The travelling pope

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States during a previous trip abroad

Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States during a previous trip abroadPope John Paul II was of course the greatest travelling pontiff of all time, making 104 trips to 129 countries in his 26-year pontificate. That is more visits abroad than all the other popes combined. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, being rather older at the start of his pontificate and of a more private nature, doesn’t come near to that, and very likely has no intention of doing so. But that doesn’t mean he’ll automatically turn down invites to come and visit a place or country. This year he has no less than five trips abroad planned.

The first trip will be a short two-day visit on 17 and 18 April to Malta, where he’ll obviously meet with local dignitaries of state and Church, and he’ll also pray at the cave where St. Paul was shipwrecked on his way to Rome, as mentioned in chapter 28 of the Acts of the Apostles.

In May, the Holy Father will be in Portugal from 11 to 14 May. He’ll visit Fatima there, the site where the Blessed Virgin appeared to three children in 1917.

The Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, the Sagrada Família, still under construction

In June he’ll go to Cyprus, in part to hand the Middle Eastern bishops the working documents of the Synod on the Middle East to be held in October.

The September trip to the United Kingdom is highly anticipated, partly because rumour has it that the pope will personally beatify the Venerable John Henry Newman, and also because of the recent document Anglicanorum Coetibus on the relations with the Anglicans. There are visits planned to sites in both England and Scotland.

The fifth trip was only recently announced: in November, the pope will travel to Spain to visit Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona. He’ll be in Santiago because of the 900th anniversary of the dedication of the basilica there, and in Barcelona he will consecrate the Sagrada Família, Antoní Gaudi’s massive church that has been under construction since 1882. That consecration Mass should be something to behold.

Over the course of each trip the pope will speak publically at various locations and I expect that a fair few of these addresses will stir up the media. I look forward to offering at least a sampling of those texts and issues here, both in English and in Dutch.

Advertisements

Church and politics

Johannes Cardinal de Jong (1885-1955) was chairman of the Dutch bishops'conference when the mandate of 1954 was published.

Since the counterproductive reception of the episcopal mandate of 1954 – which, among rather a lot else, forbade Catholics to be members of socialist parties and unions – the Dutch bishops have refrained from giving any advice on how to vote. An understandable thing to do, perhaps, certainly considering the climate of the decades to follow: Vatican II and the minor storm of iconoclasm that followed, and the general distrust of anything organised, including religion, in the 1960s. But at the same time, it is at odds with the bishops’ duties as shepherds. They are tasked to lead Christ’s flock, after all, in all things faith-related. Deciding on who to vote for may certainly be influenced by a person’s beliefs, so an episcopal declaration on what parties are more in line with Catholic thought and which are not would not be too strange.

Before the good old ‘separation of Church and State’ is dragged out again, it would be good to realise that no such thing actually exists in the Dutch constitution. As Tom Zwitser points out, the constitution speaks of a much more diffuse relation between Church and State. The concept of freedom of religion – which is a constitutional right – is much more applicable here. Of course, Church and State should not be at odds with one another, but in certain cases the relation between can certainly be mutually beneficial. And as for the individual voter: he or she gets inundated with all manner of advice on who to vote for anyway…

That said, the bishops’ conference maintains their position of not officially indicating parties that Catholics should not vote for, although they can certainly offer their own personal opinions. Bishop Gerard de Korte did so quite recently, and while he did warn against the trend of populism in politics (as he has done since 2007), no party is to be expressly excluded, he says.

Fr. Harm Schilder

Although the bishops reiterated their position in 2006, saying that it is not up to the Church to recommend specific parties,  “but to put forward those issues that the Church considers important”, individual priests do sometimes speak out against specific parties. Recently, Father Harm Schilder, parish priest in Tilburg and focus of a long-running conflict about his church bells and the volume they are said to produce before early morning Mass, did so in his homily on Sunday:

“The parties who were expressly against the ringing of the church bells were the PvdA, Greenleft and the SP [left wing parties all]. They are also against the Church. They are allowed to. But it is desireable that churchgoers do not fall for that at the upcoming elections. As the old saying goes: do not kiss the hand of he who hits you.”

