God wants to break through our loneliness – Bishop de Korte’s letter for Advent

Like previous years, Bishop Gerard de Korte is among the first to publish his Advent letter to the faithful of his diocese. Below my translation. In the letter, the bishop tackles the issue of loneliness, and thus creates a coincidental link with Pope Francis’ speech at the European Parliament today, in which he identified loneliness as “one of the most common diseases in Europe today”. More about that speech later. First, the bishop:

mgr_de_Korte3“Late last year the media reported a macabre find in a house in Rotterdam. The remains of a woman were found. She had been dead for more than ten years and no one had missed her. Her daughter had rung the doorbell once or twice on Mother’s Day. But no one opened the door, and the daughter concluded that the closed door meant that she was still not welcome. Ten years dead in a house and no one notices. Symbol of groundless loneliness.

Of course, this is an extreme example. But we all know that loneliness is a major problem in our society. Many elderly people lead a lonely existence. When I was a parish priest in Utrecht, I visited elderly people who received visitors twice a week. They were home alone for the rest of the time. In Nestor, the magazine for the Catholic Union of the Elderly, I read last year that 200,000 elderly spent the Christmas days alone.

But loneliness is not only an issue for elderly people in our society. More than a few young people also struggle with loneliness. And there are plenty of couples who are physically together but spiritually lonely because they can no longer share the most essential things of life. In the end, many a philosopher states, every person is lonely to a certain extent. At heart, everyone remains hidden for the other. At the same time people try to break through that existential loneliness by searching mutual commitment, friendship and love.

God looks for us

In the coming weeks of Advent we prepare for the feast of Christmas. Christmas is a feast of connection; of light and desire for peace. The Christmas tree is decorated and good food is purchased. Family and friends are invited, perhaps also to chase away our loneliness. Because as human beings we realise that we can only be happy in connection with others.

Many Catholic families also have a nativity scene. Christmas is, after all, about the birth of Christ. Christmas makes clear that God wants to break through our loneliness. That is told clearly in Luke’s Gospel of Christmas, with singing angels and worshipping shepherds. The Gospel of John is a bit more abstract and theological: the Word has become flesh and has lived among us. But both evangelists say the same thing with different words: In Jesus, God comes looking for us. In Jesus, God reveals His love for us and He shows us that that love is the meaning of our lives.

Is Christ welcome?

The big question for each of us is: do I accept God’s offer? Can Christ really come into my life? Is there room for Jesus in my inn? Do I really want to life in friendship with Jesus? Several Christian thinkers have been said to have made this remark: “If Christ had been born a Thousand times in the stable in Bethlehem, but not in our heart, His birth was pointless”. In these words I hear the statement of John the Baptist: “He (=Christ) must increase; I must decrease”. And I also think of the nearly mystical words of the Apostle Paul: “I do not live, but Christ lives in me”.

Here we touch upon the core of our Christian existence. Christian life requires conversion, a transformation. My own “I” must become increasingly like Christ. In other words: I must become more like a Christophorus, a Christ-bearer. When we truly follow Christ, we will be praying people who place God in the heart of our lives. We will not remain imprisoned in self-interest but manifest charity. In the case of an argument, we will not harden ourselves, but really choose forgiveness and reconciliation. We will be mild and merciful for each other and thus reflect God’s mildness and mercy. I wish you a fruitful time of Advent on the road to Christmas.

Groningen, 25 November 2014

+ Msgr. Gerard de Korte”

Stats for December 2012

After some badly timed computer issues, I’m back on the blog. Hopefully it won’t be indicative of the rest of the year!

Closing the year off on a high of 7,723 views in December (the highest number since June), here’s an overview of the ten best-viewed blog posts of that month:

1: Kerstgroet aan de Curie: 1,015
2: Papal attack on the Nativity ox and ass: 125
3: Does the Pope support the killing of gays?: 122
4: State of the Church, 2012 – or the media’s failure at reporting the truth: 68
5: ‘Bel Giorgio’ takes over the household: 66
6: Nieuwjaarstoespraak 2010 van Paus Benedictus XVI: 58
7: Het probleem Medjugorje: 55
8: In Regensburg, a new bishop in the style of Benedict: 53
9: Why am I Catholic?: 47
10: College of Cardinals: 39

Stats for November 2012

And so the liturgical year draws to a close as we mark the start of the new one tomorrow, and this blog happily marked the 200,000th visitor some weeks ago. 200,000 visits since I began almost three years ago? For some blogs that is next to nothing, but for me it is a reason to be grateful. Thank you.

Onward to the top 10 of last month, when we saw 6,262 visits.

1: Intolerable tolerance 103
2: “On the edge, but not marginal” – Fr. Radcliffe on the “official Church” 90
3: Maranatha – a Catholic future for Tilburg’s students 68
4: Papal attack on the Nativity ox and ass 64
5: A second Red Dawn risies 56
6:In gratitude – Brother Hugo makes his perpetual vows 46
7: Het probleem Medjugorje 45
8: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 39
9: Hope at the Catholic Youth Day – the Catholic voice stirring? 38
10: Criminal or careless? Bishop Gijsen accused in Iceland 37

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Papal attack on the Nativity ox and ass

Animals at the birth of Christ, a comforting image of Christ amid all of Creation.

I have to admit finding it quite funny that the Holy Father has a new book out and all that the media generally talk about are his unconscionable attack on two helpless animals’ presence in the Nativity scene.

Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives is the third and final volume in Pope Benedict XVI’s series of books on Jesus Christ. It is, like its predecessors, a personal study into Christ’s life and person. The historical Jesus is a subject that the pope treats extensively, and so is it as well with the Nativity stories we find in the Gospels. And from that historical perspective, there is no reason to say that an ox or ass were present in the stable where Jesus was born. And, in addition, the angels probably did not sing either when the announced the Good News to the shepherds.

Is the pope then saying that we should remove all oxen and asses, as well as any angels which show an unhistorical tendency to start singing, from our Nativity scenes? Of course not. While we may not have a historical basis for these details, they do have their function. Christ came to all Creation, and was a part of it as a man. Song is an ancient way of communicating joy, and the arrival of God-become-man is certainly a reason for joy.

And the ox and ass or the singing angels are not the focus of the Nativity scenes in our homes and churches. Christ is, and everything around Him focusses our attention on Him. So another function of the ass and ox becomes clear.

So, no, the Holy Father is not telling us to get rid of the poor animals. They’ll be in the great Nativity scene in St. Peter’s square, even without us having any documents to prove their presence at the birth of our Saviour.