“A life of Advent” – Bishop Wiertz opens the Year of Consecrated Life

On the first Sunday of Advent – which is tomorrow, so happy new year – the Year of Consecrated Life begins in the Church. Although in the Netherlands the presence of religious communities varies per area – from virtually none in the north, to numerous in the south – it is good to remember that they are there, often hidden from view, praying and working for all of us and for the Lord.

Bishop Frans Wiertz opened the Year in the Diocese of Roermond (which is home to some 900 religious) and spoke the following homily.


“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” With these words Pope Francis opens his apostolic letter Evangelii Gaudium, which has already impressed so many people.

A central element of the words of the Pope is the message that it is Jesus Christ who can fill our hearts with joy. Not a temporary joy or cheap sense of fun, but deep joy which we shall feel through the personal encounter with Christ. The desire for that encounter is something that we may experience once more in the coming weeks. Advent is a time of expectation, a time of hope; a prophetic time too, which lets us look forward to the encounter with the Christ child. “But in my trust in you do not put me to shame,” the Psalm of this first Sunday of Advent tells us. In those words the hope and expectation already resound, which we also hear in the words of Pope Francis when he says that “with Christ joy is constantly born anew”. Every year we experience this expectant time again, in which we go from dark to light. Towards joy.

At the same time we may perhaps consider Advent to be a metaphor for everyone who dedicates his or her life to the service of the Kingdom of God: sisters, brothers, monks and nuns lead a life of Advent. A life in hopeful and prophetic expectation of the encounter with Christ. A life on the way to the light. And therefore by definition a life of joy.

“Where there are consecrated religious, there is joy,” Pope Francis says in the preparatory texts for the Year of Consecrated Life that we open today. With that he does not mean, of course, that every religious per definition leads a joyful life. Because in a sense a consecrated life is choosing a voluntary martyrdom. Your choice for life in a religious community is a radical one. You deny yourselves much: married life, a family, a career in society. In some parts of the world religious even live in very difficult circumstances. These are certainly not to be envious about.

And yet they choose to continue that life. Because they want to life according to the Gospel with the people around them, and so manifest something of the coming joy of the Kingdom of God. I am grateful that there are always people, also in our part of the world, who decide to dedicate their life completely to God.

Our society doesn’t always understand this. Perhaps it can’t be understood when you are not looking forward to God in your own life. When you can’t live from the hope of the coming joy of the encounter with Christ. When you can’t live in Advent. That is why I have great respect for those who do make that choice. Especially for young people who today – against all trends – choose a life that is completely dedicated to God.

In the Gospel of today we are called to be vigilant. This can be interpreted in all sorts of ways. In the context of this celebration I would say: Let us be vigilant that we do not lose the charism of the religious life in our diocese and beyond.  The Church needs religious. Throughout the centuries the renewal and the renewed evangelical zest has always been initiated out of religious movements. This will also have to happen now. Whether they will be new movements, foreign religious establishing themselves among us, or perhaps a revival of classical orders and congregations, that is something the future will show.

But it is our task together to create such a climate in which religious life remains possible. A climate in which people can choose a life in Advent, in imitation of Christ and towards the encounter with Him. I invite you to be open to initiatives which allow the joy of the Gospel to be constantly born anew, as the Pope says.

A logo has been designed for the Year of Consecrated Life which includes three words: Gospel – prophecy – hope. Life the Gospel, be prophetic and keep for us the hope, so that many will experience the hope you carry in your hearts. Amen.

+ Frans Wiertz
Bishop of Roermond”


A week away – details of the next making of a bishop

The Diocese of Roermond has published the details of the consecration of Archbishop Bert van Megen, a week from tomorrow. The archbishop-elect has been appointed as Papal Nuncio to Sudan, the first Dutch prelate in decades to be appointed to such a function.

parolinAs announced earlier, Cardinal Pietro Parolin (pictured) will be the principal consecrator. According to the diocese, this is the first time a Vatican Secretary of State visits the Netherlands, although I wonder if that also wasn’t the case during St. John Paul II’s visit to the Netherlands in 1985, when Cardinal Agostino Casaroli held the office.

Joining Cardinal Parolin as consecrators are Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the United Nations and a personal acquaintance of Archbishop-elect van Megen; and Bishop Frans Wiertz, the ordinary of Roermond, which is the diocese of which the new archbishop was a priest.