Although this is clearly an advice based on a specific local issue, it’s no less valid for it. Local politics will slightly differ per city and from national politics, but they do affect each other. The PvdA leading the call for protests at Mass in ‘s Hertogenbosch, for example, is in my opinion a clear indication that I can’t in good conscience vote for them in tomorrow’s municipal elections (if I was thinking of doing that, I might add).

The importance of politics and elections is for me a natural reason to look for advice and guidance from the corners that also help me in other situations. The Church in her teachings and personified in priests and bishops is one of those. I believe there is much to be gained with a bishops’ conference that is not afraid to speak out clearly and publically on matters, to offer advice when needed. That will certainly lead to much resentment initially, both within and without the Church. After all, we are a people that does not like being told what to do. But sometimes we need it. We needed it as children, and since we never stop growing up and learning, we will always need it.

In the temple in Jerusalem, old Simeon warned the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph that Jesus would be “a sign that is opposed” (Luke 2, 34). The same will be true for anyone who chooses to follow Him.

Fr. Manfred Hauke responds to his critics

Father Manfred Hauke, he of the Medjugorje criticism, has given an interview to answer criticism against his person and his statements about Medjugorje and the so-called apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary there. The original text of the interview is on Kath.net, and Catholic Light offers an English translation. Following my previous post about this, I  offer Fr. Hauke’s comments in Dutch.

In my parish, Medjugorje leaflets are luckily rare. In the past there used to be adverts for pilgrimages to Medjugorje in the parish bulletin, but that seems to be suppressed by either the cathedral administrator or the diocese. In what I can only assume was a freak coincidence, a lady handing out leaflets of Medjugorje appeared in the same week that Fr. Hauke’s interview was published. I politely declined when she wanted to give one to me.

The problem of Medjugorje

The alleged pilgrimage site Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina has recently been in the news again. The site, where the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared virtually daily since 1981, was visited by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, despite the fact that Rome does not acknowledge the apparitions as authentic. Local Bishop Ratko Peric had to explain that fact once more.

Medjugorje is a popular place for thousands of pilgrims, and the prayer, conversion and sacraments received there are often considered evidence for the authenticity of the site. So what is the problem?

Mariologist and theologian Fr. Manfred Hauke (pictured) was asked about that by German Catholic news paper Die Tagespost. It’s an interesting read, sometimes a bit heavy on theology (not that that’s a bad thing), and it emphasises some of the dubious claims made by the seers and priests associated with Medjugorje, and also presses for clarity and openness about it from the side of the Church.

Because of Medjugorje’s enormous popularity, especially among European pilgrims, I thought it important to also have the interview available in Dutch. Many Dutch parishes and other Catholic organisations still perform pilgrimages to Medjugorje. These are even advertised in national Catholic newspapers. Like Fr. Hauke says:  “If a new investigative commission reaches a recognition that certain characteristics indissolubly connected with the phenomenon of the apparitions speak against their authenticity, then the love of truth demands that this be made known with all clarity and that Catholic Christians be warned expressly against “pilgrimages”.

An English version of the interview has been duly translated by Catholic Light.

The Presentation of the Lord

Today’s Gospel reading is among my favourites. On this day of the Presentation of the Lord, we read verses 22 to 40 from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke: 

And when the day came for them to be purified in keeping with the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what is written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is prescribed in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. 

Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to the restoration of Israel and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said: Now, Master, you are letting your servant go in peace as you promised; for my eyes have seen the salvation which you have made ready in the sight of the nations; a light of revelation for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel. 

As the child’s father and mother were wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’ 

There was a prophetess, too, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came up just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem. 

When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him. 

Simeon the Righteous by Alexey Yegorov

 

It is a very rich text. It starts out with a firm connection to the Old Testament; the Law of Moses, which Mary and Joseph intend to fulfill by consecrating their first-born to the Lord. 

In Simeon and Anna they encounter a link to the future, the coming salvation of Israel. The expectation of Simeon and the elation of Anna are touching. After a long life they find peace in God’s fulfilled promise to His people. Simeon’s prayer is one that the Church still prays every night at compline, the last prayers of the day. 

