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.

Hopes and realities – Bishop Bode’s Communion utopia

bode_purpur_240Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück has been making some minor headlines with his comments about opening up the reception of the sacrament of Holy Communion to non-Catholic spouses of Catholic faithful. In an article by the Evangelischer Pressedienst, his words are reflected thus:

“The Catholic bishop of Osnabrück, Franz Josef Bode, is hoping for an approach towards a joint Last Supper by Catholic and Lutheran spouses. It is a personal concern for him “to find on our part a resolution for marriages of different confessions”, Bode tells epd. Many Protestants have in fact received Communion with their Catholic spouses. “We must give a foundation to what we often already have in practice.”

He considers it “no utopia”, that joint Communion could be achieved in this specific case in 2017, the bishop claims. The Eucharist or Holy Communion is a sacrament in the Catholic Church, of which only members can partake. In the Lutheran church all the faithful are invited to the Last Supper.”

Nice as the bishop’s hopes are, reality is more problematic. There are reasons that the Catholic Church teaches that only Catholics, and ones in a state of grace at that, can receive Communion. It is not just a matter of feelings, emotions, or belonging. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has plenty to say about the Eucharist and Communion (in paragraphs 1322 to 1419), but a quote from St. Justin, mentioned in paragraph 1355, indicates the problem in this particular case:

“No one may take part in [the Eucharist] unless he believes that what we teach is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth, and lives in keeping with what Christ taught”.

The Eucharist is a reality outside ourselves, and Christ gives Himself in it to draw us into that – His – reality. He asks, needs, our willingness to do that, for we are created with the freedom and dignity to make our own choices. If we come forward to receive Him, we must be willing to confess our faith in the reality of the Eucharist, which the Church safeguards and teaches, and to be a part of the community of followers of Christ that He established and invited to follow Him: the Church.

If we belong to a community which does not (or not completely) confess that faith, or which has removed itself from the Church, these are obstacles that prevent us from receiving Communion. It would be a lie to ourselves and those around us, and – significantly – to God. The fact that our husband or wife is Catholic changes nothing about that. Instead of receiving Communion as non-Catholics, we should first move towards a common understanding of what Communion is and a shared membership in that community into which Christ invites us.

Practice does not dictate teaching. It can influence it, shed new light on it, lead to a better understanding of it, but something is not automatically allowed or good because everyone is doing it. If that were the case, Christ would have no reason to become man among us. Bishop Bode’s hope could be realised by affirming the foundation of our practice (or lack thereof), not by affirming the practice by giving it a foundation.

“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

“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