Stats for May 2012

7,252 views last month show that April’s peak was indeed a fluke, if a welcome one. May was also a slower news month, at that. But there were still some well-read blog posts with a nice variety of topics. Here’s the top 10:

1: Letter to the German Bishops’ Conference 612
2: Why am I Catholic? 136
3: After 66 years, a new bishop 87
4: Het Probleem Medjugorje 77
5: Cardinal confusion – Woelki comes around? 62
6: Affirmative orthodoxy – faithful with a smile 61
7: Strong words for clarification 55
8: Adoro te devote, two versions and a translation 54
9: Why am I Catholic? – a new tab at the top 51
10: A new definition of offensive in Britain 45

I much enjoy blogging and am continuously encouraged to  keep on writing, but sadly the bills don’t pay themselves. Certainly not as I am currently without a job. A voluntary donation is ever welcome via the Paypal donation below or in the sidebar. Financial supporters will be remembered in my prayers.

Strong words for clarification

Some strong statements from German bishops these past few days. First Bishop Heiner Koch, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Cologne, reminds us that there are topics that need not be discussed ad infinitum, since they have already been decided upon by the Magisterium. Repeating arguments against, for example, celibacy is nothing but frustrating and ineffective. The bishop states that it is more useful to recognise the boundaries that have been set and avoid fake discussions.

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, of Essen, later criticised ongoing discussions about female deacons. “The Church has no authority to allow women into the priesthood,” he said. “In this context we should certainly understand the diaconate for women as well.”

Bishop Gerhard Müller (pictured) of Regensburg – a seemingly likely candidate to succeed Cardinal Levada as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – today accused the ‘We are Church’ movements of leading a parasitic existence. The Church must not conform itself to society, but to the Gospel, he said. Applause and decibels can not be used to exert pressure.

These topics – celibacy, the ordination of women, democracy in the Church – are almost standard among opponents of the Church, but few realise that the Church has long since spoken out about these topics. By ignoring these past statements, those who speak about these issues are, wilfully or not, ignorant and guilty of misleading those who hear them. Statements like those by the three German bishops above serve to offer clarification about issues that keep rearing their heads.

Photo credit: Lennart Preiss/dapd

Pilgrimage time again

As Brother Hugo rather passionately suggested on his Twitter, May is a good time to find your nearest shrine and go on a pilgrimage. Now he happens to take care of a shrine himself, the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, and that is where I will be pilgrimaging to tomorrw. Well, me and several dozen others, for two kilometers, following Mass in the parish church of nearby Wehe-den Hoorn. The photo above is an impression from last year’s pilgrimage and as you can tell, there is a lovely traditional element to it in the banners, crosses and, since last year, a shrine with relics of St. Gerlac. In the fairly short space of a few years, this annual pilgrimage has developed into a fixture of the tiny village and surrounding countryside, and an oasis of, there we go again, affirmative orthodoxy. It is all thoroughly Catholic, but with a veneer of northern groundedness and humour – an essentially Catholic attitude to life, although people in these parts are usually not in for such exuberance. But if it’s there, it’s there: no use in denying nothing happens.

Affirmative orthodoxy – faithful with a smile

“Somehow we have to recapture the notion that the Church isn’t primarily about running institutions or winning political debates. It’s about reaching deep inside the human heart and stirring what’s best in it, and then boldly going out into the world and insisting that the better angels of our nature can prevail, that cynicism and ego don’t have to be the last word about the kind of culture we pass on to our children, and that the Church is an ally in every positive stirring and hopeful current in that culture. That’s a vision worth devoting one’s life to, and if that’s not affirmative orthodoxy, what is?”

Timothy Cardinal Dolan,
from A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation With John L. Allen Jr.

It’s strange and sad that we find it so hard to be faithful Catholics – faithful to the teachings of Christ and His Church – without descending into arguments and disagreements. Apparently, it is often easier to pillory a person that we disagree with, be there a good reason or not, instead of communicating our disagreements in accordance with the joy that our faith calls for. But that’s also understandable: it is, after all, something very personal. Faith is, by definition. If someone then says or writes something that we think is in error, we feel the natural urge to correct them.

But what would be the Catholic approach to this correcting and the debate that will follow? I think the answer to that question is ‘affirmative orthodoxy’. True to Our Lord and the Church, but in a positive way. John L. Allen Jr., in a 2009 column, defines it as follows: “No compromise on essential points of doctrine and discipline, but the most positive, upbeat presentation possible.”