The Church sees Simeon warning to Mary – ‘Look, he is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare’ – as a warning to the Church. Christ is indeed a sign that is opposed. We see that every day, and as such the Church will always meet opposition too. In fact, it may be one of her purposes, to lay bare the secrets thoughts of many. Christ is confrontational. 

Of course, for Mary personally, Simeon’s words are prophetic too. Her soul would indeed be pierced when she stands under the Cross. 

The Church traditionally celebrates this feast with a procession with and blessing of candles. Christ is symbolised by the candles as the light of the world, and brought into His temple, the altar in the sanctuary.

“The Belgian Church has been too passive”

The rumours of Bishop Léonard of Namur succeeding Cardinal Danneels have become more certain today. The VRT reports that the Belgian bishops were informed yesterday, but the Archdiocese immediately stated that no news would be forthcoming until Monday. The media however, speculate heartily about the pros and cons of an Archbishop Léonard, but it is perhaps much more interesting to see who this man is.

In 2006, news outlet Knack interviewed Bishop Léonard. It is pretty thorough and portrays Msgr. Léonard as an eloquent, educated and orthodox man.

“The Belgian Church has been too passive”

“We all live off the faith,” he says. “There are few things we can control ourselves. For example, I believe that my car works . I put my faith in the people who designed and built my car. And that faith is justified. Likewise I can have good reasons to believe in other people, in people who are believable.”

He smiles. “If I wanted to get to know you, I can collect all kinds of information about your person. I can talk with people who know you personally. But I’ll get the most reliable information when you sit across from me, when you reveal yourself to me. If you’re believable I will accept that revelation in faith. That is also how my faith in God works. I put my trust in the word of God who revealed himself to us.”

André-Mutien Léonard is not only tipped as successor to Cardinal Danneels, but also portrayed as his complete opposite. The conservative bishop of Namur caused a stir recently because he questioned scientific research into embryonic stem cells. In his position on euthanasia or homosexuality he point-blank follows the strict teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

But let’s start at the beginning. At the foundation of his concept of man. “You must excuse me if I sometimes formulate things a bit philosophically,” he begins. “I have taught philosophy for more than 20 years, first in Louvain, later in Louvain-la-Neuve. I prefer to answer thoroughly. What is your first question?”

Is man a superior species of animal or a pretentious ape?

ANDRÉ-MUTIEN LÉONARD: The great Greek philosopher Aristotle already said that man is an animal in possession of logos, reason. Of course, as humans, we are also conditioned by our bodies, by our connection to physical nature. But yet we are also capable of distancing ourselves from that nature, from that environment. That is characteristic of man. He is, to use the famous words of Blaise Pascal, a thinking reed. In a way man is insignificant compared to the immensity of the universe. But if the universe would squash man tomorrow, it would not be aware of that, but man will.

Other animals also have a form of consciousness.

LÉONARD: Of course. Animals also respond in an adapted manner to their surrounding, but they are not aware of the deeper meaning of those responses. They also do not develop strategies to fundamentally change their environment. That is why animals have no history, no culture. A modern cat leads roughly the same life as a cat in ancient Egypt. Only man has the capacity to change his environment. Animals respond to what is, man can also consider that which is not. And so he has the pretense to say: things are not as they should be. And so man is an animal that creates values and norms. Animals do not do that.

It didn’t make us really happy, did it?

LÉONARD: (laughs) Exactly, that is precisely it. I used to give this example to my students: give a cat a tomcat, some kittens, a ball of wool, some milk and a basket to sleep in. I don’t think that a cat in those circumstances would long for a different world. That is totally different for humans. Give someone as much money and fun as he can handle and he still won’t be happy. That is because man is not just attuned to those who are, to paraphrase Heidegger, but also on Being itself. Man transcends this world.

What do you mean with ‘transcend’?

LÉONARD: Let me give you an example. When I ask a student to prove that the sum of the three angles of an euclidean triangle is 180 degrees, he will make a few diagrams. Everything that happens there, happens in accordance with the laws of nature. Neurological reactions in the student’s brain, chemical reaction, and so on. But at the same time something more happens. Namely the thoughts, the reflection of that student. We can’t reduce that to exclusively chemical, biological and physical reactions.

