Cardinal Meisner’s spiritual testament

In 2011 Joachim Cardinal Meisner wrote his spiritual testament. Cardinal Woelki read it out in the memorial Vespers on Wednesday evening. Below is my translation of the original German text.

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“Dear brothers in spiritual service,
Dear coworkers in pastoral care and charity,
Dear sisters and brothers in the Archdiocese of Cologne,
Dear friends and family!

Like all people, I do not know day or hour, nor the manner and place of my death. That is why I want to write down a final word to you all now, which will then be read out at the right time. It will mainly be a final world in this world for you to Jesus Christ.

Dear Jesus Christ,
You are the word through which everything came into being. I thank you, that you have wanted me and thus assured my existence. Your word accompanied me in life and led me to your care for the world and people. That is why I became a priest and bishop, marked and consecrated by your wounds. It is one of the most astonishing things in my life, that you have used me at your cross and honoured me with your passion. Because of your love for the world, your heart, hands and feet were pierced. You touched me with your cross out of love for the people. You allowed me to be your priest and your bishop. That is why, especially in dying, I want to praise the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which joy came into the world.

In the Liturgy of the Hours I expressly testify and confess with our priests:

“Christ, divine Lord,
he loves you who has but strength to love:
unknowing, he who does not know you;
with longing, he who does.

Christ, you are my hope,
my peace, my happiness, all my life.
Christ, my spirit seeks you,
Christ, I adore you.

Christ, I cling to you
with all the power of my soul;
You, Lord, alone I love,
I seek you, I follow after you.”

In this joy, I desired to serve all in the Archdiocese of Cologne. Our bishop’s city of Cologne holds the honorary title of “Sancta Colonia Dei Gratia Romanae Ecclesiae Fidelis Filia” (Holy Cologne, through God’s mercy the faithful daughter of the Roman Church). In my episcopal service I tried to honour this distinction. Christ has established the Petrine ministry in the Church, to give direction and support to the many peoples in their time. This is my last request to you all for the sake of your salvation: Stand by our Holy Father. He is today’s Peter. Follow his directions. Listen to his words. Peter does not want anything for himself, but everything for the Lord and for his sisters and brothers.

You all know that my life encompassed three social systems: twelve years of Hitler’s Reich, forty-four years of Communist rule and now more than twenty years of free democracy. In all three eras of my life the service of the Pope has always given me direction, encouragement and support. Always hold on to the Pope and you will not lose Christ!

I do not desire the mercy granted to the Apostle John, nor the forgiveness you gave Peter, but only that which you granted on the cross to the thief, I beg: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).”

Photo credit: KNA

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On the death of Cardinal Meisner

Cardeal-Joachim-MeisnerUnexpected and sad new from Cologne this morning. Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of that see from 1988 to 2014, passed away this morning while on holiday in Bad Füssing, near Passau. The Pretiosa bell of Cologne cathedral just completed 15 minutes of tolling to mark the death of the cardinal, who passed away peacefully, according to a spokesman. He was 83 years old.

Cardinal Meisner recently visited the Netherlands on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the ordination of Cardinal Simonis, and he was of course on the eye of the media as one of the authors of the dubia regarding the interpretation of Amoris laetitia.

The late cardinal will remembered during today’s midday prayers at Cologne’s cathedral, and at the evening Mass offered by Cardinal Woelki, Cardinal Meisner’s successor as archbishop. This will be streamed live via Domradio.de at 18:30 local time. The archdiocese has opened a condolence book on their website here.

In a telegram to Cardinal Woelki, Pope Francis wrote:

“With inner sympathy I learned of the news that the merciful God has suddenly and unexpectedly called Cardinal Joachim Meisner from this world. I am one withh im and the faithful of the Archdiocese of Cologne in prayer for your deceased shepherd. Cardinal Meisner stood for the good news out of a deep faith and a sincere love for the Church. May Christ the Lord reward him for his loyal and unflinching work for the wellbeing of people in east and west, and may He grant him a part in the community of saints in heaven. I gladly grant all who remember the deceased in prayer and sacrifice, the apostolic blessing.”

Cardinal Woelki learned of the death of his predecessor this morning.

“I received a phone call this morning from auxiliary bishop Heinrich. The auxiliary bishop of Berlin is a friend of Cardinal Meisner and contacted us. He told me that Cardinal Meisner was found dead this morning by his friend Michael Schlede, while they were on vacation. The cardinal had sat there quite peacefully and had to have died immediately. He had wanted to celebrate Holy Mass with his friend, he had prepared everything for the celebration of the Eucharist and still had his breviary in his hands. He must have simply fallen asleep over it.”

For those who understand German, hear Cardinal Woelki reflect on the life of Cardinal Meisner:

The Archdiocese of Cologne has announced the program leading towards Cardinal Meisner’s funeral. From Friday 7 until the early morning of Saturday 15 July, the cardinal will lie in a closed coffin in the church of St. Gereon, at a fifteen-minute walk from the cathedral. The church will be open for the faithful until Monday the 10th. Cardinal Woelki will receive the deceased at Vespers on the Friday, and the liturgy of the hours will be prayed on each of those days. The church will open again on Friday, when a Vespers for the dead will be prayed. On Saturday the 15th, Cardinal Meisner will be carried in procession to the cathedral, where his funeral will take place at 10am. The cardinal will be buried in the crypt.

One of the last people to speak with Cardinal Meisner was Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who spoke with him over the phone on Tuesday evening: “He told me that he felt healthy, but that he was very concerned about the situation in the Catholic Church,” undoubtedly referring to the dubia, but also to Cardinal Müller’s retirement, which “upset” Cardinal Meisner.

More to come.

O sapientia!

As we enter the home stretch towards Christmas, let’s take a look, like we did last year, at the traditional O antiphons:

Today we entered the final week before Christmas, the week of the O antiphons. In the Church’s prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Vespers antiphons of the Magnificat, named for their beginning with the exclamation “O”, look towards the coming of the Lord with fervent hope and prayer, and they do so by using Old Testament titles for the Saviour. Father Z created an informative page about these antiphons.

Today we pray:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

[O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.]

May the incarnation of God, who is Wisdom, guide our path and our actions. May He teach us the way of our salvation in Him.

Afternoon reflection: Responsibility

We find the following reading in the Liturgy of the Hours at today’s None or afternoon prayer. It is not a very difficult or long text, but it does articulate what, in my opinion is a very important aspect of the relationship between God and people, especially in its day-to-day reality:

“God is not to be fooled; whatever someone sows, that is what he will reap. If his sowing is in the field of self-indulgence, then his harvest from it will be corruption; if his sowing is in the Spirit, then his harvest from the Spirit will be eternal life.”

Galatians 6:7b-8

The image that some people have of religious people – that they are somehow mindless followers of some ancient commandments – is disproven by this passage. I’ve said it before: God takes us seriously. He lets us take our own decisions since we are intelligent and independent beings. He also lets us take our responsibility; it’s not as if He steps in whenever we make some dumb or even dangerous decision. Why not? Because as intelligent and independent beings we can take our responsibility and be expected to think before we act. That means we can take credit for what we do, but also the blame for things that go wrong.

In the context of our relationship with God, this means that we are free in how we relate to Him. We are able to find our way in the world, but there are consequences to the choices we make. While we can choose to follow God or ignore Him, we must be aware of the consequences of each of these actions.

The passage above is not objective, of course. The author, St. Paul, does not pretend that he does not care what choice his audience makes. There are right and wrong choices, but we are free and able to make them, and God will never impose His will upon us.

Morning reflection: Pope Saint Leo the Great on forgiveness and almsgiving

In today’s Office of Readings we find a sermon by Pope Saint Leo the Great about some elements of Lent: the forgiveness of sins and the giving of alms:

Dear friends,

At every moment the earth is full of the mercy of God, and nature itself is a lesson for all the faithful in the worship of God. The heavens, the sea and all that is in them bear witness to the goodness and omnipotence of their Creator, and the marvellous beauty of the elements as they obey him demands from the intelligent creation a fitting expression of its gratitude. But with the return of that season marked out in a special way by the mystery of our redemption, and of the days that lead up to the paschal feast, we are summoned more urgently to prepare ourselves by a purification of spirit.

The special note of the paschal feast is this: the whole Church rejoices in the forgiveness of sins. It rejoices in the forgiveness not only of those who are then reborn in holy baptism but also of those who are already numbered among God’s adopted children. Initially, men are made new by the rebirth of baptism. Yet there still is required a daily renewal to repair the shortcomings of our mortal nature, and whatever degree of progress has been made there is no one who should not be more advanced. All must therefore strive to ensure that on the day of redemption no one may be found in the sins of his former life.

Dear friends, what the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion, so that the Lenten fast enjoined by the apostles may be fulfilled, not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin.

There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of almsgiving. This embraces under the single name of mercy many excellent works of devotion, so that the good intentions of all the faithful may be of equal value, even where their means are not. The love that we owe both God and man is always free from any obstacle that would prevent us from having a good intention. The angels sang: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. The person who shows love and compassion to those in any kind of affliction is blessed, not only with the virtue of good will but also with the gift of peace.

The works of mercy are innumerable. Their very variety brings this advantage to those who are true Christians, that in the matter of almsgiving not only the rich and affluent but also those of average means and the poor are able to play their part. Those who are unequal in their capacity to give can be equal in the love within their hearts.

St. Leo the Great was pope from 440 to 461, but his words still have meaning for us today. And why would they not, after all? There are two points especially which we should also take to heart in our own practice of Lent; First, the saintly pope speaks of sins that need to be forgiven. He points out that, despite our sins having been forgiven out our baptism, we still need to seek forgiveness ” to repair the shortcomings of our mortal nature”. Mortality and our personal shortcomings are here linked, and the reason for that is easily found: both have their origin in the Fall of Man. In Genesis we read God’s warning to Adam: “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat; for, the day you eat of that, you are doomed to die” (2:17). In the following chapter we find that man did not heed this warning, with death as a result. Here we have our mortality. Our broken nature as a consequence of the Fall explains our tendency to sin. We are mortal, and the reason for our mortality requires us to be watchful for our sins and search out God’s forgiveness whenever required. Since Lent is a time of purification and converting, or returning to face Christ (to borrow a quote from a recently heard homily), asking for forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession is an inherent element of this time.

The second point in the above sermon concerns the giving of alms. St. Leo rightly points out that none of us are limited in this, because the word ‘almsgiving’ covers a wide variety of activities. “Not only the rich and affluent but also those of average means and the poor are able to play their part. Those who are unequal in their capacity to give can be equal in the love within their hearts”, he writes. And that’s important to realise. Don’t have the means to donate money to a charity? Don’t worry. You are able to give alms in other ways. “The person who shows love and compassion to those in any kind of affliction is blessed, not only with the virtue of good will but also with the gift of peace”. Be creative this Lent, you are not limited, because  the love of God is not limited.

Lastly, I want to end this reflection by focussing on one sentence from Pope St. Leo the Great’s sermon (emphasis mine). It’s worth reminding ourselves of frequently:

Dear friends, what the Christian should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and devotion, so that the Lenten fast enjoined by the apostles may be fulfilled, not simply by abstinence from food but above all by the renunciation of sin.

The silence of communication

As is customary on today’s feast of St. Francis de Sales, the Holy See publishes Pope Benedict’s annual Message for World Communications Day (here with a link to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications’ new website). This time around, the Holy Father once again speaks about social media and communications, but with the main emphasis on silence. A scarce commodity in modern society, to be sure, silence is here presented is one of two essential elements of communication, next to the word. Where words are spoken, someone else usually listens. Silence also allows for reflection;

“in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible.”

Equally important, God also speaks to us in silence. The Holy Father beautifully describes this in the following passage:

“The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross. After Christ’s death there is a great silence over the earth, and on Holy Saturday, when “the King sleeps … and God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages” (Office of Readings, Holy Saturday), God’s voice resounds, filled with love for humanity.”

In social media circles, much has been made about the pope’s clear reference to things like Twitter and Facebook status updates: “In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.”

All in all, a worthwhile read (also in Dutch), offering proper food for thought for all of us. We all communicate, after all.

Shhh... take some time to listen and reflect

O sapientia!

Today we entered the final week before Christmas, the week of the O antiphons. In the Church’s prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Vespers antiphons of the Magnificat, named for their beginning with the exclamation “O”, look towards the coming of the Lord with fervent hope and prayer, and they do so by using Old Testament titles for the Saviour. Father Z created an informative page about these antiphons.

Today we pray:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

[O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.]

May the incarnation of God, who is Wisdom, guide our path and our actions. May He teach us the way of our salvation in Him.