Our message is a very joyful one. How can we not present it with a smile? When we engage other people, we do so out of love: Christ teaches us to work towards what’s best for others. His salvation is the best thing that has ever, and could ever happen to us. While our presentation should not be of the “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind, it should reflect the content of what we try to communicate.

Faith in God also entails faith in the people He created, and that faith should not be crushed underneath relentless attacks, insinuations and arguments, but should flourish as we are open, honest and loving. Does that mean we can’t disagree? Of course it doesn’t. Errors are there to be corrected, and we have a framework by which to determine what is error and what is not: the teachings that the Church communicates.

In the Gospel of Matthew we find what to do if someone does something wrong:

“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain the charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a gentile or a tax collector” [Matt. 18:15-17].

Our first recourse should never be to publicly pillory a person for the mistake he made. Instead, we must discuss it one-on-one with that person, and if need be with one or two others. Only then does the community of faithful come into view. This is the honest approach, and it fits in well with affirmative orthodoxy, for some errors  are serious indeed, and should be treated as such, but they are never reason to disavow the person making them. Even gentiles and tax collectors are able to mend their ways. We are all evidence of that.

And, lastly, let’s not forget that we are equally prone to mistakes. What we consider I mistake may not turn out to be one upon closer consideration, just as our own understanding of what is correct must also be properly considered and understood.

Full circle – Cardinal Simonis on the Council

On the Italian Zenit today, an interview with Ad Cardinal Simonis, emeritus Archbishop of Utrecht, on the post-conciliar period in the Netherlands. The title, In Olanda c’è stata una sbagliata interpretazione del Concilio (‘In Holland there was a wrong interpretation of the Council’) leaves little doubt about the gist of the interview.

Once the voice of orthodoxy at the pastoral council of Noordwijkerhout, the cardinal now looks back and summarises what went wrong:

“Yes, it’s true: there has been a wrong interpretation of the Council. Not reading the documents, but merely arguing, based on the so-called “spirit of the Council”, that is: anything goes, everything can change.”

Cardinal Simonis, who studied in Rome during the years of the Second Vatican Council, offers a misleadingly simple solution: “Catechesis, catechesis, catechesis,” especially for the youth. That is a sentiment that the bishops today share, but which has yet to reach anything approaching its full potential.

It is a bleak but accurate picture the cardinal paints: the Dutch, Catholics included, generally do not know the concept of sin, hence the virtual disappearance of the sacrament of Confession over the course of the recent decades. The cardinal’s message to Dutch seminarians is an urgent one:

“I tell them that they should first learn to think and reflect. And then to pray, pray, pray. Prayer is important, and it must be the foundation of human life, but in Holland we do not pray because we do not believe in a personal God but only in a vague entity.”

The cardinal concludes the interview with a reflection on his 27 years as cardinal, in which he tried to maintain “the spirit of service to the Church and the Lord”.

“I tried to live in this spirit as a cardinal for 27 years. Now I’m an old cardinal, I turned 80 and I can not elect the Pope, but I can still be elected! (Bursts into laughter) But do not worry, that will not happen!”

I think the cardinal is pretty realistic, but that does not mean there are no signs of hope. There are, but these must be cared for and cultivated. A first step towards that is indicated by the following quote from the interview:

“The truth is that in the Netherlands we need a total conversion.”

Bishop de Korte’s vision of the future

In an address at Tilburg University, last Friday, Bishop Gerard de Korte gave an extensive outline of his vision of the future of the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, and the main priorities we, as Catholics must have today. The text, which I have available in English, is perhaps the clearest and most extensive game plan of a Dutch bishop. Bishop de Korte, who was appointed ordinary of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden in 2008, has been much-maligned in orthodox circles for his perceived Protestant leanings, but here he gives his vision on practical orthodoxy – orthopraxis – which crystallises into a ‘living Catholicism’: “open to all questions from contemporary culture, but at the same time with a clear identity.”

Bishop de Korte outlines several priorities for the future. Most important among them is what he tentatively styles a “catechetical offensive”: “It may sound dramatic, but I sometimes feel that only a great catechetical offensive can secure Catholicism in our country. Without it, the strength of our faith seems to continue to weaken and Catholics become more and more religious humanists for whom important aspects of classic Catholicism have become unfamiliar.”