Not reduce, but explain by.

LÉONARD: Partially, but not completely. The operation of my brain cells is not enough to explain why I can think, desire and love… There is something else at work in the development of our human capacities.

You mean God?

LÉONARD: (laughs) It is interesting that you now suddenly mention God, and not I. I don’t like it when people want to introduce God prematurely into science of philosophy. Everything in its place. The question of God comes later. I just want to emphasise the fact that our thinking can not be reduced to the infrastructure of thought. By the way, there is something else which should be mentioned in this context. Why is the sum of the three angles of an euclidean triangle 180 degrees? Not because of the chemical reactions on the student’s brain, is it? Not because he has proven it is so? No, it is true because it is an eternal truth. Mathematical truths can also not be reduced to the structure of our thoughts.

Then who or what is God for you?

LÉONARD: (bracing himself) The first important question is: where does the information come from that precedes us and that works in the world? We know by now that matter is able to organise itself. But some information must be available before that. Elemental particles already contain some information. Where does that come from?

Nobody knows.

LÉONARD: But everyone wonders. There are two possible answers. Either matter has no beginning and is therefore eternal. But there is a problem with that. In our experience information is always preceded by thought. Information can never exist by itself. But it is clear that humans are not at the source of information. That is why there is a second possibility: at the origin of matter is a thought, a desire. Not ours, but a different thought, a different desire. Namely, Gods.

How do you picture that God?

LÉONARD: It is a personal God. If I were to believe in an impersonal God, God would be a sort of anonymous energy without consciousness. While I do have that. But I can certainly not be greater than God. So I picture God als someone who is also able to think and want. Another way to consider God is through Liebniz’s question: why is there something and not nothing? Why does something exist? That is also a way to God. Not just to God as the architect of those who are, but as creater of Being.

How do you see man? Optimistic or pessimistic?

LÉONARD: Both. It is typically Catholic to have a rather optimistic concept of humanity. As opposed to Luther, for example. He was convinced that human nature is thoroughly rotten. The Catholic Church has a more humanist vision. We’ll never say that man is totally rotten, but we will claim that human nature is damaged. That is what we mean by original sin. We have a deep desire for good, but also have the urge to act selfishly.

Did God want that?

LÉONARD: No, this world is not necessarily in accordance with the wishes of the creator. In the Christian faith we have an historical approach to reality. There is an original situation before man, so before sin. There is the current situation. And there are the new heaven and the new earth, which have already been announced by the resurrection of Christ.

Is it our duty to fulfill this world? Or will God do that?

LÉONARD: It is our responsibility to improve the current state of the world, knowing that we will never make it into a paradise. We can improve a lot, but we can also destroy much – but the final change will come from above. Everything we do to improve the world is like a foretaste of what is to come. Just like the miracles of Jesus in the gospel: those were also not definitive solutions. All the people that Jesus healed, fell ill again later. And the people he brought back to life, did not stay alive forever.

So Lazarus died twice.

LÉONARD: And they had to pay for his funeral twice. (laughs) Those miracles of Jesus were no definitive solutions. But they were signs, a promise, a prophecy. The message is that humanity is not created to suffer and to die.

What do you say then to people who suffer and lose their faith because of that?

LÉONARD: That I understand them. I detest it when I hear that people in the Church tone down the unacceptable character of evil. We can never say that evil is not so bad, as certain theologians do. That God created the world out of a certain didactic concern, to teach us how to fulfill this world. I don’t believe that. But a God who reasons like that would be a sadistic God. Of course fighting the troubles of life is a way to grow. But suffering can never be explained by that. I’d rather become an atheist myself.

What is your explanation of evil then? That God wanted it?

LÉONARD: No, certainly not! If I may use a philosphical term, I’d call evil contingent – something that exists, but does not necessarily have to exist. It exists, but could just as easily not have existed at all. That is why I think it is so important that we keep interpreting the original sin as a spoiling of the world, not as a required element of it.

Where does that spoiling come from?

