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gösslIn a full cathedral basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and St. George, Archbishop Ludwig Schick consecrated the new auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Bamberg, Herwig Gössl, at 47 Germany’s fourth-youngest bishop.

In his homily, Archbishop Schick outlined the full calling of a bishop, to be everything for everyone: a bishop has to proclaim the entire Gospel and the entire faith and celebrate all of sacramental life. The entire diocese, all of humanity and the entire world is his work place. He also quoted Pope Francis in saying that a shepherd has to have the smell of his sheep, that he has to be close to his people.

Going further back in time, the archbishop also passed on some advice from Saint Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans, who said that bishops “should not be dogs who don’t bark, not silent onlookers and unpaid servants who flee before the wolf,” but good shepherds “who watch over the flock of Christ. Let all of us, great and small, rich and poor, people of all ranks and ages, proclaim all of God’s plan, to the extent that God, conveniently or not, gives us the strength.”

Among the other bishops present at the consecration were Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg and Heiner Koch of Dresden-Meiβen and the auxiliaries Wolfgang Bischof of München und Freising, Florian Wörner of Augsburg, Reinhard Pappenberger of Regensburg and Otto Georgens of Speyer. Bishops Karl Braun and Werner Radspieler, retired auxiliary bishops of Bamberg, served as co-consecrators.

gössl shick

Bishop Gössl chose a simple style of staff, ring and pectoral cross, but is not a stranger to symbolism, as his coat of arms shows:

coat of arms gösslThe motto comes from the Gloria, “You alone [are] the Lord”. On the red half of the shield we see Mount Tabor, on which Jesus, his monogram shown above the mountain, was glorified. The red refers to the sacrifice about which He speaks with Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28-36). This Gospel passage is, of course, read on the second Sunday of Lent, the day of Bishop Gössl’s consecration. The right half of the shield shows the coat of arms of the city of Bamberg and below it a river, which is to be understood as the River Jordan and an image the Sacrament of Baptism. The river can also refer to the places where Bishop Gössl worked as a priest: Pegnitz, Seebach, Regnitz and Main. The colours of the coat of arms can, finally, also be seen to refer to his birth place of Munich (gold and black) and to Nuremberg, where he attended school (red, silver and black).

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

[O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.]

May the God of power and might, hidden in a vulnerable child, continue to fulfill His law, giving us the means to fulfill our lives, so that we may be judged well when Christ the Lord returns.

‘And now, Israel, listen to the laws and customs which I am teaching you today, so that, by observing them, you may survive to enter and take possession of the country which Yahweh, God of your ancestors, is giving you.
Look: as Yahweh my God commanded me, I have taught you laws and customs, for you to observe in the country of which you are going to take possession. Keep them, put them into practice, and other peoples will admire your wisdom and prudence. Once they know what all these laws are, they will exclaim, “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation!”
And indeed, what great nation has its gods as near as Yahweh our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation has laws and customs as upright as the entirety of this Law which I am laying down for you today?
‘But take care, as you value your lives! Do not forget the things which you yourselves have seen, or let them slip from your heart as long as you live; teach them, rather, to your children and to your children’s children.

Deutoronomy 4: 1, 5-9

In the first reading at Mass today, Moses speaks to us about laws and customs. He tells us that the way we act will tell others about what we are. That is a truth for us as well. The best way to evangelise, to inform others of our faith, is still by doing instead of by talking (although the two can obviously go together).

In the third paragraph of the passage above, Moses also mentions a greater Law, with a capital ‘L ‘. This is the Law of the Lord, one of the foundation stones of all creation. We can call it natural law, or moral law, but whatever its name, it finds its origin in God. Our human laws, in order to be just and good, must be reflections of this higher Law. If they are not, they will go against our core human nature, which was created by God as part of all Creation.

The commandments, rules and regulations that many find such an obstacle in their spiritual life are anything but obstacles. They are the tools that help us be as near to God as we can.

Art credit: ‘Teaching the children’, by Forres Gordon Dingwall

In the office of readings today we encounter the people if Israel as Moses and Aaron lead them into the desert, after their escape through the Red Sea.

Setting out from Elim, the whole community of Israelites entered the desert of Sin, lying between Elim and Sinai — on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt. And the whole community of Israelites began complaining about Moses and Aaron in the desert and said to them, ‘Why did we not die at Yahweh’s hand in Egypt, where we used to sit round the flesh pots and could eat to our heart’s content! As it is, you have led us into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death!’
Yahweh then said to Moses, ‘Look, I shall rain down bread for you from the heavens. Each day the people must go out and collect their ration for the day; I propose to test them in this way to see whether they will follow my law or not. On the sixth day, however, when they prepare what they have brought in, this must be twice as much as they collect on ordinary days.’
Moses and Aaron then said to the whole community of Israelites, ‘This evening you will know that it was Yahweh who brought you out of Egypt, and tomorrow morning you will see the glory of Yahweh, for Yahweh has heard your complaints about him. What are we, that your complaint should be against us?’ Moses then said, ‘This evening Yahweh will give you meat to eat, and tomorrow morning bread to your heart’s content, for Yahweh has heard your complaints about him. What do we count for? Your complaints are not against us, but against Yahweh.’ Moses then said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole community of Israelites, “Approach Yahweh’s presence, for he has heard your complaints.” ‘
As Aaron was speaking to the whole community of Israelites, they turned towards the desert, and there the glory of Yahweh appeared in the cloud. Yahweh then spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Speak to them as follows, “At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will have bread to your heart’s content, and then you will know that I am Yahweh your God.” ‘
That evening, quails flew in and covered the camp, and next morning there was a layer of dew all round the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the desert was something fine and granular, as fine as hoarfrost on the ground. As soon as the Israelites saw this, they said to one another, ‘What is that ?’ not knowing what it was. ‘That’, Moses told them, ‘is the food which Yahweh has given you to eat. These are Yahweh’s orders: Each of you must collect as much as he needs to eat — a homer per head for each person in his tent.’
The Israelites did this. They collected it, some more, some less. When they measured out what they had collected by the homer, no one who had collected more had too much, no one who had collected less had too little. Each had collected as much as he needed to eat.
The Israelites ate manna for forty years, up to the time they reached inhabited country: they ate manna up to the time they reached the frontiers of Canaan.

Exodus 16:1-18,35

Aren’t the complaints of the Israelites from the first paragraph eminently recognisable to us all? We follow someone’s advice and things only seem to get worse. It happens in our faith life as well: we pray and ask God to help us in some difficult situation, only for things to not improve at all. Wasn’t God listening? Doesn’t He care at all? Maybe we’re better off going our own way and ignore the direction that God points us in.

Or maybe not. In the case of the Israelites, the Lord has given them Moses and Aaron to lead them, and they answer their complaints with a promise: wait until tomorrow, and you will see that things are not as bad as they seem. Maybe we’ve all had some bad days, but bad times do not last forever. God makes sure of that by providing the people with meat and bread from heaven. He sustains them in their hardship.

God still sustains people in their hardship. Bread doesn’t rain from heaven on a daily basis, but the fact that we can struggle through and even overcome our own hardships is evidence of God sustaining us. And like the people of Israel discovered years later, as the arrived at the “frontiers of Canaan”, their difficult desert journey had a purpose; their new life in the promised land is infinitely better than the life of slavery in Egypt, even with the flesh pots they had there.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata is said to have said once, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.” But God does trust us to be able to handle hardships. But while we can handle things ourselves, He never leaves us, is always ready to help, even (most of the time, in fact) when we don’t realise it. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle and exactly what we need.

Art credit: “Miracle of the Manna”, by Tintoretto (1577)

Our first motivation to observe Lent is simply because Jesus did it before us. It’s very simple, but w should consider Jesus to be our teacher in everything He did. There are numerous examples in the Gospels of Jesus praying and giving alms, but He also fasted. The best known example of that is of course the forty days He spent in the desert, just before He began His public life.

In the Gospel reading from today’s Mass, St. Mark spends very few words on this undoubtedly important event in Jesus’ life.

“And at once the Spirit drove him into the desert and he remained there for forty days, and was put to the test by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels looked after him.
After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the gospel from God saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel.’”

Mark 1: 12-15

Four sentences to describe a number of very significant elements. St. Mark is nothing if not succinct. Let’s take a look at some of the elements in this text.

  • “And at once the Spirit drove him into the desert and he remained there for forty days”. The Holy Spirit plays a part here. He caused Jesus to go into the desert. We don know if Jesus went willingly or not, but we can conclude that He was inspired to do so. The Holy Spirit inspires us as well, sometimes to do very concrete things. It is because of Him that we have faith, and we sometimes can’t adequately explain the things we do because of faith, although we do know they are the right things to do. And why the desert for forty days. It’s not difficult to be alone and to fast in the desert, and the number forty would indicate a lengthy time, comparable to the forty years that the Jews, led by Moses, wandered the desert. Fasting has no meaning if it is not just for a day and is hard to keep up if you are faced with distraction after distraction.
  • “and was put to the test by Satan”. St. Mark does not elaborate here, and without referring to the other Gospels, which do tell us more, we may say that Jesus was tempted by evil. That is certainly not alien to us, and therefore it shouldn’t be for Jesus either. “For the high priest we have is not incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us, but has been put to the test in exactly the same way as ourselves, apart from sin” (Heb 4:15). Jesus is a man just like us. He knows us, our strengths, but certainly also our weaknesses. We are put to the test by Satan, so He needed to have been as well in order to take our trespasses on His own shoulders.
  • “He was with the wild animals, and the angels looked after him”. Jesus is God, so it makes sense that all creation, here on earth and in heaven, serves Him. But there’s also an interesting comparison to Adam, who was master of the animals in the garden (cf. Gen. 2:19). Jesus is the new Adam, who came to correct the sin of the first man.
  • “Repent, and believe the gospel”. This, in fact, is what Lent is about. If we return to the Gospel, get to know it again, take it seriously and continuously apply it to our own lives, we will be following Christ to the salvation which He brought us. The topic of knowing and understanding the Gospel is a whole topic by itself, so I won’t be discussing that any further here.

Art credit: ’40 Days of Temptation; Jesus Alone’, by Daniel Bonnell

“Of all the peoples on earth, you have been chosen by Yahweh your God to be his own people. Because he loved you and meant to keep the oath which he swore to your ancestors: that was why Yahweh brought you out with his mighty hand and redeemed you from the place of slave-labour, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. From this you can see that Yahweh your God is the true God, the faithful God who, though he is true to his covenant and his faithful love for a thousand generations as regards those who love him and keep his commandments.”

Deutoronomy 7: 6b, 8-9

Today we begin Lent, but the reading we find in today’s Lauds, or morning prayers, is one that reminds us what God has done for us and that, through His actions, we may know that He is our God. We might have expected a more muted reading reminding us that we are to fast and abstain today. But that would be missing the point somewhat. Fasting is important, but it is a means, not a goal. One of the goals of today is indicated by the reading above: the gratitude that is God’s due.

None of us, I safely assume, crossed the Red Sea with Moses. At least not literally. But we all did so figuratively. We crossed our own Red Sea when we were baptised, from oppression into freedom, a freedom safeguarded by the Lord. The problem is, though, that we are stubborn and have a free will. So at times, we, perhaps inadvertently, cross the Red Sea once again, but in the wrong direction. For those times, few or many, that we have returned to “the place of slave-labour”, we have Lent. Ash Wednesday, at the start of that road to Easter, is that first reminder that we have taken a wrong turn, but that God “is true to his covenant and his faithful love for a thousand generations as regards those who love him and keep his commandments.”

Today, let us be reminded of the times when we took the wrong turn, off the path of God and away from His faithful love, and work to remedy the wrongs we did. But we need not be sad, because it is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing, because God once again liberates us, like He freed the people of Israel from Egypt.

Art credit: ‘The Red Sea’, by Ted Larson

Marylightmas, the literal translation of what today’s feast used to be called in the Netherlands. The focus on the Blessed Virgin, although deemed slightly inappropriate after Vatican II, is not entirely unjustified.  In our celebration of today, which is now styled ‘the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple’, Mary, and her husband St. Joseph, are the instigators of the action. They are the ones who bring Jesus to the temple, but of course, it is His presence there that dictates what happens next:

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.

Luke 2:22-40

Christmas is forty days behind us. Jesus, like any other firstborn Jewish male, is brought to the Temple to be consecrated to the Lord. He may be God, but He is also fully human and a such part of a human community with all its customs and habits. Maybe we can say that, just as the human Christ is consecrated to God, the divine Christ takes all of humanity with Him in His consecration. He has come to us, and already does He take us into Him.

The two elderly seers, for that is what we can call them, Simeon and Anna, again display that first characteristic that we saw the day before yesterday: faith. But here it is a joyful faith, a faith that praises God. He has come, “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”. But the certainty of their faith also contains words of warning. There will be hardships and pain in order for Him to be our Saviour.

Things really start going here: not only the young life of Jesus with His family, friends and neighbours, but also the road to our salvation: God has come to live among us,

Art credit: ‘Simeon’s Moment’ by Ron DiCianni, who describes his work here.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

[O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.]

May the God of power and might, hidden in a vulnerable child, continue to fulfill His law, giving us the means to fulfill our lives, so that we may be judged well when Christ the Lord returns.

Almost one month ago, Pope Benedict XVI undertook a one-day papal visit that was both national (ie. within Italy) and international. I haven’t been able to devote much attention to it until now, but for the sake of completeness I want to do so now.

The Diocese of San Marino-Mentefeltro encompasses parts of two countries in the area southwest of Italy’s Po valley. Firstly, of course, Italy (parts of the region Emilia-Romagna) and secondly, the tiny and ancient Republic of San Marino. The latter nation being small enough and economically tied into the culture and economy of surrounding Italy to such an extent that it warrants being part of one ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The 61,000 Catholics of the diocese, led by Bishop Luigi Negri, hosted the papal entourage on 19 June, in San Marino and at the episcopal residence in Pennabilli.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke on four occasions, the texts of which may be read in full here. Below follow my usual papal soundbytes.

On the Trinity and love:

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one because God is love and love is an absolute life-giving force; the unity created by love is a unity greater than a purely physical unity. The Father gives everything to the Son; the Son receives everything from the Father with gratitude; and the Holy Spirit is the fruit of this mutual love of the Father and the Son. The texts of today’s Mass speak of God and thus speak of love; they do not dwell so much on the three Persons, but rather on love which is the substance and, at the same time, the unity and trinity (Eucharistic Concelebration, Olympic stadium of Serravalle, San Marino).

The Face of God

Moses [...] asked God to reveal himself, to allow him to see his face. However, God did not show his face, but rather revealed his being, full of goodness, with these words: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). This is the Face of God. This self-definition of God expresses his merciful love: a love that triumphs over sin, covers it, eliminates it. We can always be sure of this goodness which does not abandon us. There can be no clearer revelation. We have a God who refuses to destroy sinners and wants to show his love in an even more profound and surprising way to sinners themselves, in order to always offer them the possibility of conversion and forgiveness (idem).

The Trinity present on the Cross

[I]n the mystery of the cross, the three divine Persons are present: the Father, who gives his Only-Begotten Son for the salvation of the world; the Son, who totally fulfils the Father’s plan; the Holy Spirit — poured out by Jesus at the moment of his death — who comes to make us participants in divine life, to transform our existence so that it may be enlivened by divine love (idem).

Family

[W]e know well that in the present context the family institution is being called into question, as if in the attempt to ignore its inalienable value. Those that suffer the consequences are the weakest social categories, especially the young generations that are more vulnerable and so more easily exposed to disorientation, situations of self-marginalization and the slavery of dependence. It is sometimes difficult for educational institutes to provide youth with adequate responses and when family support is lacking they often find natural insertion into the social fabric difficult. For this reason too it is important to recognize that the family, as God made it, is the milieu that best encourages harmonious growth and helps free and responsible individuals to develop, trained in the deep and enduring values (Meeting with members of Government, Congress and the Diplomatic Corps, Hall of the Great and General Council of the Public Palace, San Marino).

The important questions

The important questions we bear within us remain, they always resurface. Who are we? Where do we come from? Who do we live for? These questions are the highest sign of the transcendence of the human being and of our innate capacity not to stop at appearances. And it is precisely by looking at ourselves with truth, sincerity and courage that we understand the beauty, and also the precariousness of life and feel a dissatisfaction, a restlessness, that nothing material can assuage. In the end all promises often prove inadequate (Meeting with the young people of San Marino-Montefeltro, Pennabili).

The human experience

Dear young people, the human experience is a reality that we share, but it may be given various degrees of meaning. And it is here that is decided the way to direct one’s life, and here that one chooses to whom to entrust it, to whom to entrust oneself. The risk is always that of remaining confined to the world of things, of the immediate, the relative, the useful, of losing sensitivity to all that refers to our spiritual dimension. It is by no means a question of contempt for the use of reason or of rejecting scientific progress, far from it. Rather, it is a matter of understanding that each one of us is not only made in a “horizontal” dimension but also has a “vertical” dimension. Scientific data and technological instruments cannot replace the world of life, the horizons of meaning and freedom, of the richness of relations of friendship and love (idem).

The Lord goes with you!

Do not be afraid to face difficult situations, moments of crisis, the trials of life, for the Lord goes with you, he is with you! I encourage you to grow in friendship with him through frequent reading of the Bible and of the whole of Sacred Scripture, through faithful participation in the Eucharist as a personal encounter with Christ, through commitment within the ecclesial community, journeying on with a good spiritual director (idem).

Photo credit:
[1] VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images
[2] ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images
[3] REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito

‘Journey of the Magi’ by James Tissot (1902)

“After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking, ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’”
[...]
“And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

The Gospel of Matthew, 2: 1-2, 9b-11

With the arrival of the Magi, heathen men from the east, Christ reveals Himself to the world. The revelation of the Lord is now visible for all people. He started with but one person, Adam, then revealed himself to a family (Abraham’s), a tribe (Moses’s), a Kingdom (David’s) and now, ultimately, His mercy extends to every person in the world.

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I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

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4 April: [English] Pope Francis - Interview with Belgian youth.

25 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Brief aan de Gezinnen.

24 February: [Dutch] Raymond Kardinaal Burke - De radicale oproep van de paus tot de nieuwe evangelisatie.
De focus van Paus Franciscus op liefde en praktische pastorale zorg in de grotere context van de Schrift en de leer van de Kerk.

21 February: [Dutch] Aartsbisschop Angelo Becciu - Brief aan de Nederlandse studenten.
Namens paus Franciscus reageert de Substituut van het Staatsecretariaat op pausgroet.tk.

20 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Welkomstwoord op het Consistorie.
De paus begroet de kardinalen voor het 11e Buitengewone Consistorie, en vat de doelstellingen kort samen.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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