ook onze vele broeders en zusters die, op een stille en onopvallende wijze, hun christelijk leven hebben geleefd in de volheid van geloof en liefde. Onder hen zijn zeker vele van onze verwanten, vrienden en bekenden.

Dit is voor ons dan een viering van heiligheid. Een heiligheid die niet zozeer te zien is in grote daden of buitengewone gebeurtenissen, maar veeleer in dagelijkse trouw aan de eisen van ons doopsel. Een heiligheid die bestaat in de liefde voor God en de liefde voor onze broeders en zusters. Een liefde die trouw blijft tot het punt van zelfopoffering en volledige toewijding aan anderen. We denken aan de levens van al die moeders en vaders die zich opofferen voor hun gezinnen en bereid zijn – ook al is dat niet altijd makkelijk – van zoveel dingen af te zien, zoveel persoonlijke plannen en projecten.

Maar als er één ding typisch is voor de heiligen, is het dat zij daadwerkelijk gelukkig zijn. Zij hebben het geheim van authentiek geluk ontdekt, dat diep in de ziel ligt en zijn bron heeft in de liefde van God. Daarom noemen we de heiligen zalig. De Zaligsprekingen zijn hun weg, hun doel richting het thuisland. De Zaligsprekingen zijn de weg van het leven die de Heer ons leert, zodat wij in Zijn voetstappen kunnen volgen. In het Evangelie van de Mis van vandaag hoorden we hoe Jezus de Zaligsprekingen verkondigde aan een grote menigte op de heuvel bij het Meer van Galilea.

De Zaligsprekingen zijn het beeld van Christus en als gevolg van elke christen. Ik zou er hier slechts één willen noemen: “Zalig die zachtmoedig zijn”. Van zichzelf zegt Jezus: “Kom bij Mij in de leer, omdat Ik zachtmoedig ben en eenvoudig van hart” (Matt. 11:29). Dit is zijn geestelijk portret en het onthult de overvloed van Zijn liefde. Zachtmoedigheid is een manier van leven en handelen die ons dichter bij Jezus en elkaar brengt. Het stelt ons in staat alles dat ons verdeelt en vervreemd aan de kant te zetten, en steeds nieuwe manieren te vinden om verder te gaan op de weg van eenheid. Zo was het met de zonen en dochters van dit land, waaronder de heilige Maria Elisabeth Hesselblad, kortgeleden heiligverklaard, en de heilige Birgitta van Vadstena, mede-patrones van Europa. Zij hebben gebeden en gewerkt om banden van eenheid en broederschap tussen christenen te smeden. Een zeer sprekend teken hiervan is dat we hier in uw land, getekend als het is door het naast elkaar leven van vrij verschillende volkeren, samen het vijfde eeuwfeest van de Reformatie herdenken. De heiligen brengen verandering tot stand door zachtmoedigheid van het hart. Met die zachtmoedigheid komen wij tot het begrip van de grootsheid van God en aanbidden we Hem met oprechte harten. Zachtmoedigheid is de houding van hen die niets hebben te verliezen, omdat hun enige rijkdom God is.

Op een bepaalde manier zijn de Zaligsprekingen de identiteitskaart van de christen. Zij identificeren ons als volgelingen van Jezus. Wij zijn geroepen zalig te zijn, volgers van Jezus te zijn, de problemen en angsten van onze tijd het hoofd te bieden met de geest en liefde van Jezus. Zo moeten wij in staat zijn nieuwe situaties te herkennen en beantwoorden met verse geestelijke energie. Zalig zijn zij die trouw blijven terwijl zij het kwaad verdragen dat anderen hen toebrengen, en hen vergeven vanuit hun hart. Zalig zijn zij die in de ogen kijken van de verlatenen en gemarginaliseerden, en hen hun nabijheid laten zien. Zalig zijn zij die God in ieder persoon zien, en hun best doen om anderen Hem ook te laten ontdekken. Zalig zijn zij die ons gezamenlijk thuis beschermen en verzorgen. Zalig zijn zij die afzien van hun eigen gemak om anderen te helpen. Zalig zijn die bidden en werken voor de volledige eenheid tussen christenen. Dit zijn allemaal boodschappers van Gods barmhartigheid en tederheid, en zij zullen zeker van Hem hun verdiende loon ontvangen.