LÉONARD: It is made possible because of the freedom of creatures. I find it normal that we were not created as creatures who perceive God’s majesty from the very start. There would not have been any room for free choice. And it is part of the dignity of man that he can choose his first steps of his existence himself. With all their conseuqences, because it also means that man can place himself above his creator. The origin of evil lies in the freedom of man.

Good comes from God, evil from what we do ourselves?

LÉONARD: Yes, that is our reasoning. The modern world, in which evil is so prominently present, is not part of the original intention of the creator. God is not content with the current situation. God has no sympathy for evil.

Why doesn’t he intervene?

LÉONARD: (sighs) That is the hardest question there is. And it is difficult to answer in words. Someone suffering does not want to hear an intellectual explanation. You could say that their decline and death are in accordance to the laws of nature. And that’s good, because life would be horrible if we lived eternally, biologically speaking. Imagine if we lived forever, who would want to be in charge of pensions? (laughs) Who would dare to promise to be faithful to his partner? A hundred years? Five hundred years? A thousand years? Admit it, it would be unbearable.

Death makes life bearable?

LÉONARD: It does. (Suddenly serious) But that message will not comfort a mother who has lost her child. That is impossible. A possible answer can be found in the death of Christ on the cross and his exclamation of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (silent) I find that extraordinary. It is more than an answer. Right now, as we are talking here, there are people who ask: where is God? Well, Jesus died with that question on his lips.

Is there an answer yet?

LÉONARD: There is no immediate answer, no. But the fact that Jesus asked that question means that God is solidary with what we go through and experience here on earth. Therefore we are not alone in our misery. That is still not a satisfactory explanation, but it is something. God does not agree with evil. And it will end. The current world is not the pinnacle of God’s creation.

Don’t you ever doubt your faith?

LÉONARD: Not doubt, no. I do ask myself questions, yes. That’s very normal. I sometimes wonder if I didn’t base my entire life on an illusion. (silence) But a few seconds later I have both feet on the ground again: the figure of Christ in the gospel is so convincing that I give him back my faith immediately.

You have three brothers, who all became priests as well. What did your parents add to the food, if I may be so bold?

LÉONARD: (amused) That is rather unusual, I know. And that’s good, or our birth rate would never rise again. You know, I never knew my father. I was born on 6 May 1940 and baptised on 10 May, the day the war started. My father died on 16 May. He was mobilised to work on telephone connections and was killed during one of the first bombings. In his diary I later read that he used to dream of becoming a priest as a boy. But he couldn’t because he didn’t take humanities in school. My mother was a simple and devout woman, like most women in those days. We prayed at home, but not excessively much or anything. But when I was five I already knew for certain that I wanted to be a priest.

Why such a young vocation?

LÉONARD: I don’t know. I felt it. I thought the liturgy was beautiful, even though I didn’t understand it. I liked the prayer. Of course I didn’t know what it meant to be a priest, but I wanted to be with the Lord. At my first Communion, in 1946, I told Jesus: I want to be a priest. But my mother was unaware. When I was seven my first brother left for seminary. Two or three years later my second brother followed, and later my third brother did. And when I was eighteen, I told my mother I would also go to seminary.

Didn’t your mother tell you to choose a different profession?

LÉONARD: (laughs) No. She didn’t encourage us, but wasn’t opposed to it either. When I told her she only said that she already know I would become a priest as well.

How do you think the Church should get more vocations?

LÉONARD: When the Church no longer believes in it herself, when she given the impression that priest are no longer really necessary… well, no one is going to want to be a priest anymore. That is why it’s so interesting to be a little conservative. By that I mean: wanting to keep the things that are truly of great value.

What is your first question to a candidate priest?

LÉONARD: I must verify if that person wants to be a priest to serve the Lord and the Church and the people. Not because he has nowhere else to go. I must also verify if he is balanced, if his vocation is not a dream or an illusion.

Must you also ask if he is homosexual?

LÉONARD: That is indeed an important point. It is very meaningful for a priest that he is a man. Why don’t we ordain women? Not because they’re not capable. On the contrary. But a priest is someone who acts in the person of Christ. And theologically speaking, Christ is the bridegroom of the Church. Who does the Church symbolise? A woman: Mary. And who represent Christ as the bridegroom of the Church? Men. (shows his ring) That is why the bishop is a man and wears a ring. The ring symbolises that I must love my diocese and my people as a man loves his wife.