Other bishops attending the consecration will be Archbishop André Dupuy, Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands; Bishop Hans van den Hende (bishop of Rotterdam); Bishop Ad van Luyn (bishop emeritus of Rotterdam); Bishop Jan Hendriks (auxiliary bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam); Bishop Johannes Bündgens (auxiliary bishop of Aachen in Germany); Bishop Everard de Jong (auxiliary bishop of Roermond) and Bishop Theodorus van Ruijven (vicar apostolic emeritus of Nekemte in Ethiopia. He now resides within the Diocese of Roermond). [EDIT: Bishops Jean-Pierre Delville (Liège) en Theodorus Hoogenboom (auxiliary of Utrecht) will also attend the consecration, it was announced on 15 May). Secular guests include the secretary for foreign trade and development, Lilianne Ploumen (assuming she won’t be calling for another disturbance of Mass…); the governor of the province of Limburg, Theo Bovens; and mayor of Roermond Peter Cammaert.

coat of ars van megenArchbishop van Megen has chosen a text from Psalm 36 as his motto: “In Lumine Tuo” (In Your light). His coat of arms is pictured at right, incorporating the stag to refer to St. Hubert (Msgr. van Megen’s full first names are Hubertus Matheus Maria). The triangle shape around the stag’s head refers to the Benedictines, with whom Msgr. van Megen has an affinity, and also to the mining history of the area from which the archbishop-elect hails. The star refers to the Blessed Virgin, and the colours red and yellow are those of the town of Megen, for which the family is named.

The consecration will take place in Roermond’s cathedral of St. Christopher, starting with a liturgical procession from the diocesan offices, beginning at 10:15. A live stream at rkk.nl will begin at 10:30

University professor and seminary president to head Liège

delvilleAs the 92nd bishop of the Belgian Diocese of Líège, Pope Francis has chosen Fr. Jean-Pierre Delville. He will succeed Bishop Aloys Jousten, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI in November, but was asked to remain in office until a successor was found and consecrated. That consecration is scheduled to take place in Liège’s St. Paul’s Cathedral on 14 July. Bishop Delville’s principal consecrator will be Bishop Jousten, with Archbishops André-Joseph Léonard (archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels) and Vincenzo Paglia (President of the Pontifical Council for the family) as co-consecrators.

Bishop-elect Delville is 62 ears old and was born and educated in the city where he will now be bishop. He studied history at the University of Liège before entering the Leo XIII seminary in Louvain. There he studied philosophy before being sent to the Pontifical Gregorian University and Rome to study theology and Biblical sciences. Later, at the Catholic University of Louvain, he earned doctorates in Arts and Philosophy (Biblical sciences). Following his ordination in 1980, Bishop-elect Delville held the following functions:

  • 1980-1993: Parish priest in various parishes in the Diocese of Liège.
  • 1982-2013: Teacher of fundamental theology and Church history at the Liège seminary and the Institut supérieur de catéchèse et de pastorale (ISCP).
  • 1993-2005: President of Saint Paul Seminary in Louvain-la-Neuve.
  • 1996-2002: French-language spokesman of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference.
  • 2002-2010: Teacher of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.
  • 2005-2013: Chairman of St. Paul’s  College, Catholic University of Louvain.
  • 2010-2013: Professor of history of Christianity, Catholic University of Louvain.

For his episcopal motto, Bishop-elect Delville has chosen verse 4 from Psalm 46: “There is a river whose streams bring joy to God’s city (Fluminis impetus lætificat civitatem Dei)”: a reference to the River Meuse which cuts through the city of Liège, the waters of Baptism and also to the Word of God, which is life-bringing water.

The Diocese of Liège is one of western Europe’s oldest. At times a powerful principality as well as a Church jurisdiction, we can trace it back to 720, when it was first established under its current name. But even then it was a continuation of an older entity: the Diocese of Maastricht, established in 530, which itself was a continuation of the Diocese of Tongeren and Maastricht, established simply as Tongeren in 344. Before that, the territory’s history folds into that of the ancient (Arch)diocese of Cologne.

Over the course of its history, Liège increased and decreased in size, and at times it enveloped lands to the north along the Meuse, to the south into Luxembourg, westward towards the sea at Antwerp and to the east to include Aachen. Today its boundaries are the same as those of the secular Province of Liège in the Belgian state.

Photo credit: Belga.

Out of retreat, entering the home stretch

Pope Benedict this morning ended his Lenten retreat. In a short address, he thanked Cardinal Ravasi for leading the retreat, as well as the other participants for being a “community of prayerful listening”. Below an excerpt of the address:

“The art of believing, the art of praying” was the theme. I was reminded of the fact that the medieval theologians translated the word “Logos” not only as “Verbum”, but also as “ars”: “Verbum” and “ars” are interchangeable. For the medieval theologians, it was only with the two words together that the whole meaning of the word “Logos” appeared. The “Logos” is not just a mathematical reason: the “Logos” has a heart, the “Logos” is also love. The truth is beautiful and the true and beautiful go together: beauty is the seal of truth.