Beste broeders en zusters, de oproep tot heiligheid is aan iedereen gericht en moet van de Heer ontvangen worden in een geest van geloof. De heiligen moedigen met hun levens en voorspraak bij God aan, en wijzelf hebben elkaar nodig als we heiligen willen zijn. Elkaar helpen heiligen te worden! Laat ons samen de genade afsmeken om deze oproep met vreugde te ontvangen en mee te werken en de vervulling ervan. Aan onze hemelse Moeder, Koningin van Alle Heiligen, vertrouwen we onze intenties toe en de dialoog gericht op de volledige eenheid van alle christenen, zodat wij gezegend mogen zijn in ons streven en heiligheid in eenheid mogen behalen.”

Photo credit: CNS/Paul Haring

“Room for the Risen One” -Looking back at the installation of bishop Timmerevers

On 27 August, Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers was installed as bishop of Dresden-Meißen. Here on the blog it went sort of unmarked because of the summer season, but here is the translation of the homily Bishop Timmervers gave on that day.

There are a few interesting comments to be found, not so much about the future direction he wishes to take in managing the diocese, but of a more theological nature. Comments about the centrality of the person of Jesus and our constant need to seek Him out, but also about what it means that we followed a resurrected Jesus, the need for vocations and recognising Jesus in the faces of the poor and needy.

160509-timmerevers-250“Dear sisters and brothers here in the cathedral and in the courtyard!
Dear fellow celebrants via the screens!

I.

The first encounters with faithful from our diocese took place during the Katholikentag in Leipzig. Various people often addressed me with the words, “Are you not our new bishop?” “Yes, I am!” We usually exchanged a few words and then I was often told, “We look forward to you very much!” – sometimes followed by the addition, “Hopefully you will stay a bit longer!” “That is what I’m expecting”, I answered.

Dear sisters and brothers! Since a few weeks my identity card includes the line ‘Schloßstrasse 24, 01067 Dresden’. I want to grow new roots here in the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen and make my home among you. The words I frequently heard – “We are happy with you!” – I gladly answer them now, “I am also happy you!”

II.

A person entering the cathedral is soon taken with the altar statue, created for this church by Anton Raphael Mengs in 1752. Christ, the crucified and risen one, is being taken up into heaven. It is an Ascension image.

In the reading we have just heard a part of the Letter from the Apostle Paul to the Colossians (3:1-4). They are the verses which we always hear on the feast of the Ascension of Christ: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”

It seems a remarkable coincidence to me, that I chose my episcopal motto from these verses 15 years ago, and that it is now held up to use in the form of this great image. “Seek, where Christ is!”. “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” What is above is Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, become man for us, crucified, died and buried, but then risen from the dead, He returns home to the Father. Through the Spirit, which He has poured out over the entire world, and which He continues to pour out, He is among us. This is the Jesus Christ with whom we are concerned, with whom Christians are concerned, He is the heart of our faith and life. This also seems a wonderful coincidence to me: Bishop Joachim chose the motto “Jesus in the centre”; Archbishop Heiner the motto “Rejoice always, the Lord is near!”. And I chose as motto: “Seek, where Christ is!” It is all about Him!

III.

Perhaps some would wonder, “Why should I seek Christ, what does that mean to me?” What it means to me, I have heard already in the first line of today’s reading: “You were raised with Christ!” One who is united to Christ through Baptism, has received a new life with Him, a life which does not end with death. Even more: the person baptised holds life within him, which today, now, gives us the strength and courage to face the challenges of life. Who seeks Jesus, finds direction for his life. Who seeks Jesus, finds clarity amid the many meanings presented by this world. Who seeks Jesus, finds with him the power of love, which conquers all division! Who seeks Jesus, finds a peace with Him, which the world can not give and no man can create! To quote Pope Benedict: “By relying on Jesus, you lose nothing, but gain everything!” You gain quality of life! How many of us, gathered here together, can say: It is worth seeking Jesus and entrusting yourself to Him!

IV.

Where do we find this Jesus Christ?

The statue of the Ascension in the cathedral provides an initial answer. The Church is the place of the risen, and indeed this, our Church, today, which constantly needs renewal and vitalisation through the Gospel. This Church, which has suffered under division since the Reformation, this Church, which every now and then can give a credible witness of love and mercy, this Church is the place of the Risen Lord! And in this Church the Lord is present in His Word, which is proclaimed and lived; He is present under the signs of bread and wine; He is present in the ministries of our Church. He is present when we come together in His name.

The faithful in the communities of the Diocese of Dresden-Meißen have, over the past years, been working with a process of exploration. What matters is to find ways in which as many people as possible in Saxony and eastern Thuringia can come to know and encounter Christ. I want to familiarise myself very soon with this process and I want – as soon as possible – to visit and get to know the responsible communities.  I agree with the basic conviction of this process: the Church is the space of the Risen, the parish as the home of the Risen, the community coming together, is a place of the Risen! And then, dear sisters and brothers, the responsible communities established in this process of exploration will also be places of the Risen.