Why not like a man loves his husband?

LÉONARD: Since a priest must be a man, he must also be at peace with his manhood.

Homosexuals are, aren’t they?

LÉONARD: The fact that we are men and women is very meaningful. Sexuality comes from Latin: secare, to cut. Sexuality has to do with the difference between man and woman. If someone has evolved that he feels no normal attraction to the other sex, than something is wrong.

There isn’t. Homosexuality is perfectly natural.

LÉONARD: But the difference between man and woman is part of our essence. Not just our biological essence, but also our philosophical essence. Living according to our man- or womanhood is to me different than living according to only our biological nature.

Do you understand that a lot of people think the Catholic position on homosexuality is unacceptable?

LÉONARD: If you think that my position is connected to the Catholic faith, you should read Freud on homosexuality.

Freud was scientifically inconsequential.

LÉONARD: (sighs) It is an interesting problem, but I don’t think we can resolve it in a few minutes. You know my answer. By the way, my position on homosexuality is connected to a great respect for homosexuals. We may never confuse a judegment of homosexuality with a judgement of the homosexuals.

Another controversial topic is the research into embryonic stem cells. Aren’t you a member of the board of the Université Catholique de Louvain and yet you had requested a report on scientific research at that university.

LÉONARD: People want to turn that into a sort of Watergate now. But what is really going on? A friend proposed to make an inventory of the research involving embryos at the UCL. Based on public data. It has nothing to do with espionage and secrecy. And it was certainly not my intention to send everything on to Rome. They are very well aware of what happens here, by the way.

It is said you wanted to make a good impression in Rome, because you want to succeed Cardinal Danneels in 2008.

LÉONARD: (laughs) I can’t forbid anyone from thinking or writing that. But is not correct. I am not concerned with the succession of Cardinal Danneels. I don’t control it, so it’s not my problem.

What is the problem of embryonic research?

LÉONARD: Us having the pleasure of talking with each other here, is due to the fact that were respected in the past, as embryos. Across the world, there are milions of embryos confined to an absurd fate, being stuck in freezers. They remain frozen, or are destroyed, or are used for scientific research. That is all unacceptable.

Do you consider embryos full-fledged human life?

LÉONARD: Of course. There is no discontinuity bertween the embryo and the person who is born. And the embryo is the most vulnerable creature on earth. We’ve all been embryos, in our mother’s womb. No, such research is not acceptable to me. And there are scientific alternatives, such as adult stem cells.

Do you think that the Belgian Church has been too quiet in the last years on important ethical topics?

LÉONARD: I think it is painful that there hasn’t been a bigger reaction to the euthanasia laws in Belgium, for example. We are too passive. The reactions from the Church and the people is much more intense in France, Italy, Spain and even Germany. (silence) In our society we do so much to make death possible, that we eventually don’t put any effort into life.

If I ask for euthanasia, am I doing something wrong?

LÉONARD: Yes, you are doing something wrong. In the first place because it is not necessary. These days, palliative care is very effective in 98 percent of cases, allowing us to die in human dignity, without unbearable suffering.

And if I am among those two percent?

LÉONARD: Then there is still the option of sedation, eliminating consciousness. But the second and much more important reason that you are doing something wrong, is that death is never a totally private affair, but also affects the general wellbeing. I may have the idea that euthanasia is the ideal solution for you in your specific situation. But that assumes the presence of doctors and nurses and chemists who are going to help with that. In favour of your personal solution you have to demand a change in the profession of the doctor. He no longer exists to heal people, but also to let people die.

And if we define a doctor as someone who relieves suffering by healing are by letting people die with dignity?

LÉONARD: Helping to die can have a positive meaning. But our society knows a fundamental prohibition: Thou shalt not kill. When we do that anyway, it is a significant danger. And there is something else. If you use euthanasia like this, you may spread this attitude to other people who lose faith. It can lead to a certain dejection in society. I consider the problem of euthanasia to be very characteristic of our society, where individualism is always given priority. Everyone does things their way and we lose sight of the general wellbeing.