And yet, starting from the Psalms and from our everyday experience, you have also strongly emphasized that the “very good” of the sixth day – expressed by the Creator – is permanently contradicted by the evil of this world, by suffering, by corruption. It’s almost as if wickedness wills permanently to spoil creation, to contradict God and make its truth and its beauty unrecognizable. In a world so marked even by evil, the “Logos,” the eternal beauty and the eternal “art”, must appear as a “caput cruentatum.” The incarnate Son, the incarnate “Logos” is crowned with a crown of thorns and nevertheless is just that: in this suffering figure of the Son of God we begin to see the deepest beauty of our Creator and Redeemer; in the silence of the “dark night” we can, nevertheless, hear the Word. And believing is nothing other than, in the darkness of the world, touching the hand of God, and in this way, in silence, hearing the Word, seeing love.

ravasi benedictThe Holy Father also thanked Cardinal Ravasi personally, in a letter. Among other things, he wrote that the theme chosen by the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture was particularly helpful in this time of silence and prayer: “We have been able to tap into the source of plenty and pure water that is God’s Word … from the Book of Psalms, the place par excellence where the Word of the Bible becomes prayer.” In closing, Pope Benedict XVI told Cardinal Ravasi that “the Lord will know to reward you for this effort”, a wish that gains special significance in the light of the coming conclave, in which Cardinal Ravasi will vote. Many outside the conclave consider him papabile, a likely successor of Pope Benedict XVI on the Chair of St. Peter.

But luckily that choice ultimately lies in the hands of 116 electors and most importantly, the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray for a fruitful final six days of this papacy, blessing and guidance or the cardinals in the conclave, and also for the new Pope, whoever he may be.

Tweeting retreat – Sharing in Cardinal Ravasi’s reflections

ravasi retreatEvery year at the start of Lent, the Pope and the Roman Curia go on a weeklong retreat. They don’t go anywhere, but remain at the Vatican in prayer and reflection, and all appointments and regular duties are postponed. Every retreat is led by a prelate personally chosen by the Holy Father, and this year the honour fell to the President of the Pontifical of Council of Culture, and a papabile himself, Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi (pictured at left, with the Holy Father in the background, in the seclusion of retreat).

What makes this retreat different is that Cardinal Ravasi not only offers reflections on the prayer of the Psalms to the prelates on retreat, but also to all the faithful. He has been tweeting short quotes and Vatican Radio has been posting summaries of his talks.

These days, leading up to the conclave, it is very interesting to be able to read and reflect on the theological thoughts of one of the cardinal electors, but, perhaps more importantly, it also offers us a guide through this important season of the Church year. A week in, it is perhaps good to ask: “How is your Lent going?”

Cardinal Ravasi’s tweets may offer us a hint of where to start. Short as they are, they can not offer very deep and detailed reflections, but they may point the way, so to speak. Let’s take a look at some and use them to reflect on our own life in the faith. I have put some tweets together, since they clearly form one line of thought.

“1st Meditation: breathe, think, struggle, love: the verbs of prayer. Prayer is not just emotion, it must be reason and will, reflection and passion, truth and action. Not just “speaking about” God, but “speaking to” God, in a dialogue in which we look lovingly at each other in the eye.”

“The longest of the Psalms (Ps 119) invites us to listen to the divine Word present in the Bible. In the verses of Ps 119 we can hear the love for this Word which shines even in the darkness of existence.”

“3rd Meditation: The song of the twofold sun: the Creator God. Psalm 19. The high and impressive silences of the starry heavens are symbolically broken by the song of faith. Biblical faith does not see space as a neutral thing, but as an epiphanic horizon, where God is present. Authentic ascesis is not only negation, it is also harmony between bodiliness and interiority; renouncing and practice for genuine fullness. The word of God irradiates its splendour in the horizon of the conscience, melting our coldness and spreading light and hope. Before creation in its richness, we can raise our thanksgiving to God for our existence and for so many marvels.”

“Our journey becomes a real pilgrimage towards the “meeting tent”, the sanctuary in its sacred culmination. The divine Person is there, manifesting himself, speaking and embracing the faithful. “As an eagle watching its nest, flying over its offspring, the Lord unfolded his wings, took him and raised him up” (Dt 32).”

“The great gestures of God’s love: creation; exodus from Egypt, sign of liberation and hope for a people experience of the desert guided by a pastor who protects from every natural and historical danger, and the journey towards freedom. We consider the Lord as an ally, a strong and loving companion on our journey.”