Amid all the questions and searching, with their arguments, clarifications and decisions, which must be made for a new structure for the pastoral care, and in trying to be a living and inviting Church, we all share the responsibility together to give the Risen One space among us. How can this be experienced?

The abbot of a great religious order told me that, when he would visit the various monasteries of the community, he would ask two question and speak with the monks about them. The first question: “Are you in the peace of the Risen One?” And the second question: “Do you have vocations?”

Dear sisters and brothers, I invite you to ask yourself these questions: “Are you in the peace of the Risen One, and do you have vocations?” In thinking about what the future will brign for our communities, what matter is that we create room among us for the Risen One! Who approaches Him in thought, question, search and in word and deed, will experience His peace.

The second question, “Do you have vocations?”, is internally connected to the first one! The Risen One calls people to be priests, religious. the Church needs these vocations! The Risen One calls the baptised and confirmed to come together with their gifts and abilities and work together on building up the Church! In the peace of the Rison One we can be Church together and have an effect on the world!

V.

The Church does not exist only for herself: we have been placed in the world, we live in it and with our lives we witness to the Good News! “Seek where Christ is!” Christ Himself shows us an even greater horizon, where we we look for and can find Him. In the Gospel that we hae just heard (Matt. 25:31-40), Jesus speaks about the final judgement and presents to us what will be asked then. These questions make our lives today very concrete!

Jesus says something unimaginable, He identifies Himself with the suffering and needy of this world. Whoever seeks Him, finds Him in the hungry, the thirst, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. He takes the suffering out of their anonymitym He gives them a face, His face! And so He can say, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”.

Christ broadens our horizon! Being Church and being Christian is not realised by staring at heaven, Christians do not remain within the churches, however beautiful these are! Being Christian means not being satisfied with looking inward in sacristies and parish houses! In seeking Christ we arrive at those who – for whatever reason – are in need! That is where we are all called!

Dear sisters and brothers, I invite you to go with me. Let us seek where Christ is!

I rejoice in you!

Amen!”

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.”

More than just a headline – Pope Francis’ asks forgiveness

h=300Pope Francis is making headlines again, once more following an in-flight press conference on his return from a papal visit abroad, in this case to Armenia. The headlines generally follow one format: “Pope asks forgiveness from gays” or some variation thereof. While this is essentialy correct, the Holy Father’s complete answer is more nuanced and different from what more than a few readers will conclude from the headlines.

From the translation provided by the National Catholic Register comes the relevant part of the answer to a question about how the Church is said to have marginalised homosexual people in the past:

“I will repeat what I said on my first trip. I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally. One can condemn, but not for theological reasons, but for reasons of political behavior … Certain manifestations are a bit too offensive for others, no? … But these are things that have nothing to do with the problem. The problem is a person that has a condition, that has good will and who seeks God, who are we to judge? And we must accompany them well … this is what the catechism says, a clear catechism. Then there are traditions in some countries, in some cultures that have a different mentality on this problem. I think that the Church must not only ask forgiveness — like that “Marxist Cardinal” said (laughs) — must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended. But she must ask forgiveness to the poor too, to women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labor. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons. The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times — when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners! — Christians must ask forgiveness for having not accompanied so many choices, so many families …”

It is clear that Pope Francis said a whole lot more than that the Church must ask forgiveness. He starts from what the Catechisms says, and so places his comments within the larger doctrine of the Church: this is not something new that he is saying, but the Church has consistently taught that people should nto be discriminated against for their sexual orientation, that they must be respected as human beings and that the Church has an obligation to accompany them pastorally. In short, she is to treat them as she treats all human beings, starting from their innate dignity.

The Church has failed in this in the past, and sometimes still does, just like she did and does in regard to women and children who are exploited, or the victims of war and nationalism. For this, Pope Francis, says, the Church, meaning all Christians, must ask forgiveness, for it is contrary to what she is tasked with.

While the Church must always be open to accept all people regardless of gender, sexuality, race, occupation or whatever other characteristic, the story does not end there. The Church is more than just people and has a message to convey, a teaching, a relationship with a Person. And everything she does must stand in the light of the encounter with this Person, who is God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This includes how she relates to the people she welcomes.