In the action for people without papers you have been getting a lot of respect from progressive circles. You have even housed people in your episcopal palace.

LÉONARD: Yes, ten people have stayed here, in a very pleasant atmosphere. These are people who speak our language, who are perfectly integrated, whose children have been going to school here for years. I think it is unacceptable that they live in uncertainty for so long. I know we can’t take care of all asylum seeker, but we need clear rules. It is my duty to help people. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus says: “What you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

In closing: what is the purpose of life, monsignor?

LÉONARD: The purpose of life is to prepare for a life that never perishes. We are on a launch platform, so to speak. We can use the years we spend here on earth to get to know God, so that we are not homeless when we come to Him later. The purpose of life, in other words, is to know the deeper meaning of our existence as well as possible. Why do I exist? What am I doing here? What is the ultimate goal of this existence? And I find all those answers thanks to my faith.

How can someone who lost it, rediscover his faith?

LÉONARD: By being open to the figure of Christ in the gospel. Or by getting in touch with people who witness of a deep faith. Or by doing what Charles de Foucauld did. He was a French soldier in the late nineteenth century who had lost his faith and led a very frivolous life. Looking for peace, he walked into a church and there he uttered a spontaneous and honest prayer. I have often recommended this prayer to my students in Louvain. Seigneur, mon Dieu, si vous existez, manifestez-vous à moi. God, if you really exist, reveal yourself to me. That is the only thing you can do, being willing to open your heart to God.

Joël De Ceulaer

A cardinal bids his farewell

Yesterday, today and tomorrow, Godfried Cardinal Danneels, archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels and primate of the Belgian Church Province, bids his official farewell. At 76 years of age, it is time for him to retire. There is no successor yet, but the general expectation is that it won’t be long until Rome names one, and that that will coincide with the official acceptance of the cardinal’s resignation by the pope. Here is the homily he deliver today in Brussels.

It is a very eloquent piece of writing that even touches upon some of the points raised by Msgr. Marini on adoration and liturgy.

 “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven”, Ecclesiastes says (Ecl. 3,1). There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, a time to start and a time to go. Shepherds come and shepherds go. But there is one Shepherd who continues to take care of you: “the great Shepherd of the sheep” (Heb. 13,20). And He, He remains: the Christ.

And that Shepherd should the be the focus of today. Jesus. With the author of the Letter to the Hebrews I say: “all you who are holy brothers and share the same heavenly call should turn your minds to Jesus, the apostle and the high priest of our profession of faith.”(Heb. 3,1)

Lift your eyes to Jesus

There is much that can frighten us when we look ahead: the crisis, the Church in the tempest, far fewer people and means and many who search and do not find the way. May I ask you, brothers and sisters, to keep looking towards Jesus? As the Gospel says: He sleeps in the bow of the ship of the Church in the tempest. And we keep saying: “’Master, do you not care? We are lost!” But we know the answer: “Why are you so frightened?” yes, why are we frightened? Fear is the only thing the Lord will blame us for. Not that we did not work enough, or planned or organised enough. But that we had no trust and no faith. That we did not look at Him; that we did not notice and believe that He was there among us. That He was there in the smallest and poorest among us and saw us with their eyes. He was also there in His Word that ceaselessly sounded in the liturgy. Clearly audible. But He is especially among us in the gift of His Body and His Blood. Yes, more, deeper and longer there than anywhere.

Lift yours eyes to Jesus, especially in Eucharistic adoration. I already asked you this at All Souls in 2006. I do it again today, the last time as archbishop. Grant me this.