“Son of God, priest and just: these three features of the messianic figure at the centre of the psalms we meditate. The prophets criticised the prevarications of power and indifference in the face of injustice. God is the advocate for the undefended, the “father of the poor and defender of widows” (Ps 68,6). Before us shines the face of the Messiah, the Christ of God.”

A prayer for life

prayerCoinciding with Advent, the Diocese of Breda has published a personal prayer for the protection of life. Drawing on the rich language of the Old Testament, the prayer, which is “a conversation with the One who gave life”, is composed from texts from the Books of Psalms and Isaiah. Deacon Fred van Iersel, who promotes Catholic social teaching on behalf of the diocese, explains:

“The dignity of the human person is the basic principle of the social teaching of the Church. All people are created by God and in His image and likeness. Every person received life from God. Life is therefore never our property. It is a gift to be cherished, and certainly so for new life.”

Psalm 139: 13-18

You created my inmost self, knit me together in my mother’s womb.
For so many marvels I thank you; a wonder am I, and all your works are wonders. You knew me through and through, my being held no secrets from you, when I was being formed in secret, textured in the depths of the earth. Your eyes could see my embryo. In your book all my days were inscribed, every one that was fixed is there.
How hard for me to grasp your thoughts, how many, God, there are! If I count them, they are more than the grains of sand; if I come to an end, I am still with you.

Psalm 8: 3-6

I look up at your heavens, shaped by your fingers, at the moon and the stars you set firm – what are human beings that you spare a thought for them, or the child of Adam that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god, you have crowned him with glory and beauty, made him lord of the works of your hands, put all things under his feet.

Isaiah 49:15

Can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the child she has borne? Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you.

Synod closing with the joy of God’s marvels

And so ends the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation for the Transmission of the Christian Faith, or the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation, as it is referred to in a rather handier fashion. A closing Mass yesterday wrapped up the three weeks of deliberations that, for now, resulted in a Message (available in Dutch as well) as composed by the commission chaired by Cardinal Betori and Cardinal-designate Tagle, and a set of 58 propositions to the Holy Father, which the latter will craft into a Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, which will probably see the light of day in a year or more. This will the final and concluding document of the Synod Assembly, but of course there is no reason before waiting to reflect on what has already been said and proposed, or to put some of it in practice. Because words are all fine, but if they don’t become reality, there is little point to them.

Reflecting, like I did in my previous blog post, on blind Bartimaeus, Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily, referred to what St. Augustine said about this Biblical character, that he was a man fallen from prosperity into  misfortune:

“This interpretation, that Bartimaeus was a man who had fallen from a condition of “great prosperity”, causes us to think.  It invites us to reflect on the fact that our lives contain precious riches that we can lose, and I am not speaking of material riches here.  From this perspective, Bartimaeus could represent those who live in regions that were evangelized long ago, where the light of faith has grown dim and people have drifted away from God, no longer considering him relevant for their lives.  These people have therefore lost a precious treasure, they have “fallen” from a lofty dignity – not financially or in terms of earthly power, but in a Christian sense – their lives have lost a secure and sound direction and they have become, often unconsciously, beggars for the meaning of existence.  They are the many in need of a new evangelization, that is, a new encounter with Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1), who can open their eyes afresh and teach them the path.  It is significant that the liturgy puts the Gospel of Bartimaeus before us today, as we conclude the Synodal Assembly on the New Evangelization.  This biblical passage has something particular to say to us as we grapple with the urgent need to proclaim Christ anew in places where the light of faith has been weakened, in places where the fire of God is more like smouldering cinders, crying out to be stirred up, so that they can become a living flame that gives light and heat to the whole house.”

 And, I can’t help but thinking, is the Holy Father perhaps thinking along similar lines as the late Cardinal Martini, when he speaks about “smouldering cinders”, under ashes or not?

Pope Benedict mentions three pastoral themes that apparently struck him during the Synod’s proceedings (and the Holy Father himself was perhaps one of the most active participants, taking copious notes during the interventions and being far more than just a presiding pope): the importance of the sacraments of initiation; the Missio ad gentes; and the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism. All are important themes for the new evangelisation.

And perhaps Bartimaeus, although never canonised – in fact, nothing is known of him beyond his appearance in the Gospel of Mark – can still be something of a patron for the new evangelisation, for as the Holy Father says:

“Dear brothers and sisters, Bartimaeus, on regaining his sight from Jesus, joined the crowd of disciples, which must certainly have included others like him, who had been healed by the Master. New evangelizers are like that: people who have had the experience of being healed by God, through Jesus Christ. And characteristic of them all is a joyful heart that cries out with the Psalmist: “What marvels the Lord worked for us: indeed we were glad” (Ps 125:3).”