“Share your faith!” – Bishop Wiertz’ letter for Lent

In what is most likely his last letter for Lent, Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond not only discusses a topic he has underlined before – that we are a part of the worldwide Church which is now on the receiving end of the mission – but also urges us to speak out about our deepest convictions as Catholics. Following the urging of Pope Francis, we must share the Good News, go out into the streets, share in order to multiply.

Mgr. F.J.M. Wiertz“Brothers and sisters,

The invention of social media gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘sharing’. Messages, photos and videos can be ‘shared’ with others via the Internet. An increasingly large number of people can take note of the message in this way. We could say that ‘sharing’ is the new ‘multiplying’. The more a message is shared, the more people can see and read it.

Sharing stories together in this way doesn’t happen on the Internet alone, of course. Every time we speak with people about what occupies our minds, we make others sharers of our experiences. We sometimes say, “What the heart thinks, the mouth speaks”.

On the occasion of the forty-day period of preparation for Easter, we can ask ourselves the question of how full of faith our heart is. How often do we speak about it with others? In other words: what do we do to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and so make sure that the Gospel is widely spread and multiplied?

That question doesn’t come out of nowhere. Christ Himself gave us the mission to spread His Good News across the entire world. We are by definition a missionary Church, a Church that goes out and shares the message which fills her heart.

And ‘the Church’, that is not only the priests or the members of the church board. It’s everyone who is baptised. It is our common mission to share our faith. We can only do so when we experience a personal connection to Jesus Christ; when we want to be His followers and honestly want to put that into practice. Each of us can so be missionary in very different ways.

For many people, the word mission evokes the image of missionaries who travelled to distant countries to proclaim the faith and do development work there. But the times have changed. Former mission territories have grown into mature young churches. We keep supporting them materially through campains like the Vastenactie. We do so in these weeks, and that is good. But in turn we in the west can learn much from their flourishing faith. We sometimes, then, speak about a reversed mission.

We are grateful to the world church which has been coming to our aid for some time. Foreign priests, seminarians and religious have come from their own familiar surroundings to our diocese. Like several missionary families, they have answered the call to serve the Lord and help us to share His Good News. They are an example to let a new missionary impetus grow in our parishes.

Happily, much is happening in practice. There are a fair number of volunteers who support and build up the parishes in numerous areas. Together with the priests, deacons and coworkers they take care of the future of the life of the Church in Limburg. By using their hands they show that they want to respond to the grace of their baptism and confirmation in an active way.

But a missionary Church makes a serious appeal to every Christian to share his or her faith. I know that we are often uncomfortable about that, and that many people sense a great reluctance about bearing witness of their faith all too openly.

It is as if a false sense of shame holds us back. There is no need for that. Isn’t it our deepest conviction? We shouldn’t walk away from that. For each of us as baptised Christians, it should be a matter of honour to address our common faith in God in our direct surroundings. Tell you children and grandchildren, your friends, neighbours and acquaintances that you believe.

As Church, we shouldn’t be closed in on ourselves. Pope Francis keep insisting on this. In one of his frequently quoted texts he claims to prefer “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 49).

Those are clear words. The Pope invites us to go out; to literally and figuratively go out in into the street and speak or show in concrete acts what it means for us to follow Christ.

Obviously, every witness of faith must be authentic and come from the heart. In normal language, with respect for the opinions of the other and certainly not pushy. A missionary Church invites, cordially and mild.

Christ did not give us His Good News to keep it for ourselves, but to pass it on and share it with others. That is our missionary duty: sharing in order to multiply. What our heart is full off, our mouth is allowed to speak. Let us use this Lent to become conscious of that and invite others to share in that joy.

Roermond,

+ Frans Wiertz,
Bishop of Roermond”

Prayer, charity and the sacraments – Bishop Hoogmarten’s letter for Lent

In his letter for Lent, published on 27 February, Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens of Hasselt outlines the main ingredients for a fruitful Lent: prayer, charity and the sacraments (especially the sacrament of Confession (which is certainly not limited to general celebrations)).

11-Mgr-Hoogmartens“Dear brothers and sisters,

On 1 March it will be Ash Wednesday. That day’s liturgy reminds us that we – with our qualities and flaws – are all mortal people. We will be invited to reflect on our finiteness: “Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return”. The liturgy also provides another formula for the imposition of the ashes: “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. Lent is indeed a time of repentance and internalisation, and a special time of sharing and solidarity. Lent must become a time of strength. With this letter I want to invite and urge you to this.

In the first place, Lent asks us to focus on prayer. For many people today, that is not easy. And yet, many are looking for the inner peace that can only be received through prayer, and so from God. Of course the liturgical assembly is also an important form of prayer: there, we pray with others out of the rich tradition of the Church. But for a Christian, personal prayer is also very important. That can be done by praying a simple prayer, or by reflecting on a few psalms, like Jesus did. Praying can also be done without words, in front of a candle or an icon, or by simply repeating, “Lord, have mercy”. A prayerful heart makes us – with the words of our theme for the year – not wanderers, but pilgrims.

Lent also requires us to have more attention for our love of our neighbour. It can’t be that a Christian would only say, “Lord, Lord” and not concern himself with his neighbour, the sick or people with problems around him. Lent asks us to live more soberly and have an eye for people in need or poverty. The Lenten campaign Broederlijk Delen helps us to realise that concern on a worldwide scale.  But at the same time that wider world is also very close. As Christians we – even more than others – should dare to contact the stranger in our neighbourhood. Wasn’t the great Moses of the burning bush a stranger himself once, looking for a new country out of Egypt? Originally, the entire people of God were a people on the run.

Lent also invites us to greater loyalty to the sacraments in which we are reborn. For lent, I especially invite you to join in faith in the celebration of the Eucharist, that is with a heart for all the gestures, words and prayers which bring us together there. A faithful participation in a penitantial service is also part of the experience of Lent. At the World Youth Days – like last summer in Krakow – I noticed that this service especially touches young people. It is certainly useful to take part in a penitential service at the end of Lent, in a general confession somewhere in your federation or deanery. It opens for us the path to God’s mery. Without that – as Pope Francis taught us in the Year of Mercy – we can not live as Christians and as Church.

Dear brothers and sisters, I gladly wish you a good Lent. He teaches us to first seek the Kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Everything else will be given to us.

Wishing you a blessed Lent.

+ Patrick Hoogmartens, bishop of Hasselt”

A Belgian encyclical – updating Populorum Progressio

In March of 1967, Blessed Pope Paul VI published his fifth encyclical, “on the development of peoples”. Populorum Progressio discussed the development of man, and especially the problems that were present then and still are today: social inequality, poverty, hunger, disease, people seeking a better life elsewhere. It is also discussed progress, freedom and solidarity. The encyclical coincided with the establishment of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, which has now merged into the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

16836169_1065118586928190_8828914632235079721_o

^Bishops Jean-Pierre Delville (left) and Luc Van Looy (far right) present Populorum Communio.

The bishops of Belgium released a pastoral letter to update the encyclical today. They have dubbed their text Populorum Communio. According to Bishop Luc Van Looy, the bishops have wanted to explore the social dimension of mercy. The Holy Year of Mercy, then, is a major inspiration for the document, which also served as the bishops’ letter for Lent, since “Lent liberates from what is superfluous, makes us man among men.”

As the document is rather lengthy, I present my translation of the official summary below.

“On 26 March (Easter) 1967, Pope Paul VI released his encyclical Populorum progressio (on the development of peoples) to the world. He broadened the Church’s social teaching by calling for economic development and social justice for all peoples. The document led to a worldwide solidarity movement in the Church, which was prepared by Paul VI on 6 January of that same year 1967 by the establisment of the Commission of Justice and Peace. In our country, Broederlijk Delen (solidarity campaign for Third World countries during Lent) and Welzijnszorg (an Advent campaign against lack of opportunities in the fourth world in our own country) had been active since the early 1960s, and these seamlessly joined this movement.

With the Holy Year of Mercy, which closed in November of last year, Pope Francis provided a key to live the Christian faith in a renewed and creative way. Just before the start of Lent (Ash Wednesday 1 March), it is the basis to think more deeply about the social impact of mercy.

As we know, the challenges are not negligible. There is an increasing lack of opportunities and social injustice, the question of migrants and refugees, pollution and the threat to the ecological balance … All this does not only require the development of the peoples, but also unity between the peoples to work together for the future of the planet. And mercy is key to achieve this unity. “It is important to have aheart for those in misery”, Pope Francis says. “It is a new sensitivity which allows itself to be challenged by the other and leads to a new attitude.”

John’s story of Jesus healing a blind man (9:1-41) is the guideline of the pastoral letter. The story of healing is a call to keep believing that mercy can drive back exclusion and that a unity which itself is merciful can develop in society. “Like the healing of the body results in the healing of the soul, we dare to hope that the promotion of development results in a spiritual discovery and gives new meaning to the mission of mercy,” the bishops write.