Love the Church

Another thing: ‘Love the Church.’ I have served her wholeheartedly my entire life. A bishop is married to the Church. That is why he wears a ring. Love the Church! Certainly, she has her wrinkles, no wonder after 2,000 years. The Song of Songs already says: “I am black but lovely… Take no notice of my dark colouring, it is the sun that has burnt me… My mother’s sons made me look after the vineyards” (Songs 1,5-6) To see the Church as she really is – both divine and human – you need faith, that clear vision that can penetrate into the depths; that sees what can’t be seen. For the Church keeps within her an unfathomable mystery. She has something of the darkness and something of the light, sunlight and shadow both come over her. I like to repeat after Saint Augustine: “When I speak of the Church, I can’t stop.” And every time we discover a blemish in her, we must – after a moment of pain – be able to say: “but perhaps that spot on her skin is actually mine, it clings to my skin.” She is my mother and all mothers grow old. But precisely because of that do we appreciate our mother more: she is, after all, mine.

We received everything from the Church: the Scriptures and the sacraments, all the beauty of the liturgy, the tender pastoral care that many have received. We received Mary and all the saints and numerous brothers and sisters in the same faith. The strength of the Church lies in the liturgy. When the liturgy is celebrated beautifully and prayerfully, she creates an image of the Church as she really is: austere and grand at the same time, divine and human. The liturgy is the strongest form of evangelisation we have. No one escapes her mysterious charms. It could be that, in the times to come and the winter of indifference, the liturgy becomes the prime fireplace where we can warm ourselves on the Gospel.

Not of the world, but in the world

Something else. Many of our contemporaries barely know anything of the Gospel. Even its vocabulary is unfamiliar to them. The language is alien. We are almost back at the early days of the Church: a handful of people in a sea of unbelief and indifference. Perhaps more still an ocean of ignorance. What to do? Start to develop a healthy Christian sense of self-awareness. That is not pretense or pride: it is simply standing behind the truth. How can anyone follow us if we are mere shades? No one follows shadow images. To show and confess our identity – without issues and arrogance. We belong to Christ and the Gospel. To dare to be ourselves. It is allowed. It is even mandatory. Because “if the trumpet sounds a call which is unrecognisable, who is going to get ready for the attack?”(1 Cor. 14,8) St. Paul already wrote. Dare to be radically evangelical, and show it without issues.

But more is required. We must dare to take full part in the culture around us: in her science, her knowledge, her progress, the fabulous development of her technology, the modern thinking of modern man, in her art and culture, in the latest sensibilities. Certainly, we need the gift of discernment – not everything on the market is in good condition, after all. But how can one discern, when one does not know anything or wants to know anything?

Christians live on the edge of a knife: the are in the world, but do not belong to the world. That paradox cuts right through their hearts; it crucifies them. Just as it has also crucified Jesus, suspended high between heaven and earth. That is us as well: crucified, hanging between heaven and earth. But exactly there, on that intersection, the resurrection and the new life springs from. Should we start calling out loudly? Sometimes, yes: that is called speaking the language of the prophet. But Isaiah said of Jesus – the servant – “his voice is not heard in the street…” The most important thing has happened, in the silence of the cross. For the silence also speaks.

Speak clearly. But we must seek and find the gift not to sound arrogant, all-knowing or superior when we speak. Speak to serve, not to rule. Speak like Jesus spoke: “He felt sorry for them”. The lay there “like sheep without a shepherd.”(Matt. 9,36) Compassion is suffering with. To like to see people as they are, not as we would prefer them to be.

Perhaps also this: We Christians have a lot to do and we do a lot for the world: we fight for justice, solidarity, for food and for creation… But there is something unique to us: to bring forgiveness and reconciliation into the world. Here and elsewhere. To work towards reconciliation between all those colours, races and languages. In that respect our nation has become a laboratory. To be able to live together we need law and order, of course. But the problems won’t be solved without the service of reconciliation and forgiveness. He who gives lets another live indeed. He is as someone who gives birth, But he who for-gives is someone who raise a dead person.

Looking back at thirty years of shepherdhood among you, what can I say? I see what I have done and have not done. I know my successes and failures, the chances taken and missed, my talents and my flaws, my good and my bad. What to say? This. Maybe this: what the young priest from the novel by Georges Bernanos, ‘Journal d’un curé de campagne, whispered just before he died: “Tout est grâce”. All is grace… Yes. “All is grace”. Is it a coincidence that these were also the words of Saint Teresia of Lisieux? Tout est grâce. All is grace. Thank God with me.

+ Godfried Cardinal DANNEELS,
Archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels