“Counting on God’s forgiveness” – Cardinal De Kesel’s homily at the funeral of Cardinal Danneels

In the presence of some 1,000 people, including priests and bishops from Belgium and abroad, as well as King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, Cardinal Godfried Danneels was laid to rest on Friday. The funeral Mass took place in Mechelen’s cathedral of Saint Rumbold and was led by Cardinal Jozef De Kesel. In his homily, the current archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel referred to Cardinal Danneels’ motto and spoke about the humanity of God. He characterised Cardinal Danneels as a good shepherd who desired and tried to renew and reform the Church as he felt Vatican II called for.

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“Good friends. In the final days of 1977, Cardinal Danneels was ordained a bishop in Antwerp. It was the third Sunday of Advent. A few days later it was Christmas. In the liturgy the Letter of St. Paul to Titus is read about God’s kindness and love. We have just heard this reading. Cardinal Danneels took his motto from this reading: Apparuit humanitas Dei nostri, the kindness and love of God has appeared. Those few words introduce us to the heart of the Gospel. And they also show us how the cardinal has lived his vocation as priest and bishop, all those many years.

“The kindness and love of God has appeared.” It has been translated into Latin so beautifully and so right: humanitas Dei, God’s humanity. God who is not only motivated by a great love for His people, but who has also become man Himself. And thus treats us so humanely. Not demanding, not enforcing, not judging. He has saved us, it says, “not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy.” Many of our contemporaries are under the impression that faith and religion limit people in freely finding their happiness.  They feel that it is always about having to or not being allowed to.

Of course, being human is serious business and love can be demanding. Yet the Gospel is the good news of God’s love. This one thing is promised to us in every way: that God is attuned to humanity, that we are known and loved by Him, and radically accepted, even in our fragility and finitiness, even in our sin. Yes, the kindness and humanity of God has appeared. It is our joy and our salvation. That is why we are not without hope. And that is why the Gospel is for all who want to hear it a call to true humanity. The fact that Cardinal Danneels chose precisely these words for his episcopal motto characterises him. It is the way in which he has been a good shepherd through all those years.

We have received the same good news of the kindness and humanity of God in the gospel reading that we have just heard. It tells about the beginning of Jesus’ mission, when, in the synagogue of Nazareth, He is asked to read Isaiah’s prophecy, which says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news.” Jesus recognised Himself in these words from Isaiah and discerned His own mission. Here we find the first reference to a “gospel”. It has become a key to understanding all of His mission. He did not come to judge but to save. We are known and loved by God as we are. This is, as Pope Francis says, “the joy of the Gospel”.

To the proclamation of this gospel, Cardinal Danneels dedicated his life. As He did on Jesus, the Spirit also came down on him and he too was consecrated by anointing. He received this Spirit in abundance. With the gift of the word which he had, and always with the simplicity of heart which is the mark of a disciple of Christ, he touched so many people, here and in the world Church. The long years in which he was a priest and a bishop represent, in many respects, a decisive turning point for both the Church and for society. It was the end of an era and the beginning of an unknown  and uncertain future. It was not easy to be a guide and pastor in these times. But he was. With courage and authority, but always without “breaking a bruised reed or quenching a dimly burning wick”. His words about King Baldwin at the latter’s funeral also apply to him: “There are kings who are more than king; they are the shepherds of their people.”

The cardinal had the gift of the word. Through that word, spoken and written with so much passion, he touched the hearts of many. Through that word he always led us to the source. He was not nostalgic about the past. And, loyal to the Second Vatican Council, he was fundamentally convinced about the need for renewal and reform in the Church, in her head and members. An open Church which does not elevate herself above the people, but sympathises with the joy and the hope, but also with the grief and the fear of the people.

Renewal and reform. He really desired these. But not without resourcement, not without spirituality, not without a thorough liturgy, not without prayer. That concern for the interior always took priority amidst all structural reforms. He also knew that there was no future for our Church without the other Christian churches. Ecumenical dialogue was important to him, just as he was convinced of the importance of interreligious dialogue and of other religious traditions in our country.

At a funeral one does not honour the deceased by praising him to high heaven. At a funeral one prays for mercy and consolation. That is no less true for Cardinal Danneels. When he reached the age of 75 and he was asked in an interview about what he would ask for when he would ultimately stand before God, he answered, “For mercy for what I did wrong.” When his biography was presented a few years ago, he spoke publicly for the last time. At that time the Church was much confronted with sin and weakness because of abuse in her own circles. And then, too, he said: “where I fell short, I count on God’s forgiveness.”