A second interesting part of the Pope’s answer is that he says “one can condemn”. And what one can condemn is not people, but “political behaviour”, since “certain manifestations are a bit too offensive”. One can wonder what exactly is meant here, but I have seen some commenters see this as a condemnation of pride manifestations and similar. That may be so, but it could also be more general and refer to various sorts of behaviour stemming from one’s sexual orientation which could be offensive to others. The problem is then not so much about homosexuality, but consideration of the other’s thoughts and feelings. As Pope Francis says, this has little to do with the problem of marginalisation. One can disagree, even be offended, without pushing away the person one disagrees with or is offended by. Sure, it is hard, but, to mention a cliché, it is what Jesus would do. He did not shun his opponents. He entered into dialogue, challenged them to change their thoughts and behaviour, but never because he did not respect their human dignity (on the contrary even).

And then he repeats that earlier line, which caused so much debate: “The problem is a person that has a condition, that has good will and who seeks God, who are we to judge?” It is important to not make the same mistake as many people do with that line from the Gospel of Matthew (7:1), which is not simply a commandment not to judge, but rather a warning to remember that judgement goes two ways. Pope Francis describes a rather specific situation in which we should be careful not to judge: a person in some situation that is either objectively sinful or disordered, in this case someone who is homosexual, but who has the desire to do what is right and is seeking the Lord. The second part is important. Of course we should not refrain from judging actions committed by a similar person which are directed against his own or others’ wellbeing or his relationship with God, especially not when that person has no desire to do what is right or to find God. These latter conditions, good wil and seeking God, are frequently overlooked, and people are content with claiming that Pope Francis has said that we are not to judge homosexual people. Like he suggested before, the Church is not in the business of judging people, but actions. But, the Pope has insisted time and again, the Church, and therefore all Christians, are to accompany people who are of good will and seek God, not condemn and marginalise them. For, as Pope Francis also reminds us, we are all sinners, we all have our obstacles that sometimes make it hard to live according to the ideals the Church holds up.

In closing, Pope Francis’ answer is not revolutionary in that it contains any new teaching. It does, however, emphasise a different approach, a recognition of where we run the risk of failing to follow the example of Christ. Only then can ways be mended, and that, in the end, is what a Christian life is about.

Photo credit: Tiziana Fabi/Pool photo via AP

“Remember your leaders” – In Echternach, Cardinal Eijk on St. Willibrord

Five years ago I wrote about the annual Echternach procession in honour of Saint Willibrord. In this year’s edition, which was held on Tuesday, Cardinal Wim Eijk gave the homily for the opening celebration. As archbishop of Utrecht and metropolitan of the Dutch Church province, he usually attends the procession, as St. Willibrord is the patron saint of the archdiocese, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (where he is buried iin Echternach abbey, which he founded in 698).

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In addition to Cardinal Eijk and Luxembourg’s Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich and his predecessor Archbishop Fernand Franck, other prelates attending included the Apostolic Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, Archbishop Giacinto Berloco; Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond and his auxiliary Bishop Everard de Jong; Bishop Felix Genn of Münster with his auxiliary Bishop Wilfred Theising; Bishop Jean-Christophe Lagleize of Metz, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier and his auxiliary Bishop Jörg Peters; Bishop Theodorus Hoogenboom, auxiliary of Utrecht; Bishop Franz Vorrath, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Essen, as well as the abbots of Clervaux in Luxembourg and Sankt Mathias Trier, Kornelimünster and Himmerod in Germany. In total, there were 9,383 participants in the procession, which started at 9:30 in the morning and ended at 1pm.

Cardinal Eijk’s homily follows below:

DSC05172“Dear brothers and sisters,

“Remember your leaders (that is, the Christian community leaders and pastors) who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith”,  we read in the Letter to the Hebrews (13:7). We do know to which community this letter was addressed. The author is similarly unknown. The background and the aim of the letter are, however, clear: the author is a pastor, who is worried as the faith in the community to whom he writes his letter is decreasing. Other ideas, which are alien to the Gospel, are being increasingly accepted: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching” (Heb. 13:9). It is not said which teachings these are.

It is notable that the faith in this still young community is already under attack. The Letter to the Hebrews was written between the 70s and 90s of the first century, some forty to sixty years after the resurrection of Jesus, the first Pentecost and the beginning of the proclamation of the Gospel by the Church. When the decline has begun, it goes fast. This instinctively reminds us of the decline of the Dutch Church province in the 1960, which subsequently also became clear in other countries. This decline also took place in only a few years. We are flooded by new concepts and ideas that deny the Christian faith. In hindsight, our situation is comparable with the community to whom the Letter to the Hebrews was written. The advice to remember our leaders who first spoke the word of God to us, also goes for us.

Let us follow this advice. Saint Willibrord, who is called the Aposte of the Netherlands and who established Echternach Abbey, is one of the most important leaders who first proclaimed the Christian faith to us. What do we know about him? What characterised him and what drove him? How can he inspire us today? Willibrord was born in 658 in Northumberland (in the north of England). In his twenties he entered Rathmelsighi monastery in Dublin (Ireland) to prepare for a mission in the Netherlands. For twelve years he received a thorough education there. He got to know the spirituality of the Hiberno-Scottish monks. In 690 he came to the Netherlands with his companions. A year later he received from Pope Sergius I the mission to proclaim the Gospel among the Frisians. Willibrord expressly wanted to perform his mission in union with Rome and be a part of the entire world Church. During his second visit to Rome in 685 the Pope ordained him as archbishop of the Frisians and he received the pallium.

When we really want to know the spirit of Saint Willibrord and his motives, we must know a few things about the aforementioned Hiberno-Scottish monks. These did not strive for a systematic evangelisation and did not in the first place think of the creation of great structures and the establishment of dioceses. Their motive, to proclaim the faith, had in the first place to do with their focus on their own sanctification. They fostered an ascetical-mystical ideal: Like Christ during His earthly life and like His Apostles, they wanted to have no place to rest their heads (Matt. 8:20), and like them possess nothing and endure the suffering that would be theirs through rejection, misunderstanding, resistance and violence. They wanted to be what is called in Latin peregrini, meaning strangers or pilgrims, like Jesus and the Apostles themselves. It was their ideal to spread the good news like Jesus and the Apostles, as strangers without a permanent residence, following His call: “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).

Willibrord and his companions wanted to heed this call and left their homeland with its already well-developed and widespread Christian structures, to proclaim Christ and His Gospel as peregrini among us on the European mainland. Willibrord experienced what it is to go with Jesus without being able to rely on established structures. He and his companions had the same experiences as Jesus during His earthly life. They too encountered misunderstanding and persecution. They found what it means that no slave is above his master (Matt. 10:24).

Of course, Willibrord also tried to rely on structures: he saught the protection of the Frankish royal house and established monasteries to support the mission. But in the beginning there were no structures at all. And what structures he established were frequently destroyed again, for example during a rebellion of the Frisians under their King Radbod. This also provides one of the explanations for the way in which the spring procession was held until 1947: with three steps forward and two back. This reflects the evangelisation, which in general was very fruitful, but not without times of serious setbacks.

As Willibrord and his companions could, at the start of their mission, not rely on permanent Christian structures, and as the structures they built were frequently destroyed again, their Hiberno-Scottish spirituality was not just their motivation, but also the most important means of their evangelisation. The direct imitation of Christ in their way of living gave them a strong personal charisma as disciples of Jesus. This was well-received: soon they were joined by missionaries from the areas they had evangelised, aglow with the same fire – like Saint Liudger, founder of the Diocese of Münster, born in Zuilen, a village near Utrecht and today a subburb of that city.

Can we not see a comparison here with what later happened multiple times in the Church? During the French Revolution and the the time after it, for example, the Church in western Europe lost many of her structures and took several steps backwards. But over the course of the nineteenth century the Church took many steps forward again.

Sadly we have to conclude that the Church has once again taken quite a few step back in the past fifty years. In the 1950s the communication of faith happened almost automatically, carried by our strong parishes, Catholic schools and other structures which played an important role in the past. Now even more than in the past, the advice is true: remember your leaders, who first spoke the word of God to you. Willibrord and his companions are an example for us because of their determination, based on the spirituality of the Hiberno-Scottish monks, to be on the road with Jesus, even without great structures, even in the face of opposition. That enabled them to withstand misunderstanding, criticism, opposition and setbacks and gave them the charisma of the disciples of Jesus during his earthly life. This was precisely what made their evangelisation – despite the frequently necessary steps back – very fruitful.

We have now taken steps backwards and can rely on ever fewer structures. We can’t literally follow Saint Willibrord, but we can be inspired by his spirituality. It not only shows us the way towards our own sanctification, but at the same time teaches us how we can proclaim the faith without structures of any kind. His spirituality, directed towards the development of a convincing personal charisma as disciples of Jesus, is, perhaps more than we realise, groundbreaking for the new evangelisation of western Europa. I am not a prophet, but we can anticipate that our current secular culture is not for ever and will at some point in the future be replaced by another culture. And who knows, perhaps then, in regard to our Christian structures, we can take a few steps forwards again. Amen.”

Photo gallery available here.