It is good to know the priorities of your bishop, to see the direction in which he leads you. Bishop de Korte is firmly grounded in the realities of today’s society, but from there looks to Jesus Christ as our lifeline. All we need to do is grab His hand.

Ever wanting to share Christ, the cardinal turns 80

Four-and-a-half years into his retirement as Archbishop of Utrecht, Adrianus Johannes Cardinal Simonis – Ad in conversation – reaches another milestone today: his 80th birthday. A respectable age for anyone, of course, as the Psalmist acknowledges: “The span of our life is seventy years — eighty for those who are strong” (90:10a), but for a cardinal it is something of a further step back from the intricacies of the Curia, locally and in Rome. Upon reaching his 80th birthday, a cardinal can no longer vote in a conclave, to elect a new pope.

Luckily, it would seem that Pope Benedict XVI is still in reasonably good health for a man his age (even if the rumours of his suffering arthritis in his legs are true), so a conclave is still in the semi-distant future. I would be surprised, therefore, if Cardinal Simonis still harboured any hopes of participating in another one.

As the Psalmist continues about the years of our life: “their whole extent is anxiety and trouble, they are over in a moment and we are gone” (90:10b), Cardinal Simonis certainly had his share of anxiety and trouble. Ordained a priest in 1957, the dentist’s son from Lisse first made Catholic headlines at the Pastoral Council of Noordwijkerhout, where the young priest, then in his late thirties, was a voice for orthodoxy and thus soon placed by many in the camp of the bad guys. Rome, however, thought otherwise, as Father Simonis was appointed to be the second bishop of Rotterdam. His appointment there, as well as that of Bishop Gijsen to Roermond in 1972, is often considered to have been Pope Paul VI’s response to the new liberalism in the Dutch Catholic Church, especially considering that the name of Fr. Simonis appeared on none of the ternae supplied to Rome.

Bishop Simonis would remain in Rotterdam for 13 years, until 1983, when he was appointed to be Coadjutor Archbishop of Utrecht under Cardinal Willebrands. At the end of that year, on 3 December Archbishop Simonis succeeded the cardinal, who continued for six more years as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

As Utrecht’s archbishop, Msgr. Simonis was the principal host of Blessed Pope John Paul II during his cold reception in the Netherlands in 1985. Because of the hostility of many Dutch Catholics towards the bishops and especially Rome, personified in the pope, Archbishop Simonis was put under police protection for ten days. His elevation to the College of Cardinals in the consistory of 25 May 1985 is often seen as a way to strengthen the archbishop in his difficult position.

That difficult position did get easier over the years, as the climate in the Church mellowed, and Cardinal Simonis moved from being a voice of orthodoxy to one speaking for all Catholics, something that he considered to be an important attribute for all bishops.

In April of 2007, Cardinal Simonis retired and took up residence in a Focolare community in Nieuwkuijk. But even after his retirement, the cardinal remained a well-known face of the Church. His name appeared several times concerning abuse cases under his jurisdiction in the archdiocese, as well as ill-advised comments on national television. In recent year, many seemed to prefer to depict him as an evil genius, but the worst accusation that may, in my opinion, be brought against Cardinal Simonis is a naive attitude.

As  shown by his motto, Ut cognoscant te, Cardinal Simonis is driven by the desire to let people know Christ, doing so as a humble and friendly prelate who tends to first see the good in people.

The paths of the cardinal and I have crossed several times, although we never formally met. As chief celebrant at the Catholic Youth Day of, I think, 2007, during the installation of Bishop de Korte, and most recently in Spain during the World Youth Days, a constant was the cardinal’s health. In the years immediately following his retirement, his figure turned ever more stooped, but that seems to have reversed itself in later years. The quiet life seems to have done Cardinal Simonis good.

But now, as the Dutch Church Province is left without a cardinal elector, eyes turn to Cardinal Simonis’ successor in Utrecht, Archbishop Wim Eijk. With a consistory rumoured to be scheduled for this time next year, he is now among the chief candidates for the red hat, considering the fact that Pope Benedict tends not to appoint new cardinals in a country which still has an elector.

We will see how that turns out, but in the mean time, the only suitable way to wrap up this post, is with a heartfelt birthday wish to Cardinal Ad Simonis: ad multos annos!

Photo credits:
[1] NRC Handelsblad / Rien Zilvold
[2] Bisdom Den Bosch
[3] Ramon Mangold