That is our prayer today. With a heart filled with gratitude and a deep love. Have mercy, Lord, for him who served You with so much love, and receive him with love in Your house.”

Photo credit: Hellen Mardaga

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The Good News – Pope Francis’ Message for World Communications Day 2017

Always an interesting publication for those in the Catholic blogging business, Pope Francis published his Message for World Communications Day today. He calls for a break away from focussing solely on bad news in all forms of communication and root the way we share news and thoughts in good news, the Good News even. The papal Message is food for thought for all “who, whether in their professional work or personal relationships, are like that mill, daily “grinding out” information with the aim of providing rich fare for those with whom they communicate”. I think that’s me and you.

“Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:5):
Communicating Hope and Trust in our Time

Access to the media – thanks to technological progress – makes it possible for countless people to share news instantly and spread it widely. That news may be good or bad, true or false. The early Christians compared the human mind to a constantly grinding millstone; it is up to the miller to determine what it will grind: good wheat or worthless weeds. Our minds are always “grinding”, but it is up to us to choose what to feed them (cf. SAINT JOHN CASSIAN, Epistle to Leontius).

I wish to address this message to all those who, whether in their professional work or personal relationships, are like that mill, daily “grinding out” information with the aim of providing rich fare for those with whom they communicate. I would like to encourage everyone to engage in constructive forms of communication that reject prejudice towards others and foster a culture of encounter, helping all of us to view the world around us with realism and trust.

I am convinced that we have to break the vicious circle of anxiety and stem the spiral of fear resulting from a constant focus on “bad news” (wars, terrorism, scandals and all sorts of human failure). This has nothing to do with spreading misinformation that would ignore the tragedy of human suffering, nor is it about a naive optimism blind to the scandal of evil. Rather, I propose that all of us work at overcoming that feeling of growing discontent and resignation that can at times generate apathy, fear or the idea that evil has no limits. Moreover, in a communications industry which thinks that good news does not sell, and where the tragedy of human suffering and the mystery of evil easily turn into entertainment, there is always the temptation that our consciences can be dulled or slip into pessimism.

I would like, then, to contribute to the search for an open and creative style of communication that never seeks to glamourize evil but instead to concentrate on solutions and to inspire a positive and responsible approach on the part of its recipients. I ask everyone to offer the people of our time storylines that are at heart “good news”.

Good news

Life is not simply a bare succession of events, but a history, a story waiting to be told through the choice of an interpretative lens that can select and gather the most relevant data. In and of itself, reality has no one clear meaning. Everything depends on the way we look at things, on the lens we use to view them. If we change that lens, reality itself appears different. So how can we begin to “read” reality through the right lens?

For us Christians, that lens can only be the good news, beginning with the Good News par excellence: “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (Mk 1:1). With these words, Saint Mark opens his Gospel not by relating “good news” about Jesus, but rather the good news that is Jesus himself. Indeed, reading the pages of his Gospel, we learn that its title corresponds to its content and, above all else, this content is the very person of Jesus.

This good news – Jesus himself – is not good because it has nothing to do with suffering, but rather because suffering itself becomes part of a bigger picture. It is seen as an integral part of Jesus’ love for the Father and for all mankind. In Christ, God has shown his solidarity with every human situation. He has told us that we are not alone, for we have a Father who is constantly mindful of his children. “Fear not, for I am with you” (Is 43:5): these are the comforting words of a God who is immersed in the history of his people. In his beloved Son, this divine promise – “I am with you” – embraces all our weakness, even to dying our death. In Christ, even darkness and death become a point of encounter with Light and Life. Hope is born, a hope accessible to everyone, at the very crossroads where life meets the bitterness of failure. That hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5) and makes new life blossom, like a shoot that springs up from the fallen seed. Seen in this light, every new tragedy that occurs in the world’s history can also become a setting for good news, inasmuch as love can find a way to draw near and to raise up sympathetic hearts, resolute faces and hands ready to build anew.