The pastoral letter addresses four great challenges for modern society, which cause both progress and exlcusion: technology and science, economy, politics and ethics. What is the role of Christians and what is their influence on the world’s development? The social teachings of the Church and the notion of mercy as developed by Pope Francis offer inspiration for possible answers.

  1. In his encyclical Populorum progressio, Paul VI makes clear that social justice also includes the economic development of underdeveloped countries and that development is not limited to merely economic growth, but must be directed towards the development of every man and the entire person. Pope Francis adds that social justice requires the social integration of the poor to be able to hear their voice.
  2. The means for achieving social justice, Populorum progressio teaches, is solidarity. Pope Francis emphasises that solidarity demands the creation of a new mentality which thinks in terms of community, of the priority of the life of all to the appriation of goods by a minority. Or, “solidarity must be lived as a decision to return to the poor what is theirs”.
  3. Regarding politics which today lead to war and violence among peoples and societies, the establishment of unity between peoples make a world peace possible if it is inspired by mercy. Everyone deserves confirmation and respect, especially those who are habitually excluded.
  4. True solidarity with the poorest in the world means that we question our way of life and choose a sustainable economy which takes the capacity of the world into account. “We must believe in the power which can realise change when go forward with many,” the bishops write. This faith in the power of “transition” is the area of common ethics, which includes our entire planet and transcends the exclusion of the weak. The “dynamics of transition” addresses everyone, no matter how weak, and urges the politically responsible to form one front to save the planet. In this way we will achieve a dimension of unity between peoples at the service of the entire earth.

The bishops conclude their letter with a word of thanks to all who are already working for the integration of the poor in society andpol who are at the service of reconciliation in the world. At the start of the Lent they invite all people of good will to create the link between stimulating changes and true conversion, through prayer, fasting and sharing. They remind that Fasting is liberating, as it liberates from all that is superfluous. Fasting is becoming more human, more solidary, more concerned with our earth. It is living according to the ethics of simplicity which create space to live well.

And the letter concludes as follows: “We invite you as Christians, in spite of the injustice and violence affecting our world, to continue working for a more just and sustainable world without inequalities, and this together with all men and women working for the same.””

Photo credit: Kerknet on Facebook

 

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.

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.

No opposition in Amoris laetita, Cardinal Müller says

14_09_kardinalmuellerIn recent comments published by Vatican Insider, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has been quite clear about his thoughts about the Four Cardinals’ Dubia. Like many on both sides of the debate (those who think the dubia are necessary and those who do not (or even those who think they are equal to heresy)), the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith does not think an answer from Pope Francis will be forthcoming. He even thinks that the four authors of the dubia have gone too far in their action, especially their making their questions public. While I do not necessarily agree with him there, I think that his comments about the doctrinal content of Amoris laetitia are on point.

Cardinal Müller says,

Amoris Laetitia is very clear in its doctrine and we can interpret the whole doctrine of Jesus on marriage, the whole doctrine of the Church in 2000 years of history.” Pope Francis, the cardinal concluded, “asks us to discern the situation of these people who live in an irregular union, one not according to the Church’s teaching on marriage, and asks us to help these people find a way towards reintegration into the Church according to the conditions of the sacraments, the Christian message of marriage. But I do not see any opposition: on the one hand we have the clear teaching on marriage, on the other hand the obligation of the Church to care for these people in need.”

What the cardinal has consistently done in this debate regarding Pope Francis’ exhortation and the changes it does or does not introduce, is to present it within the context of the entire Tradition of the Church. He says that Amoris laetitia does not do away with any doctrine; the Church still upholds the entirety of the sacrament of matrimony and the duties, obligations and graces it presents the spouses with. New, however, is the emphasis on those people who have failed in these obligations. Amoris laetitia includes no fingerpointing, but takes seriously the factual existence of these faithful. The Church, who is also a mother, has a duty of care for all the faithful, regardless of their success or lack thereof. Caring for couples who live in irregular unions does not mean doing away with the doctrine about marriage. But, the Pope asks, a way must be found to stand with these couples, to eintegrate them into the life of the Church. They are not cast out because of the situation.

What many commenters should recall, in my opinion, is that being a part of the Church is much more than receiving Communion. There can be many reasons for a person to be unable to receive, be it for a short time or for years on end. This does not preclude them from being an important part of the parish community.