The tension between doctrine and reality – Cardinal Marx’s intervention

Earlier today we had a short Synod intervention from Cardinal Danneels, and now one of the longest, from Cardinal Reinhard Marx. It’s also one of the most fearless, as the German cardinal talks about some of the topics that he has been criticised heavily for: Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and graduality.

Like the intervention of Bishop Bode, Cardinal Marx’s text is based heavily on the life experiences of the faithful concerned. And while it is essential for the Church to meet people where they are, I do miss the essential aspect of our faith: that is a revelation faith. Its foundation is objective truth, and while the way we relate to that truth, communicate it and help people achieve it (acknowledged by Cardinal Marx as he discusses our call to holiness) can and should vary according to circumstances, that truth does and can not. In the debate about Communion for divorced and remarried faithful (a circumstance consequently referred to in this intervention as only possible when we are talking about civil divorce and marriage) this is something that we must keep in mind. It defines what we can do pastorally.

Anyway, the intervention. The original German text is here.

marxFifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council once again made the Gospel a source of inspiration for the life of individuals and society. The same is true for the “Gospel of the family” (Pope Francis). In the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes (GS) it developed a doctrine of marriage which was further developed by the Popes after the Council. Even when the Council did not the answer all the questions which concern us now, it did lay a theological foundation which helps us to answer our current questions.

The Council understands marriage as an “intimate partnership of married life and love” (GS, 48) and develops the doctrine of marriage in the context of a theology of love. The love between man and woman “is directed from one person to another through an affection of the will; it involves the good of the whole person, and therefore can enrich the expressions of body and mind with a unique dignity, ennobling these expressions as special ingredients and signs of the friendship distinctive of marriage”. This love “pervades the whole of their lives: indeed by its busy generosity it grows better and grows greater” (GS, 49). The Council emphasises that this love between man and woman requires the institutional and legal framework of marriage, to develop and keep it permanently in good and bad days. Not in the last place does the institution of marriage serve the wellbeing of children (cf. GS, 50).

With the help of this theology of love and also the theology of the covenant, which can only be insufficiently outlined here, the Council succeeded in making the sacramentality of marriage understandable again. Marital love becomes an image of the love of Christ for His Church and the place where the love of Christ becomes tangible. In order to also express this connection between the divine and the human verbally, the Council speaks of the covenant of marriage. Finally, the indissoluble fidelity is an efficacious sign of Christ’s love in this world.

In the end, the Council sees human sexuality as an expression of love and suggests a new direction in sexual ethics. “This love is uniquely expressed and perfected through the appropriate enterprise of matrimony. The actions within marriage by which the couple are united intimately and chastely are noble and worthy ones. Expressed in a manner which is truly human, these actions promote that mutual self-giving by which spouses enrich each other with a joyful and a ready will” (GS, 49). To this richness belong without doubt also, but not only, the conception and education of children. For the Council fathers expressly emphasise that marriage without children also “persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility”(GS, 50).

It is this Synod of Bishops’ task to deepen and develop this theology of respectively love and the covenant, which the Council has established in basic features, but which is not yet completely reflected in canon law, with an eye on the current challenges in the pastoral care regarding marriage and family. I would like to focus on two challenges: marriage preparation and guidance, and the question of reasonably dealing with those faithful whose marriage has failed and those – not a few – who have divorced and are civilly remarried.

It is no coincidence that the Council speaks of growing in love. That is true for living together in marriage; but it is equally so for the time of preparation for marriage. Pastoral care should be developed which shows clearer than before the travelling aspect of being Christian, also in relation to marriage and family. We are all called to holiness (cf. Lumen gentium, 39), but the road towards holiness only ends on the Last Day, when we stand before the judgement seat of Christ. This path is not always straight and does not always lead directly to the intended goal. In other words: the path of life of the spouses has times of intense feelings and times of disappointment, of successful joint projects and failed plans, times of closeness and times of alienation. Often the difficulties and crises, when they are overcome together, are the ones that strengthen and consolidate the marriage bond. The Church’s marriage preparation and guidance can not be determined by moralistic perfectionism. It should not be a program of “all or nothing”. What is more important is that we see the various life situations and experiences of people in a differentiated way. We should look less at what has not (yet) been achieved in life, or perhaps what has thoroughly failed, but more at what has already been achieved. People are usually not motivated by the raised finger to go forward on the road to holiness, but by the outstretched hand. We need pastoral care which values the experiences of people in loving relationships and which is able to awaken a spiritual longing. The sacrament of marriage should in the first place be proclaimed as a gift that enriches and strengthens marriage and family life, and less as an ideal that can not be attained by human achievement. As indispensable as lifelong loyalty is for the development of love, so the sacramentality of marriage should not be reduced to its indissolubility. It is a comprehensive relationship which unfolds.

The moment of receiving the sacrament of marriage is indeed the beginning of the way. The sacrament not only happens at the moment of marrying, in which both spouses express their mutual love and loyalty, but unfolds in the road they take together. Giving shape to common life in marriage is the responsibility of the spouses. The Church’s pastoral care can and should support the spouses, but must respect their responsibility. We should give more space to the consciences of the spouses in proclamation and pastoral care. Certainly, it is the Church’s duty to form the consciences of the faithful, but people’s judgement of conscience can not be replaced. That is especially true in situations in which the spouses must make a decision in a conflict of values, such as when the openness to conceiving children and the preservation of marriage and family life are in conflict with each other.

But appreciative and supportive pastoral care can also not prevent all marriages from failing, spouses from ending their covenant of life and love and separating. The new process of establishing the nullity of a marriage can also not cover all cases in the right way. Often the end of a marriage is neither the result of human immaturity, nor of a lack of willingness in marriage. Dealing with faithful whose marriages have failed and who, often enough, entered a new civil marriage after a civil divorce, remains therefore a pressing pastoral problem in many parts of the world. For many faithful – including those whose marriages are intact – it is a matter of credibility of the Church. I know this from many conversations and letters.

Thankfully, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI left it no doubt that civilly divorced and remarried faithful are also part of the Church, and repeatedly invited them to take an active part in the life of the Church. It is therefore our duty to develop welcoming pastoral care for these faithful and involve them ever more in the life of communities. To them the Church has to witness of the love of Christ, which applies in the first place to those who have failed in their intentions and efforts. For “it is not those who are in health that have need of the physician, it is those who are sick” (Matt. 9:12). It is the mission of the Church to heal the wounds caused by the failing of a marriage and the separation of spouses, and show them that God is with them, also in these difficult times. Can we really heal without allowing the sacrament of Reconciliation?

With an eye on the civilly divorced and remarried faithful who take an active part in community life, many faithful ask why the Church refuses them, without exception, participation in sacramental Communion. Many in our communities can not understand how one can be in full community with the Church and at the same time excluded from the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. The fact that civilly divorced and remarried faithful objectively live in adultery and as such are in contradiction to what is presented emblematically in the Eucharist, the faithfulness of Christ to His Church, is given as reason. But does this answer do justice to the situation of those concerned? And is it sacramental-theologically compelling? Can people who are considered to be in a situation of grave sin truly have the feeling of belonging completely to us?

In the German Bishops’ Conference we have also occupied ourselves intensively over the past years with the theology and pastoral ministry of marriage and family. We took the Holy Father’s assignment seriously, to think about the topic, discuss and deepen it, in the time between the Synods. The German Bishops’ Conference has organised a day of study about this, together with the Bishops’ Conferences of France and Switzerland, in May of 2015, the contributions of which have also been published. In the theological faculties too, the topics were taken up and debated in biblical-theological, exegetical, canonical and pastoral-theological perspectives. Additionally, there were conversations with theologians and publications. We have learned that the theological work about this must continue in the future.

About the topic of civilly divorced and remarried faithful the German bishops have themselves published in June of last year further considerations and question, which I would like to outline briefly.

Someone who, after the failure of a marriage has entered into a new civil marriage, from which often children were born, has a moral responsibility to the new partner and the children which he or she can not denounce without being burdened with new guilt. Even if a renewal of the previous relationship were possible – which it generally isn’t –  the person concerned finds himself in an objective moral dilemma from which there is no clear moral theological way out. The advise to refrain from sexual acts in the new relationship seems unreasonable to many. There is also the question if sexual acts can be judged in isolation from the context of life. Can we assess sexual acts in a second civil marriage as adultery without exception? Independent of an assessment of the particular situation?

In sacramental-theological regard two things should be considered. Can we, in all cases and with a clear conscience, exclude faithful who are civilly divorced and remarried from the sacrament of Reconciliation? Can we refuse them the reconciliation with God and the sacramental experience of the mercy of God even when they sincerely regret their guilt in the failure of marriage? Regarding the question of allowing sacramental Communion, it must be considered that the Eucharist not only makes present the covenant of Christ with His Church, but also always renews it and strengthens the faithful on their way to holiness. The two principles of admission to the Eucharist, namely the testimony of unity of the Church and the participation in the means of grace, can at times be at odds with one another. In the Declaration Unitatis redintegratio (N. 8), the Council says: “Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice”. Beyond ecumenism, this statement is also of fundamental pastoral importance. In his Apostolic Letter Evangelii gaudium the Holy Father adds, with reference to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness” (N. 47).

Starting from the theological foundations established by the Second Vatican Council we should seriously consider the possibility – based on the individual case and not in a general way – of allowing civilly divorced and remarried faithful to receive the sacraments of Confession and Communion, when common life in the canonically valid marriage has definitively failed and this marriage can not be nullified, the commitments of this marriage are settled, there is regret for the guilt of the end of this marital common life and there is the honest will to live the second civil marriage in faith and raise the children in the faith.

Love, trust and Jacob – Archbishop Koch’s homily

In an almost 2,000-word long homily during his installation Mass as archbishop of Berlin, Archbishop Heiner Koch took the figure of Jacob as a starting point to delve into what the love of and for God is. Love is not an emotion, he explained, but a decision, and it is based on trust. And that is the key to experiencing God, as even Jacob, on the run and forced to sleep under the naked sky with a stone for a pillow, discovered.

In my experience, the Old Testament patriarchs, with the possible exception of Moses, rarely feature in homilies. That alone makes this one worth a read. Besides that, it may also help some in thinking about their own relation with God.

koch installation

“Jacob, the supplanter, that is what they called him (cf. Gen. 27:36), and from him we hear in today’s reading. With a lie he had taken the rights of the first born from his brother Esau, and so provoked his vengeance. He had to flee and already on the first night of his flight he had to spend the night under the open sky. Night surrounded him: the night of those who have no home, of those who are guilty, of those who disappointed and alienated others. In that night he took a stone, but not only to rest his head on. He and his contemporaries attributed  a special power to stones, a divine connection: That is why they expected security and shelter from such a stone. In the middle of his night, Jacob trusts on the nearness of God through the power of the stone under his head: “I, Yahweh, am the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I am with you. I shall keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this country, for I shall never desert you” (cf. Gen. 28:13-15). In the middle of the night of his life, a dream reveals to him the closeness of God: In the middle of his homelessness he finds himself at home with God: “This is the abode of God, here God gives him, the refugee, home and security (cf. Gen. 28:17). A second dream breaks the hopelessness of his life: A ladder, on which the angels of God ascend and descend, connecting heaven and earth (cf. Gen. 28:12). Heaven is open for him, despite all his guilt and with all his desperation, powerlessness and homelessness.For him, night becomes a time of awakening is, from all seclusion and darkness.

In the middle of the night Jacob experiences what Christ proclaimed and lived: I, God, love you, man, so much, beyond all boundaries and conditions, I will not leave you. I am and will remain with you. I will be at your side:

If the powerful consider you nothing but a number, I was also a number to the powerful at the time of my birth. I am with you, refugee, as I also had to flee when I was a child. I am with you when people laugh at you, as they laughed at me. I am with you when the strike and make you bleed, as they made me bleed. I am with you, when people think your life is worthless as they did mine. I am with you when there is no room for you in the city, as there was no room for me. Neither do I come down from the Cross and leave the thief there to die. My love is without limits, my love will not leave you, man, alone: not you, Jacob, the supplanter, not the thief on the Cross and not the people and not you today.

That is the heart of the good new that we Christian far and wide vouch for: Christ the Saviour is here! You can rely on Him. He is the fundamental reason for our joy: “Gaudete semper! Dominus prope. Always be joyful! The Lord is near” (Phil. 4:4,5). I took these words from Saint Paul as the motto of my episcopal service. God doesn’t come sometimes, He is here: here and now, in Kreuzberg, Charlottenburg and Köpenick, in Potsdam and Greifswald, Brandenburg an der Havel or Frankfurt an der Oder, always and forever, in peace and suffering, in joy and need, when I am aware of His closeness and when He seems far from me, in life and in death: He is and remains near to us.  Setting no limits to human life! That is what we Christians must stand for, also when we are not supported from all sides.

This message changes everything: what perspective on life it opens, far beyond the limits of the tangible world and beyond death. Christians are people of a wide horizon, who will not be bound by circumstances of the here and now. What hope and confidence, especially in the dark times of life, may break forth from this experience of God’s closeness!

Such commitment is there, but also challenge: Leave no one ever alone: neither the unborn child, nor the homeless, the failed, the sick, the disabled, the powerless nor the dying! Set no limits for human life!

Everything, in Berlin, in Brandenburg, in Vorpommern, now depends on learning to see HIM, to discover HIM, to find HIM especially in the darkness of our lives. That is why we are here as Church: to help people discover God in their lives, sometimes in a long struggle, a long process of searching – that is what we are here for as Christians and as Church.

But: is there really such a God? Can I experience Him as a reality or does He prove to be just an empty phrase or ideological superstructure? In answering this question all people, without exception, are believers. Man does not have the choice to be a believer or not. In the decisive questions of life, and especially in the crucial question of God, man encounters his quintessential decision of faith: one believes that there is nothing beyond the visible and understandable world, and the other believes that there is a God beyond our thinking and seeing. One believes that it all ends with death, and the other that death is the portal to eternal life. One believes that God exists and the other that He does not. Everyone lives in faith. In the de facto pursuit of life man can not be indecisive about the question of God: Either he prays to God or he doesn’t. He either struiggles with God or not, either God means something in his life, or He does not. His concrete, practical life provides the answer to the question of his faith: “Do you believe that there is a God, or do you believe that there is no God?”

With that also comes the questions: “Can I perceive, see, recognise God today? Can I experience and learn to see Him like Jacob did?”

The story of Jacob provides the answer: You will see Him when you build on Him, when you trust on Him. Trust broadens the outlook, mistrust on the other hand blinds. That is just as true in politics as in personal life. When two people meet, recognise each other, as Scripture has it, they must trust one another. Precisely that is the leap of faith, it is the leap of my trust. Without such trust there can be no experiencing God. You must dare to live in trust with God, and you will experience that God exists. That is the key to God: your trust.

The theory of science describes this when she says that the object to be studied always defines the method of investigation. A scientific object must be studied with scientific methods and a historical event with historical methods. Carrying this thought over to the knowledge of God: If God is love, He can only be known through love. We see God at the cost of our hearts, our trust. There is no easier way! There can be no knowledge of God outside of my trust.

And then, love is much more than just a feeling, but rather a decision. Especially in difficult times this becomes profoundly clear in terms of God’s love: When I no longer hear antyhing from God, when I can no longer understand Him, no longer grasp Him in my own terms,, when I feel that God is greater than my thoughts and feelings, when I no longer see His path in my hour of need, then precisely these hours become a question to me: Can God rely on my love, even when I don’t see Him? Is the decision of my love for Him so strong that it proves itself in such hours? Do I trust in God even then, and can He rely on me under such a burden? I am always touched when I consider that Christ asked Peter, before he entrust him with his great office, three times, “Do you love me?”(cf. John 21: 15-23). He does not ask, “Do you believe this and do that?” but enquires three times about his love. “Do you love me?” This questions becomes also for us the decisive question about our knowledge of God: “Do you love me?” I am convinced that most people do not know God, as they are unwilling to trust God, to give Him their hearts, their love. But precisely this path is the only path to experience that I am not alone in the days and nights of my life and that my night is therefore thrown open to Easter morning. Give God a chance! Give Him your trust!

And what if we can answer Christ’s question to us, about our love, just as hesitantly as Peter or perhaps even poorer and more pathetic? Let’s look once again at Jakob, the supplanter, with this question. His path with God is not ended, he must continue on, considerably further. Love is never done, love is always searching. I also ask you, the unbaptised, and you, who have another religion, to go with us on this search. We are grateful for your life experiences. You are a great wealth for us with your searching and your meaningful questions about life and faith. We are probably much closer to each other than we think, and perhaps we will discover on our common path not only we are searching for God, but God has already been searching for us, not only that we are looking for God, but that He is looking for us. Perhaps we can help each other in this way to discover this God, who in Paradise already asked man, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).

How good it is to recall at such times that our love for God is not the decisive factor,  but God’s love for us, that His love stands firm and is reliable, that He serves us and washes our feet and not we His. Perhaps a small and quick prayer can then also help, such as, “Dear God, do not let me go!”

My dear sisters and brothers! Learning to love God together and through and in Him our sisters and brothers and all people whom God entrusts to us: to proclaim this – as the Gospel tells us today – to be seeds in the hearts of men. That is the great project of our diocese in all its effects on our parishes, communities and institutions! It is the fullness of life and the love of God, from which we all live and which carries us, also with our fractures, which we can often no longer heal. Should we not address these concerns in our time in completely new ways, with new emphases, consequences and focus? The future of the Church is not a carbon copy!

Is this not also the ecumenical path, which I would join and build up consciously and decidedly? Learning to love God, how important is this mutual way for us and our society!

Does this path of love not lead directly to the weak, the poor and disadvantaged of our society, in whom God challenges us and our love? The current need of refugees and their families is for us not just a burning and challenging social question, it becomes question of our faith. Without people in need, awaiting our love, we can not find God, who is love, and we remain blind for his closeness. He is close to us in them!

Dear sisters and brothers, from my heart I want to go this path of learning to love with you. Please come with me on our common path!

+ Archbishop Dr. Heiner Koch”

 Photo credit: KNA

“A defeat for humanity”? The wisdom of the cardinal’s words

parolinCardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, has commented on the Irish referendum which resulted in a major vote in favour of same-sex marriage, and called it a “defeat for humanity”. Was that the wise thing to say?

The Irish vote was certainly a defeat for the Christian argument, if such simplistic wording can be properly used in this context. Seen from the Catholic position, the very nature of marriage is being redefined, changing its essential role in building healthy societies. It is being downgraded to a mere legal acknowledgement that two people love each other and want to be together, with no eye for their duties towards society and future generations (duties that are also increasingly being forgotten in marriages in general, it must be said). The complementarity of man and woman, which finds its ultimate expression in marriage, is deemed unimportant enough to deny it its defining place within the concept of marriage. In essence, it is being said that marriage need not have all the defining characteristics in order to be marriage.

As hinted above, same-sex marriages can have worthy elements that we also find in true marriage, such as love and responsibility, but it lacks other elements: the openness to new life as a product of the (physical and emotional) love of the spouses, and the ability for full complementary love which flows forth from their identities as man and woman (more than just a physical characteristic).

Many critics will say that many heterosexual marriages are equally closed to life and fullfilment, and they are right. Married partners have an obligation to love and take care of each other and raise their children in that same love and care, and when they refuse that, for whatever reason, marriage becomes a mockery of itself, denied to be what it is called to be.

The wisdom of the phrase “a defeat for humanity” can be debated. I am not too keen on getting overly dramatic about every setback, but as humanity consists of men and women who are called to find fullfillment in each other and so contribute to humanity as a whole (marriage, after all, is not only for the spouses), I can understand the sentiment expressed by the cardinal.

Is it wise, then, to use these words in the public debate? I don’t think so. While Cardinal Parolin can’t be faulted for being clear, his words are so easily distorted, misunderstood, taken out of context and presented as nothing but a blunt attack. Cardinal Parolin is right in disagreeing with the vote, but I have already seen his words being used to contrast the cardinal with Pope Francis, who has also been quoted and understood out of context on this subject more than once. The cardinal also stated that the result of the referendum must be an invitation for the Church to do more in the field of evangelisation, and that is certainly necessary. In order for the Church to be understood, she must make herself understood. Headlines have their use, but not when they don’t invite to further reading. Any discussion about marriage must either presume knowledge about Catholic doctrine, or explain it.

In this debate, I think that one element is being forgotten: holding on to the traditional definition of marriage is not in any way an invitation to discriminate. When it comes to equal rights in work, income, finances, housing and other opporunities, sexual orientation can be no reason to deny people anything. Even when two people of the same sex decide to share their lives, we should support their equality. We may not agree with it, but it’s  really not our place to refuse basic social rights and opportunities. But society as a whole, as well as children, also have their rights and opportunties. Marriage, however, is more than rights and opportunities. It is the God-given way in which men and women find each other and themselves and in which children receive the home and basis they need to be raised in.

In the end, any debate on topics like this must be based on reason, as it has strong emotional connotations for many. We must acknowledge and understand the emotion, but also know that emotion alone won’t lead to an understanding, a solution or willingness to learn and grow.

The fluidity of doctrine – looking back at the Synod

Bishop Gerard de Korte looks back on the Synod:

bisschop de korte“Pope Francis’ thinking is process-oriented. The Synod (‘journeying together’) which has now ended was a moment on the way. The Church is on her way to a new Synod in October of 2015. In the meanwhile the thinking about sexuality, marriage and family continues in the worldwide community of faith.

Building bridges, not destroying them, as Church is in the spirit of Pope Francis and the Synod. Personally I advocate a ‘ministry of encounter’.

We can’t kick people with marriage problems or other relational worries when they’re down, but we should stand with and help them. In that way we follow in the footsteps of Christ who, as the Good Samaritan, seeks out and heals people who lie wounded on the side of the way of life. Catholic ministry will not repel or write off people but try and meet them in the places where they are. In that, the Catholic shepherd is called to manifest God’s unconditional love for imperfect people.

Media report that the Church wants to be more merciful but that doctrine is unchangeable. I think that is too simplistic. Life means growth and change. That is also true for the life of the Church. Christian teaching knows development (Cardinal John Henry Newman). When our thinking is historical-organical it becomes clear how important the hermeneutic questions are. The doctrine of the Church must continuously be interpreted and communicated. Of course, the spirit of the times can never be a deciding factor in that. He who marries the spirit of the times, is soon widowed. But we should wonder of we have sufficiently probed the wealth of Scripture and Catholic Tradition (Cardinal Reinhard Marx). In that sense the doctrine of the Church must always be actualised to stay close to life.

Going towards the Synod of October 2015, there are important questions on the Church’s agenda. How can we help young people to grow towards the sacrament of marriage? How do we help couples to strengthen and deepen their marriage bond? How do we stand with people who failed and were unable to fulfill their word of faithfulness?

An important questions, it seems to me, is also how love, friendship and affection can take shape for people who do not live within the bond of marriage. In our country millions of people live outside of marriage. The Church traditionally asks them to live in abstinence. But what does this mean in real situations, certainly when we realise that celibate life is a charisma, a gift from God, which few people receive. When we acknowledge that the questions of relationship ‘within the boundaries of Catholic morality become all the more exiting. In short, there is much work to do for the faith community.

Msgr. Dr. Gerard de Korte”

The bishop raises good questions, ones that certainly need answering. But not just theoretical answers. These questions instead need practical solutions, they need to become visible in how the Church acts and speaks, not just how she thinks. That’s what the Synod is about, too: the question of how teachings become reality for people living in the world.

The doctrine of the Church, the rich body of faith that she protects and communicates, is neither completely solid nor completely fluid. Comments about doctrine continuously needing to be interpreted, as made by Bishop de Korte above, are often understood to mean that what the Church once believed to be true, need not be believed anymore (not that am I saying that the bishop holds to this). That is quite simply wrong.

In his most recent blog post, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York writes:

Cardinal-Timothy-Dolan“We Catholics pledge allegiance to what is called a “revealed religion”.  That simply means that we believe that God has told us (“revealed”) certain things about Himself and ourselves through the Bible, through our own nature, especially through His Son, all celebrated and taught by His Church.”

We find this everywhere in the Bible. God reveals Himself to people and over the course of history we get to know Him more and more, and our relationship with Him develops. But at the start, there are certain truths which we know because they have been revealed. These divine truths are unchangeable, as they exist independent of us. So when we say that we must interpret or develop doctrine, we always have these revealed truths as our solid basis. Does that limit us? Perhaps it does, but only because it’s not only about us. God is the other party in the relationship and His contributions, His truth about Himself, creation and human nature and purpose, must equally be acknowledged.

Developing doctrine must be understood as increasing our knowledge and understanding of it, building on what we already know. That deeper understanding is one step, the communication and manifestation of it is another. And that, again, is what the Synod is intended to encourage.

But, as a final aside, not every doctrine is dogmatic (ie. held to be absolutely and unchanging true). Non-dogmatic teachings and practices, such as certain rituals and traditions of the Church, can certainly change. But if we want to change them, we must always ask ourselves: why do want them to change, and why do we have them in the first place? Perhaps then we’ll find that it is sometimes better to hold onto teachings, instead of doing away with them.

“We have learnt that God is with you” – New bishop of Passau looks ahead

As Germany’s youngest ordinary came into his own, he outlined the goals and direction of the Church in the Diocese of Passau. Bishop Stefan Oster was consecrated on Saturday by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, metropolitan of the province of which Passau is a part, and Bishop Wilhelm Schraml, the retired bishop of Passau, and Archbishop Alois Kothgasser, retired ordinary of Salzburg in Austria, who Bishop Oster succeeded as professor of dogmatics at Benediktbeuern Abbey. The passage below comes from the new bishop’s closing remarks, at the end of the Mass at Passau’s cathedral of St. Stephen.


“In these biographical notes, something is visible of what in my opinion is central to the direction of our Church in the future. In the first and foremost place it is about relationship. In the very first place a living, deep and supporting relationship with Christ. Be confident that that really exists, that it is not just a matter of thoughts and words, but that the encounter with the Lord really and concrete fulfills, supports,  transforms and in the deepest sense of the word can save and sanctify a life.

This is the miracle: the encounter of Jesus with us already exists in all of us, most especially in all who are baptised. The Lord is already there in each and everyone one of us. And that is why we, as Church, are already a community of encounter and witness, even before we do something. But the Holy Spirit likes us to work with Him. That is why all of us, who already belong to Christ, are also called to put this encounter into practice, to deepen it and also to help one another to enter more deeply into this encounter and to open up to one another again – and so to bring our Church in Passau and everywhere else to love in His power. We are called to be witnesses to each other of the presence of Jesus in our lives: in word and action. Another assignment for the future is also that we really open one another up to make new spaces for encounter and communication of faith, in which we can honestly and openly ask, seek, worship God and also give witness. We need this space, because in it the sacraments can once again be new nourishment and a new wellspring for us. We need them because, for example, they allow us not to leave the central mystery of the Eucharist as a 45-minute visit to the Church behind us, but actually the source and summit of our Christian life, as the last Council tells us.

I am also convinced that we do not have to let ourselves be divided into camps, standing against one another in the end. Of course there are more conservative and more liberal Christians, but we must be careful not to become a cliché and a caricature for the other. So I want to invite us: let’s maintain the dialogue and share the way. Let’s not demonise each other, because the other is seemingly part of the other camp. Let’s trust each other, and acknowledge that the other is also honestly seeking God – and for exactly that reason considers certain things especially important.

In the liturgy booklet you have seen that my motto is: “The victory of truth is love”. We sometimes find in our Church that some insist perhaps too much on the truth, and then sometimes succumb to the temptation of thinking that honest compassion for the neighbour is secondary, only an option when everything is formally correct. And we also see the opposite, a great multiplicity of affection for the neighbour or even the demand for this gift, but with little concern for the truth, given the great variety of situations in life. Dear sisters and brothers, both lead to marginalisation: truth without love remains abstract and ultimately betrays the one who, as Truth, is at the same time Love personified. And the other way around: Love without truth often does not even deserve the name Love, because it ultimately leads to arbitrariness. The united middle road, truth lived as love and vice versa: Love which testifies of the truth, this middle road leads to victory and has a Christian name: holiness.

Of course, holiness is a very big word, but don’t you think that holiness has, in the first place, to do with your or mine ability? It’s not a sort of competition sport in prayer or spiritual exercises. Holiness grows in the hearts of all people who always open themselves anew to the love of God, who allow themselves to be really touched and transformed by it. Holiness grows in who honestly seek Jesus, love Him and let themselves be loved by Him. Holiness is then God’s will for all of us, not just for bishop or all so-called ‘professional’ Christians. It is rather that the bishop, the priest, the deacon and all men and women who are called to the service of the Church, also have this vocation, as they help others to discover ever deeper that they are also called to holiness, to the deepest belonging to Christ.

Dear sisters and brothers, everywhere where this mystery of holiness shines out anew in one or more people, there the Church begins to grow anew, there people are being touched by a presence,which works more than a mere assembly of people could. There people are attracted and meaningful, encouraging, yes, life-changing encounter with the Lord take place. And then a prophecy is fulfilled, which the Prophet Zechariah spoke in the Old Testament, before the Messianic era (Zech. 8:23): “In those days,” we read there, “In those days, ten men from nations of every language will take a Jew by the sleeve and say: We want to go with you, since we have learnt that God is with you.” We, the Church of Passau and of course also beyond, we are these Jews. For we live in the time in which the Messiah, the lion of Judah, has already been seen, is already known. We are people who are related to Him, who carry His name. Let us then learn anew to know and love one another, so that the people also come to us and say, “We want to go with you, since we have learnt that God is with you.””

Away with celibacy! – If 26 Italian ladies get their way

Several media reported today that 26 Italian women wrote a letter to Pope Francis asking him to do away with that nasty old rule called celibacy for priests. The reason? They are in love, have been in love, or want to be in love with their parish priest and they can’t do anything because the priest is unavailable because of his vow of celibacy.

This causes suffering, the ladies say. Suffering is bad, so let’s do away with the reason for their pain, they suggest to the Pope.

What immediately sprung to my mind was this question: what if these women had fallen in love with married men? That can happen, after all. Shouldn’t they ask the Pope to get rid of that nasty old sacrament of matrimony? After all, it makes the objects of their affection unattainable. That hurts.

Celibacy and matrimony are of course not completely comparable. The one is a human construct with serious spiritual benefits, the other a sacrament from God that we people are given to accept or not, as we choose. But both are entered into freely and in full knowledge of what they entail (at least, one should seriously hope so!). Both help the persons involved – husband and wife, priest of the Lord – reach their full potential according to what God calls them to.

I’m not denying that the women in question are not suffering. Unrequited love is painful, there is no doubt about that. But we must not forget that there are things that are impossible. That can be a learning process, and looking back later we may find that it was good to go through it. Simply calling whatever stands in their way – in this case celibacy – an obstacle to be removed does a great disservice to all involved.

Loving the Lord – Cardinal Parolin’s homily at the consecration of Archbishop van Megen

Below is the full text of the homily that Pietro Cardinal Parolin gave yesterday at the consecration of Archbishop Bert van Megen, in the cathedral of Roermond. He gave his homily in English, but since there is no video of this that I could find, I have translated the text from the Dutch translation back to English. Here’s hoping the general intention of it remained intact.

parolin tomasi“Your Excellencies, honoured guests, dear Monsignor Bert and family, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

It’s a special joy to me to preside over the consecration of Monsignor Hubertus van Megen, who has been named by our Holy Father as titular archbishop of Novaliciana and to Apostolic Nuncio of Sudan. On the occasion of this joyful event, Pope Francis asked me to share his heartfelt greetings as well as his communion with all present here. It is a time of great joy for all of us who have come together here in this cathedral today, but for you, dear Monsignor Bert, it is a time of gratitude for all the blessing which God has granted you over the years. Today you are surrounded by your parents and family, your friends and your brothers, the priests of this local Church of Roermond. This Church first raised you in the faith, you were ordained a priest for here and here you spent the first years of your priestly ministry. You also bring to the joy of this day the years of studying in Rome and your considerable experience in the diplomatic service of the Holy See, most recently in Zambia and Malawi. You are now called to return all of this to God and serve Him and new way and with greater responsibility. Today you will be consecrated to be a successor of the Apostles, a herald of the Gospel and a shepherd of Christ’s flock, with the special duty of representing the vicar of Christ in his concern for the Church in the entire world, yes, in his care for the entire human family.

naamloos-6769The rich symbolism of the rite of consecration eloquently speaks of the continuity of the Church’s faith and life throughout the centuries. Through the imposition of hands and the invoking of the Holy Spirit you will be welcomed to the College of Bishops. This college succeeds in all ages the Apostle to whom the Lord Jesus entrusted the care of His flock. So you, Monsignor Bert, will become a link in a living chain which  goes back uninterrupted to Jesus Himself, and will continue to the end of times, according to His promise. It will be your duty to preach the Gospel of salvation integrally, to take care of strengthening the Church community in faith and, by the celebration of the sacraments, to work for the distribution of the Kingdom of Christ in truth and life, holiness and mercy, love and peace.

“Do you love me?”, “Feed my lambs”; “Look after my sheep” (Joh. 21:15-17). Jesus’ words to the Apostle Peter in today’s Gospel are especially applicable to someone who, like Monsignor van Megen, is called to be both bishop and Papal Nuncio. These words remind us that the task of the bishop, his ministry, must first and foremost be based on his personal love for Jesus Christ and his personal relationship with the Good Shepherd. Every day Jesus asks the bishops again, “Do you love me?” In essence this questions is of course also directed to every Christian; each one of us is called to know and love the Lord. During this time of Easter we have contemplated how every one of has died in Baptism and risen to a new life in Christ, how we received the gift of His Holy Spirit and a call to share in the mission of the Church.

parolin van megenBut the Lord’s question – “Do you love me?” – is directed in a special way to those who are also called to shepherd His flock with apostolic authority. It is meaningful that the new bishop receives the ring during the rite of consecration, the symbol of His unconditional love for the Lord and His Church, before receiving the crosier, the symbol of his pastoral authority. Pope Francis reminded us that it is the shepherd’s task to go before the flock as its guide, but also to walk with the flock as a disciple, to listen to its voice and sense where the Holy Spirit, the source of every gift and mission, wants to lead it. “For you I a a shepherd,” Saint Augustine said, “but with you I a a Christian” (Serm. 340:1). To be a loyal shepherd requires those virtues that Saint Paul presents in the first reading today: integrity following from a personal conversion, honest and frank witness to the truth and self-sacrifice in service to all, faithful and non-faithful (cf 2 Kor. 4:1-2;5-7).

If all this is true for every bishop, it is all the more true for the bishop who is also a Nuncio, a personal representative of the Successor of Peter, the rock on whom the Lord built His Church (cf. Matt. 16:18). As a concrete sign of the communion of the local Churches with the Holy See in Rome, the ministry of the Apostolic Nuncio is exercised in a manifestly universal sense: in service to the mission of the Church, he is called to promote the unity in mind and heart of the bishops with the Pope, to confirm his brothers in loyalty to the Gospel and the mission of the Church and to foster a spirit of authentic ecclesiastical community in every aspect of the life of the local Churches. He is also called to everywhere encourage those seeds of justice and peace, which are the leaven of God’s Kingdom. For as we know, the Church is the sign and sacrament of a new mankind, reconciled and renewed in Christ.

Archbishop van Megen introduces his parents to Cardinal Parolin

Dear Monsignor Bert, in the exercise of your own episcopal ministry you are sent as a representative of the Holy Father to Sudan, a country that is dear to him, a country that has suffered greatly in recent years from violence and civil unrest. In unity with the bishops of that country, you will be called to proclaim, in word and example, a Gospel of reconciliation, forgiveness and mercy. In a special way you will also be called to support the Christian community in Sudan, a small flock which nonetheless is very dear to God. Confirm the in their faith and in their loyalty to the great commandment of loving God and the neighbour. In this way you will perform your mission which you receive today: by making, “as a servant for Jesus’ sake”, the glory of God visible as it is revealed in the crucified and risen Lord (cf. 2 Kor. 4:5-7), and by encouraging your brothers and sisters to trust in His victory over the powers of sin and death.

Now that you are preparing for your consecration and your new responsibilities, know that you can count on the mercy that this sacrament hold, on the confidence and prayers of the Holy Father and on our own prayer, friendship and support. We commend you and your ministry to the protection of Saint Josephine Bakhita, a great daughter of Sudan and an excellent witness to the power of God’s mercy to redeem and transform even the most difficult situations. May the Risen Lord always support you in His love and bear rich fruits from the ministry that is about to be entrusted to you. Amen.”

All photos: Bisdom Roermond