Confidence in the seed of the Kingdom

To introduce his disciples and the crowds to this Gospel mindset and to give them the right “lens” needed to see and embrace the love that dies and rises, Jesus uses parables. He frequently compares the Kingdom of God to a seed that releases its potential forletter t life precisely when it falls to the earth and dies (cf. Mk 4:1-34). This use of images and metaphors to convey the quiet power of the Kingdom does not detract from its importance and urgency; rather, it is a merciful way of making space for the listener to freely accept and appropriate that power. It is also a most effective way to express the immense dignity of the Paschal mystery, leaving it to images, rather than concepts, to communicate the paradoxical beauty of new life in Christ. In that life, hardship and the cross do not obstruct, but bring about God’s salvation; weakness proves stronger than any human power; and failure can be the prelude to the fulfilment of all things in love. This is how hope in the Kingdom of God matures and deepens: it is “as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow” (Mk 4:26-27).

The Kingdom of God is already present in our midst, like a seed that is easily overlooked, yet silently takes root. Those to whom the Holy Spirit grants keen vision can see it blossoming. They do not let themselves be robbed of the joy of the Kingdom by the weeds that spring up all about.

The horizons of the Spirit

Our hope based on the good news which is Jesus himself makes us lift up our eyes to contemplate the Lord in the liturgical celebration of the Ascension. Even though the Lord may now appear more distant, the horizons of hope expand all the more. In Christ, who brings our human nature to heaven, every man and woman can now freely “enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb 10:19-20). By “the power of the Holy Spirit” we can be witnesses and “communicators” of a new and redeemed humanity “even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:7‑8).

Confidence in the seed of God’s Kingdom and in the mystery of Easter should also shape the way we communicate. This confidence enables us to carry out our work – in all the different ways that communication takes place nowadays – with the conviction that it is possible to recognize and highlight the good news present in every story and in the face of each person.

Those who, in faith, entrust themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit come to realize how God is present and at work in every moment of our lives and history, patiently bringing to pass a history of salvation. Hope is the thread with which this sacred history is woven, and its weaver is none other than the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. Hope is the humblest of virtues, for it remains hidden in the recesses of life; yet it is like the yeast that leavens all the dough. We nurture it by reading ever anew the Gospel, “reprinted” in so many editions in the lives of the saints who became icons of God’s love in this world. Today too, the Spirit continues to sow in us a desire for the Kingdom, thanks to all those who, drawing inspiration from the Good News amid the dramatic events of our time, shine like beacons in the darkness of this world, shedding light along the way and opening ever new paths of confidence and hope.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2017

Francis

Not only fishers, but also fish

“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

fishers-of-menA line from today’s Gospel reading (Matt. 4:12-23), and a very familiar one at that. Jesus comes to the shores of the Sea of Galilee at the very beginning of His public life, and calls local fishermen to follow Him. He promises the first two of them, Simon and Andrew, that they will no longer catch fish, but people.

In today’s liturgy, this Gospel passage is coupled with the Old Testament text from Isaiah (8:23-9:3), which is quoted in Matthew’s Gospel. The prophet writes, “upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom / a light has shone”.

Whereas regular fishermen remove their prey from the latter’s proper environment, thus condemning them to death, the fishers of men are obviously not tasked to do so: rather than take them out of the environment they live in, with the conditions necessary for living, a fisher of men promises something greater. To quote Isaiah again: “You have brought them abundant joy / and great rejoicing”.

Jesus’ call to His followers to become fishers of men can also be read as a call to all of us. If we want to follow Him, we must and will also fish for people, taking them out a “land of gloom” and bring them to “abundant joy” and “great rejoicing”. But what if we can’t? What if we find ourselves stuck in situations which form a land of gloom for us? We may try our best to follow Christ, but we all know that that does not mean we have no obstacles on our path, no problems, difficulties, even tragedy.

Maybe we sometimes find ourselves to be the fish in need of a net to lift us up, instead of the fisherman looking for people to help. Hopefully there are fishermen around us to help their fellow fishermen up when we need it.

“It was night” – Archbishop Koch’s reflection after the terror attack

Trauergottesdienst in der GedächtniskircheOn Tuesday evening, the faiths of Berlin came together to commemorate the dead and wounded of the terror attack on the Christmas market adjacent to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche on Monday. In that church, itself a memorial to the dead of the Second World War, Archbishop Heiner Koch offered the following poetic reflection:

So speaks the Lord:
I dwell in a high and holy place,
but also with the contrite and lowly of spirit,
To revive the spirit of the lowly,
to revive the heart of the crushed.
I saw their ways,
but I will heal them.
I will lead them and restore full comfort to them
and to those who mourn for them
creating words of comfort.
Peace! Peace to those who are far and near,
says the Lord; and I will heal them. (from Isaiah 57)

It was night.
Last night here in Berlin.
The night of terror, of fear, of death, of despair, of powerlessness, of anger.
It was night.

It is night.
In Aleppo and in so many places in this world.
Night of powerlessness, of death, of hunger.
Night, in which I do not know what to do anymore.

It was night.
Back then in Bethlehem.
In the middle of the night God became man: Jesus.
A man of the night.
A number.
With no place in the town and soon to be on the run.
A God who became man in the night.
But since He became God in the middle of the night and told all those in the night, I will not leave you alone – not in life and not in death – a star shines in the night.
A star with the small hope in the continuous night, that the middle of the night is yet the beginning of the day.
A star which shows the way of travelling together, not to exclude, not to settle. Together they came from distant countries, with their life experiences, to the child in the manger.
We continue on the road in the night.
And will not let go of each other.

Thus the star became a star of blessing in the middle of the night.
Thus it became Christmas in the middle of the night.
Then in Bethlehem and hopefully and certainly also in Berlin.
Then and now.
In the middle of the night.

Earlier on Tuesday, Berlin’s St. Hedwig’s Cathedral hosted a moment of silent prayer, with organ music and a brief word from Archbishop Koch.

Photo credit: Michael Kappeler/dpa

“Precious in His eyes” – Cardinal de Kesel’s homily at the consecration of Bishop Aerts of Bruges

BRUGGE CONSECRATION BISHOP AERTSTaking a cue from the new bishop’s episcopal motto, Cardinal Jozef de Kesel spoke in his homily for the consecration of Bishop Lode Aerts of Bruges about the love of God, but also about the conversion needed to open ourselves for that love. And, with St. Augustine as an example, the newly-created cardinal emphasised that a bishop needs a second conversion.

“Dear friends, it is noteworthy that no Gospel begins with Jesus. It starts with John as a prophet in the desert. No Gospel comes straight to the point. Apparently, one can’t begin immediately. One has to be prepared. The terrain must be made made smooth. A inner transformation, a conversion, has to have taken place beforehand. And that is what John does: he calls for conversion. He calls people to the desert, which is traditionally the place of conversion. That is where everything began. That is where Israel found its vocation. There it became the People of God. There they found how valuable they were in God’s eyes. So that is where they have to return to. There is no way to Jesus than through that voice calling in the desert. Without that conversion, we won’t be able to hear Him.

Precisely for that reason, Jesus is so harsh for some Pharisees and certain Saducees. It is more about more about a mentality than about person. This mentality has lead to the conflict that made Jesus its victim. It is the mentality of those who do not conversion. Who are content with themselves and thank God that they are not like the others. The mentality of those who say, “There is nothing wrong with us, we have Abraham as our father!”

John’s call is also directed at us and the Church of today. We need conversion. We must get rid of self-assurance. It is a grace to us that Pope Francis continuously appeals to us for this. We must not fall back on ourselves. We must acknowledge our poverty and smallness. As long as we do not acknowledge this poverty, also in ourselves, Jesus has nothing to offer to us. They will also be Jesus’ first words: “Blessed are the poor of spirit!” It is the Spirit of the Messiah of which Isaiah speaks today. The Messiah, who is inspired by a spirit of deep humanity and sympathy. “He shall judge the poor with justice … strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth”. We must get rid of all complacency. Not a Church who is only occupied by herself, as Pope Francis requests. We have received the Gospel. It is our greatest treasure. But we did not earn it. “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give”.

As long as you accept it is normal that another loves you, you do not know what love is. As long as you think that you have earned and have a right to that love, you do not know what you mean to another. Only when you have dropped all pretense and know you are being loved undeservedly, only then you know how valuable you are in the eyes of those who love you. That is what God asks of His Church and of us today, this conversion, this emptying and this poverty. It is what Charles de Foucauld searched for. Last Thursday it was one hundred years ago that he died. And Augustine also experienced it in his life. He searched God with all his heart. It took a long time. He had to give up certainties before being able to surrender himself. “Too late have I loved you, but then You called and shouted (!); You have broken through my deafness and touched my heart.” So he became a Christian and a great bishop.

But oddly enough, in order to become a bishop, Augustine had to convert also. A second time! He had to soul of a monk. Becoming a priest was not something he sought at all. When he finally was one, his fame spread. In one of his homilies he said to have had so much fear of becoming a bishop that he avoided going soemwhere where the seat was vacant. But in Hippo, which he passed, he did not take into account that Bishop Valerius was old and people were looking for a successor. There was no avoiding anymore: he became a bishop.

You are familiar with his writings. You know that, when he wrote or preached about being Christian, he always did so with great inspiration and enthusiasm. But when he discussed the office of the bishop, he was always somewhat more muted. He writes about very lively: about the burden and the weight and the pressure of that office. I am not telling you this to frighten you. It can also encourage and comfort you to know that Augustine also knew and experienced it. But most of all to tell you that these two can not be separated: being a Christian and being a bishop. One needs conversion for both. But they do spring from the same source: the faith that we are loved by God, “precious in His eyes”.

Christian and bishop. The latter can sometimes be a great burden. But the former always turns it into a great grace. For yourself and for the entire faith community of which you are now the shepherd. You will, as Pope Francis says, sometimes walk ahead, sometimes among the sheep, sometimes after them. But always together and united with them in love and suffering. Knowing that there are no rulers and servants, but that we are all brothers and sisters, friends of Jesus, children with God our Father. Paul says it today: “Accept each other as members of one community”. For you are called with your entire church community to proclaim God’s love. We will soon hear it on Christmas Eve: how God’s charity appeared when he shared our existence in Christ, man among men. He loved us so much. So precious in His eyes.”

BRUGGE CONSECRATION BISHOP AERTS

Bishop Aerts was consecrated on Sunday afternoon by Cardinal de Kesel in Bruges’ San Salvator Cathedral. Ghent’s Bishop Luc van Looy and emeritus Bishop Arthur Luysterman served as co-consecrators, a logical choice as Bishop Aerts was a priest of that diocese (and dean of Ghent for a month until his appointment to Bruges.

ceremonieel_wapen_website_internet%202Bishop Aerts’ motto is featured in his coat of arms and comes from the Book of Isaiah (a fitting choice for Advent, by the way). About it, the bishop writes:

“We are infinitely precious in God’s eyes. Everyone, believing or non-believing, exemplary or not, everyone is precious in the eyes of God. It comes from Isaiah, a passage about a people in exile. Somewhat comparable to today’s circumstances. A time of crisis, there is fear and insecurity. And there aren’t very many of them left, either. And precisely then God say, the prophet tells us, that they are precious in His eyes.”

Photo credit: [1, 2] Kurt Desplenter, [3] Bisdom Brugge

“The bishop bearing witness to the Cross” – Cardinal Woelki’s homily at the consecration of Bishop Bätzing

On Sunday, Bishop Georg Bätzing was ordained and installed as the 13th bishop of Limburg. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, gave the homily, which I share in my English translation below. The cardinal also served as consecrator of the new bishop, together with Bishop Manfred Grothe, who lead the diocese as Apostolic Administrator during the two and a half years between bishops, and Bishop Stephan Ackermann of the new bishop’s native Diocese of Trier.

bischofsweihe_neu_int_23“Dear sisters, dear brothers,

An ordination – be it to deacon, to priest or, as today, to bishop – is always a public act; an effective action which changes both the person being ordained – although he is an remains the same person – and his environment. This is true even when an ordination must be performed in secret for political reasons. And so public interest, especially at an episcopal ordination, is a most natural thing. Today too, many eyes are focussed on Limburg; perhaps even more eyes than usual at an episcopal ordination. In recent years, the focus of the media on Limburg and its bishop has been too strong, if the question of how things would proceed now was not one well beyond the Catholic press.

The man who will be ordained as the thirteenth Bishop of Limburg today, is being sent to “bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted” (cf. Is. 61:1). He knows the wounds that need healing; he knows that the faithful in this diocese must be brought together and united again, and he knows the challenges which face not just the Church in Limburg, but everywhere, when she wants to proclaim, credibly,  Christ as the salvation of all people, also in the future. His motto, then, advances what has already been important to him in his various pastoral duties in Trier: he was and is concerned with unity in diversity – Congrega in unum. It is no coincidence that today’s ordination concludes the traditional week dedicated to the Holy Cross in the Diocese of Limburg.

The feast of the Cross and the Week of the Cross have a long tradition here, which is applicable in this situation. At the introduction of the feast in 1959 by Bishop Wilhelm Kempf its goal was to establish an identity in a young diocese. He chose the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross as diocesan feast, with an eye on the relic of the Holy Cross kept in the reliquary of the cathedral treasury of Limburg. But not from this artistic and outstanding treasure of Byzantine art, before which one can linger in amazement and admiration like before an exhibit in a museum, does the Church in Limburg derive her identity. No, it is from that which is hidden within: the precious Cross of the Lord, by which we are saved. Only that grants the Church of Limburg, yes, the entire Church, her identity. The Apostle Paul knew this, and following him, everyone who is appointed to the episcopal ministry therefore knows this.

Our new bishop also knows. Because this is the heart of his calling and mission as bishop: to proclaim Christ, as the Crucified One in fact. He is not to proclaim Him with clever and eloquent words, so that the Cross “might not be emptied of his meaning” (cf. 1 Cor. 1:17).

On the Cross hangs the unity of the Church, because from the crucified Body of Jesus the Church emerged. In her all the baptised are woven together. All the diversity of the Spirit, which animates and moves the Church, has its origin there. Understanding the mystery of Christ depends on the Cross. No salvation without the Cross! Without the Cross no Gospel, no Christianity! Only in the Cross do we recognise who God and who man is, what God and what man is capable of. We say that God is love. These horribly absurd, often abused and yet so eagerly awaited words gain their sober and exhilerating depth and truth against all kitsch and all shallow romanticism only in the light of the Crucified One.

Saint John the Evangelist reminds us that God so loved the world, that He gave His only son (cf. John 3:16). This was not an “either-or” devotion. It was not a game of God with Himself without us humans, no large-scale deception, no comedy. Christ died and so He become equal to us all, we who received everything that we have from God and who always violently want to “be like God”, on our own strength, as we can read in the first pages of the Bible, in the history of the fall. And then he, the Son of God, did not want to cling to His divinity with violence, like a robber, but He emptied Himself, became man, creature, became the second Adam, who did not want to be like God on his own strength, but wanted to be obedient until the death on the Cross. Only in this humiliation, in this selfless devotion to God’s love for us, He is raised: the Crucified One lives! The humiliated one reigns!

This is then the case: The God who we imagined as unapproachable, as fearsome, is dead, definitively dead! It was not us who killed him, as Nietzsche claimed, but this Jesus of Nazareth, He has killed him. But the true God lives, the God who came down to us, unimaginably close in Jesus Christ. This God lives, who we recognised on the cross as God-with-us, and whom we continue to recognise only through the cross of Christ, recognise in that complete sense in which recognition means acknowledging, loving, being there for others.

And so, after all, understanding this world and our lives also depends on the cross. Its image assures us that we are ultimately embraced by the mercy of God. That, dear sisters and brothers, is our identity as Christians and therefore also our identity as Church. That is what a bishop is to proclaim, even more, to live. Before everything, he is to be a witness of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the decivise salvific act of God. From this everything else flows: our commitment to and engagement  with Church and society, our commitment to peace and social justice, to human dignity and rights, to the poor and homeless, to the suffering, the sick, the dying, to life, also of the unborn. Everything flows from the mystery of the cross, and so the bishop promises just before his ordination to care for all, to be responsible and seek out the lost to the very end. “Tend to my sheep,” (John 21:16) does not mean, “Tend to my sheep where it is easy, where no dangers lurk.” It means to protect every human being as God Himself does – also there where it becomes abysmal and dark; where people lose themselves, where they put trust in false truths or confuse having with being. God knows how vulnerable we people are, and how much care and mercy each of us needs to live in such a way that it pleases God: not loving ourselves, but God and our neighbour. The cross is the reality of this love which desires to exclude no one, but which also recognises the “no” of those which it addresses. The openness of the most recent Council to a universal understanding of divine salvation allows us to see those who believe differently, only half or not at all as potential sisters and brothers. Such an understanding of and relationship with all people also permeates our Holy Father, when he wants to cure the sickness in ecclesial and social coexistence with the medicine of mercy (cf. Jan Heiner Tück).

As universal sacrament of salvation the Church only has one single Lord: Jesus Christ. God Himself anointed Him (Is. 61:1). That is why we always must ask ourselves what He wants from us and where He wants to lead His Church. The future of the Church is critically dependant on how the different charisms that God has given us can be developed. At the time that Bishop Kempf established the feast of the Cross it was, in addition to establishing an identity, about bringing together unity and diversity, centre and periphery in the young diocese.

This program can not be better summarised than in the new bishop’s motto: “Congrega in unum“. Also today, it is the mission of a bishop to discover charisms, recognise talents, guide developments, allow unity in diversity: “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Rom. 12:4-5). Where he succeeds in this service, oaks of justice can grow (Is. 61:3) and plantings can develop through which the Lord can show His justice (61:3) – in the heart of history, in the here and now, in the heart of this diocese. Where this service is successful people are encouraged and empowered to imitate and let God guide their lives – also when He may lead them, for a short while, “where they do not want to go” (John 21:18). We humans may be sure – in all hazards to which we are exposed or expose in faith – that we are protected by God; He has entrusted the bishop with the most valuable task that He has to give: “Feed my sheep!” (John 21:17).  Nothing more – but that absolutely.

Amen.”

Photo credit: Bistum Limburg

“Peace, purity and consistency” – Cardinal Eijk’s message for Lent

In his message for Lent, Cardinal Wim Eijk looks ahead at the Gospel readings for this time, “a tried and tested method of focussing more on God in this period”. After discussing what Lent means in this Holy Year of Mercy, he also takes on a topic which Pope Francis also discusses frequently: the reality of the devil in our lives.

To the elemtents of “peace, purity and consistency”, which are important for our spiritual lives in Lent, the cardinal adds a fourth one: mercy.

There’s more, too, in my translation of the text:

Kardinaal%20Eijk%202012%20kapel%20RGB%204%20klein“Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Politicians in the 21st century are a bit like mountaineers: the go from one summit to another. At the end of 2015 the climate summit was held in Paris, for example, seen by many as a “last chance” to save the climate. After days of negotation an agreement appeared, of which we hope that it will be upheld by all parties.

In January of this year there was a summit of another sort: in the Swiss winter sports tonw of Davos the World Economic Forum (WEF) too place, where leading business people and politicians came together. After the industrial revolutions of the steam engine, mass production and information technology, a fourth industrial revolution is nigh, the World Economic Forum says. One of the elements of that fourth industrial revolution is that soon as many people in the world as possible will be connected to machines and each other via the Internet. Sensors which can read signals to activate machines when they are needed, are increasingly being integrated in clothing and jewelery, while a rose-coloured future of robots and self-driving cars by means of the Internet was presented in Davos.

There are undoubtedly many advantages, but a population connected and exchanging data through the Internet does not automatically make true human contactsm which is the sort of contact by which the exchange of data leads to an encounter with the other as a person. Contacts in which we really listen to the other’s story and not immediately weigh every word on our own inner value scales. Contacts in which drinking a cup of coffee together is more than enjoying a beverage together, because the one you are drinking it with has a chance to tell his story. Contacts in which we have compassion and sympathy when the situation requires it. And the situation requires it more often than we sometimes wish…

The world currently has great need of such compassion and sympathy, Pope Francis concluded. Partly for that reason he has called for the Holy Year of Mercy, which we are living in now. What the fourth industrial revolution can never bring, is what Pope Francis hopes to see as the result of this Holy Year; a ‘revolution of tenderness’. For that reason the Church must strongly emphasise her tradition of mercy, the Pope claims.

We are now at the start of Lent. This time of fasting offers a special opportunity to come clean with yourself. And not only with yourself, but also with your neighbours and with God. It is a forty-day ritual of purification – of the body, but especially of the soul. By stepping from what does not really matter, by separating the main and the side issues and so focus more on God, we come closer to our own identity: we are children of God, who is merciful Father for us. In the Bull Misericordiae vultus, in which Pope Francis announced the Holy Year of Mercy, he wrote with reason: “The season of Lent during this Jubilee Year should also be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae vultus, 17).

The Gospel readings in Lent are a tried and tested method of focussing more on God in this period. In Luke 4:1-13 we read, for example, about the temptation of Jesus by the devil, when He spends forty days in the desert. The demonic temptations should not be seen symbolically only, as Pope Francis has emphasised several times. In the 21st century, the figure of the devil remains a reality. “We are all tempted, because our spiritual life, our Christian life, is a battle. Because the devil does not want us to become holy, he does not want us to follow Jesus. The devil’s temptations have three main characteristics, and we have to be aware of them in order to not to fall into his trap. What does the spirit of evil do to snatch us away from Jesus’ path? The temptation begins subtly but then it grows and increasingly grows stronger. Secondly, it infects someone else. It spreads to another and seeks to take root in the community. Fonally, to calm the soul, it seeks to justify itself. It grows, spreads and justifies itself” (Pope Francis, The Devil exists, daily meditation held on 11 April 2014, in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae).

We must take care to always remain vigilant, for demonic temptations often seem appealing. Just like decay masks itself with a sweet scent, so that we realise too late what we are dealing with.

In Luke 9:28-36 Jesus, accompanied by some of His disciples, ascends the mountain to pray. In this way He wants to be closer to God. Jesus frequently goes up a mountain to be with God and when we follow Jesus this also has to be a regular part of our lives.

Lent can help us to (spiritually) reanimate our prayerful relationship with God. It isn’t always easy, with all the distractions of the modern 24-hour economy, to find that solitude. There is, after all, so much distraction around us. The devil is sometimes called “the great tempter”. He tries to tempt man to do the bad and not the good. But the devil manifests himself in our time just as often as “the great distracter”. Instead of focussing on God, there is always something else that ostensibly requires our attention. The devil makes convenient use of this to distract us from God. The rule of “peace, purity and consistency”, used by young parents for their children, may be of use to us here. For us as children of God, this rule remains valid for our entire lives: find the peace of prayer, always aspire for spiritual purity and pray consistently: good habits are, after all, also hard to unlearn.

In the parable of the fig tree without fruits (Luke 13:6-9), which we read about on the Third Sunday of Lent, the owner threatens to have the fig tree cut down as it hasn’t born fruit in three years. Jesus quotes the vinedresser who answer the owner: “Sir, leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down”. In this vinedresser we can recognise Jesus, “the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae vultus, 1), who is always willing to give man a new chance and for that purpose gives His life on the cross.

We too keep getting every opportunity to be nourished. In a very special way we receive that nourishment on Sunday in the celebration of the Eucharist, when we hear to the Word of the Lord and when, by receiving Holy Communion, we encounter and receive Christ. This inner attitude of mercy expresses itself outwardly in performing the works of mercy. The tree is known by its fruits, according to a saying with Biblical roots.

On the fourth Sunday of Lent we hear one of the best known parables in the Bible. In it, Jesus speaks about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The father receives his child – who was lost because of sin and who wasted his inheritance – with open arms. This parable has become a symbol of the boundlessness of Gods mercy: He keeps watching for His prodigal children. Hoping that they will recognise their sins, return to their senses and so also so Him. Rembrandt depicted the embrace of the Father and His prodigal son strikingly in a famous painting. The Dutch bishops chose this painting as a logo for their publications about the Year of Mercy, such as on the website http://www.heiligjaarvanbarmhartigheid.nl.

Lent is a frutiful time for us faithful, and in the Holy Year of Mercy it gets and extra dimension. Pope Francis added to this by the initiative of “24 hours for the Lord”, which will be held on 4 and 5 March. In his Bull says about it: “So many people, including young people, are returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation; through this experience they are rediscovering a path back to the Lord, living a moment of intense prayer and finding meaning in their lives. Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the centre once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace” (Misericordiae vultus, 17).

On the request of Pope Francis, a Holy Door has been opened in one or more churches in every diocese in the world. In the Archdiocese of Utrecht there are three: in Utrecht, Groenlo and Hengelo. People can pilgrimage to these churches and there are special celebrations and activities for the Holy Year there.

Pope Francis decreed that whoever goes through a Holy Door earns a full indulgence. The Eucharist must be celebrated and the sacrament of penance and reconciliation (confession) must be received thereto. This sacrament, often forgotten in the Netherlands, opens the path to the mercy of the Father. But we are also called to perform the works of mercy ourselves. There is much to do, so that can not be an excuse – there are no less than seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy. Performing these works of mercy should obviously not be limited to the Holy Year. We should be permanently reformed to a better version of ourselves in this Holy Year of Mercy.

In our archdiocese we also answer to the call of Pope Francis to bring the sacrament of confession into the spotlight anew. For that purpose there will be “celebrations of mercy” in our parishes, which include the adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Several priests will be available for confession during these celebrations. The Dutch bishops will, in line with Pope Francis’ request, ask priests, deacons and pastoral workers to introduce children who are receiving their First Communion to the sacrament of penance and reconciliation.

God always wants the best for us. I pray that this Lent can be a new beginning, also for those who believe they are far removed from God the Father. For He always waits for us and wants to give us His mercy, so that we can become new people. In the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“No need to remember past events, no need to think about what was done before. Look, I am doing something new, now it emerges; can you not see it? Yes, I am making a road in the desert and rivers in wastelands.” (Is. 43:18-19)

I wish you all a fruitful and blessed Lent.

Utrecht, Ash Wednesday 10 February 2016

Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk
Archbishop of Utrecht”