The peace of Christ – Bishop Van Looy’s letter for Christmas

Ghent’s Bishop Luc Van Looy devotes his Christmas letter to the peace of this period. Peace in ourselves, but also the peace we are obliged to share with those who need it most, especially the homeless, the displaced and the refugees.

van looyTo all people of good will
Christmas letter from Msgr. Luc Van Looy, Bishop of Ghent

Christmas truce

The commemorations of the start of the First World War remind us of what our ancestors did to achieve peace. In the past year we could learn much from the media about this dark page in our history. At the same time we are continuously confronted with the horrible situations in which many people live today, because of the violence of war. The UN speaks of 28 million people without a home and 10 million refugees in the world at this moment. Among these people there are a great many children, especially since those countries in which war now rages have a culture of families with many children. In 2013, 15,840 people asked for asylum in Belgium, people mostly from eastern European and African countries.

We can’t take comfort in the thought that these things happen in distant countries. We can’t remain blind to the situation of so many displaced persons in our towns and cities: homeless, squatters, people without a house, who are completely dependent on social services for their food and clothes. Perhaps we et to easily rid of our duty by giving some small alms or donating to some project for children in Africa or Latin America. A child in London asked, “Why would I go to my mother’s when there is no electricity of water there?” These people need our love, just like our material support.

Pope Francis sees in these “new forms of poverty and vulnerability … the suffering Christ”. “The homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others” all call to mind the suffering Christ. The image of breaking the bread and pouring the wine as His body and blood are irrevocable signs of the total givenness of Christ. Pope Francis calls for generous empathy out of that union with Christ. Referring to himself, he says, “Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 210).

Christmas is an ideal period for special focus on these social problems. Mary and Joseph also failed to find shelter for the birth of Jesus. In addition, they were forced to flee with Him to Egypt. Herod did not recognise the Messiah in this child; he was not interested in the person, but to his own position as steward. It is our duty to focus on the person and not to judge or generalise based on race or culture, religion or ancestry, poverty or wealth, orientation or age. The incarnation of Christ shows us that every human being deserves attention. Jesus comes among the people. He joins in their conversations and speaks with authority, but at the same time He listens to their concerns. He has special attention for the deprived, the sick, the poor, the children. His attention is for the sinners; He lets the adulterous woman go, to ultimately praise her to the expense of the host. He is a man among men. He did not take pride in His descent. On the contrary, He became the servant of all.

In the social unrest that we have witnessed recently, we need to distinguish what is important. Here too, man needs to be in the centre instead of mere power play. Here the Pope also speaks: “Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality” (Evangelii Gaudium 226).

Christmas teaches us to bring peace. “He is the peace between us” (Eph. 2:14), and He paid the price for it with His blood on the cross. People and cultures are diverse and you can try to achieve peace through negotiations, but nothing is as strong as the unity of Spirit. Unity is fundamental and transcends all conflict. Looking for a synthesis, one must depart from the desire for unity among all people. It is a matter of appreciating the other, esteeming him – more than yourself – and recognising and accepting the dignity of all. This attitude can defeat all partisanship and conflict. No one is more man because he or she was born in some privileged culture or in a certain context. Equality flows from the gift of life itself, which everyone has received from the same Father.

Dear friends, states of war, conflict, migration and poverty can not leave us unmoved. There are many initiatives in this time of Christmas to ease the fate of others, to share the warmth of the community. In this time everyone may experience that Christ has come to bring peace and unity. But it is important that this attention is not limited to the period of Christmas, but spreads throughout the year. The service to people and the world – we call this te diaconate – is an essential aspect of our Christianity.

I wish for the year 2015 to be a year of solidarity and service for all of you, of friendship which resolves conflicts, of peace in families. May the peace of Christ for every man be even stronger than just a “Christmas truce”, so that it may be a new start wherever necessary. For it was God’s intention to give everyone peace, when He sent His Son into the world.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

Lent reading schedule

lent_desktopIt’s almost Lent. Snuck up on you, didn’t it? But it’s true, Less than a week away the great time of fasting and penitence will begin and prepare us for Easter.

Time to plan ahead.

For this Lent and Holy Week I want to take the Gospel readings of every day and do some lectio divina with them, a spiritual reading. I’ll be posting the relevant passage every day (well, that’s the plan) and reflect on it. These reflections will be short, as lectio divina is by definition a personal exercise: we prayerfully read a Bible text for ourselves and are open to learn from it. The reflections are therefore what I take from the text: your experience may be a different one, but I hope that comparing what others learn with what you have learned can set you off on new avenues of thought, prayer and discovery.

For those who want to read and reflect in their own time, or if I am unable to post every day, here is a list of the Gospel reading of every day:

  • Wednesday 5 March (Ash Wednesday): Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
  • Thursday 6 March: Luke 9: 22-25
  • Friday 7 March: Matthew 9:14-15
  • Saturday 8 March: Luke 5:27-32
  • Sunday 9 March (First Sunday of Lent): Matthew 4:1-11
  • Monday 10 March: Matthew 25:31-46
  • Tuesday 11 March: Matthew 6:7-15
  • Wednesday 12 March: Luke 11:29-32
  • Thursday 13 March: Matthew 7:7-12
  • Friday 14 March: Matthew 5:20-26
  • Saturday 15 March: Matthew 5:43-48
  • Sunday 16 March (Second Sunday of Lent): Matthew 17:1-9
  • Monday 17 March: Luke 6:36-38
  • Tuesday 18 March: Matthew 23:1-12
  • Wednesday 19 March (Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary): Matthew 116, 18-21, 24a or Luke 2: 41-51a
  • Thursday 20 March: Luke 16:19-31
  • Friday 21 March: Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
  • Saturday 22 March: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
  • Sunday 23 March (Third Sunday of Lent): John 4:5-42 or John 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42
  • Monday 24 March: Luke 4:24-30
  • Tuesday 25 March (Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord): Luke 1:26-38
  • Wednesday 26 March: Matthew 5:17-19
  • Thursday 27 March: Luke 11:14-23
  • Friday 28 March: Mark 12:28-34
  • Saturday 29 March: Luke 18:9-14
  • Sunday 30 March (Fourth Sunday of Lent): John 9:1-41 or John 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38
  • Monday 31 March: John 4:43-54
  • Tuesday 1 April: John 5:1-16
  • Wednesday 2 April: John 5:17-30
  • Thursday 3 April: John 5:31-47
  • Friday 4 April: John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
  • Saturday 5 April: John 7:40-53
  • Sunday 6 April (Fifth Sunday of Lent): John 11:1-45 or John 11:3-7, 20-27, 33b-45
  • Monday 7 April: John 8:1-11
  • Tuesday 8 April: John 8:21-30
  • Wednesday 9 April: John 8:31-42
  • Thursday 10 April: John 8:51-59
  • Friday 11 April: John 10:31-42
  • Saturday 12 April: John 11:45-56
  • Sunday 13 April (Palm Sunday): Matthew 26:14-27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54
  • Monday 14 April: John 12:1-11
  • Tuesday 15 April: John 13:21-33, 36-38
  • Wednesday 16 April: Matthew 26:14-25
  • Thursday 17 April: John 13:1-15
  • Friday 18 April (Good Friday): John 18:1-19:42
  • Saturday 19 April (Holy Saturday): Matthew 28:1-10
  • Sunday 20 April (Easter Sunday): John 20:1-9

It’s much, to be sure, but it is an investment that’s worth the effort. Lent is especially a time to return to the basis, to the Word, and allow the Lord to join us on our way.

St. Joseph in the Canon – a clearer presence

For a Catholic with a fond appreciation to Saint Joseph, like yours truly, the following decree, titled Paternas vices, is a very pleasant surprise:

Saint_JosephExercising his paternal care over Jesus, Saint Joseph of Nazareth, set over the Lord’s family, marvelously fulfilled the office he received by grace. Adhering firmly to the mystery of God’s design of salvation in its very beginnings, he stands as an exemplary model of the kindness and humility that the Christian faith raises to a great destiny, and demonstrates the ordinary and simple virtues necessary for men to be good and genuine followers of Christ. Through these virtues, this Just man, caring most lovingly for the Mother of God and happily dedicating himself to the upbringing of Jesus Christ, was placed as guardian over God the Father’s most precious treasures. Therefore he has been the subject of assiduous devotion on the part of the People of God throughout the centuries, as the support of that mystical body, which is the Church.

The faithful in the Catholic Church have shown continuous devotion to Saint Joseph and have solemnly and constantly honored his memory as the most chaste spouse of the Mother of God and as the heavenly Patron of the universal Church. For this reason Blessed Pope John XXIII, in the days of the Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, decreed that Saint Joseph’s name be added to the ancient Roman Canon. In response to petitions received from places throughout the world, the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI deemed them worthy of implementation and graciously approved them. The Supreme Pontiff Francis likewise has recently confirmed them. In this the Pontiffs had before their eyes the full communion of the Saints who, once pilgrims in this world, now lead us to Christ and unite us with him.

Accordingly, mature consideration having been given to all the matters mentioned here above, this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, by virtue of the faculties granted by the Supreme Pontiff Francis, is pleased to decree that the name of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary is henceforth to be added to Eucharistic Prayers II, III, and IV, as they appear in the third typical edition of the Roman Missal, after the name of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as follows: in Eucharistic Prayer II: “ut cum beáta Dei Genetríce Vírgine María, beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso, beátis Apóstolis“; in Eucharistic Prayer III: “cum beatíssima Vírgine, Dei Genetríce, María, cum beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso, cum beátis Apóstolis“; and in Eucharistic Prayer IV: “cum beáta Vírgine, Dei Genetríce, María, cum beáto Ioseph, eius Sponso, cum Apóstolis“.

As regards the Latin text, these formulas are hereby declared typical. The Congregation itself will soon provide vernacular translations in the more widespread western languages; as for other languages, translations are to be prepared by the Bishops’ Conferences, according to the norm of law, to be confirmed by the Holy See through this Dicastery.

All things to the contrary notwithstanding.

From the offices of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 1 May 2013, on the Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker.

Antonio Card. Cañizares Llovera
Prefect

+ Arthur Roche
Archbishop Secretary

Pope Francis here follows the lead of Blessed Pope John XXIII, expanding the latter’s decree that Saint Joseph be specifically named in the Roman Canon. St. Joseph is a powerful intercessor. His unique position as the foster father of Christ singled him out as the foster father of all who would follow the Son of God. His is an amazing example, not only for fathers, bu for all the faithful, especially those who struggle with understanding their own faith. In the end, don’t we all sometimes?

As Paternas vices comes into effect (and for some it means waiting for the proper translation of the new addition to the prayer) we are presented with the basis of Christ’s life on earth: as part of family like many others, but with an exemplary mother and father. That father and mother, that family, becomes all the clearer as a family that we too may belong to.

“Unreserved faith” – Archbishop Léonard on St. Joseph and Pope Francis

It’s been a while since this blog featured some words by the great archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard. Below is my translation of his homily on the occasion of Pope Francis’ installation, yesterday.

The cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, where the Mass was held, could not house all the faithful who had come. Among them was Queen Fabiola. Archbishop Léonard concelebrated with the other Belgian bishops – except for Ghent’s Bishop Van Looy, who was in Rome – Archbishop Giacinto Berloco, the Nuncio to Belgium and Luxembourg, and Archbishop Alain Lebeaupin, Nuncio to the European Union.

The archbishop speaks about the unreserved faith of St. Joseph, and also paints a picture of Pope Francis which shows him as a continuation of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in his modesty and humility.

léonard“Providence decided that the inthronisation of Pope Francis would take place on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary, but also patron saint of Belgium. Allow me to consider that a small wink in our direction…

This morning the bishop of Ghent, Monsignor Luc Van Looy, represented the bishops of Belgium at the installation in Rome. I am grateful to him for that, as well as to our voting cardinal, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who stayed in Rome for the occasion. In the spirit of simplicity that already characterises our new Holy Father, and since the Belgian representation in Rome was already assured, I thought it better to stay in Belgium to thank God with you all and with my fellow bishops for the gift of Pope Francis.

Saint Joseph played a major part in our salvation history. Eve though he is only the foster father, not the biological father of Jesus, it is yet he who, within the framework of Jewish law, assures that Jesus – the Messiah (in Hebrew) or the Christ (in Greek) – descends from David, of whom we heard in the first reading of this liturgy.

The second reading was chosen to illustrate the faith of Saint Joseph, which may be compared to that of Abraham. For Abraham had faith without reservations in the word of God, which proclaimed that he, despite his and his wife’s advanced age, would be the father of many peoples. And he kept believing in that, even if the apparent death of Isaac, his only son, seemed to rob him of any hope of offspring. Abraham had faith in God, without any reservations. And because of that God recognised him as righteous.

But Joseph as well, he too, had to believe – almost blindly, in a complete surrender – that what had happened with his wife Mary came from God and not from man. He had to efface himself in a radical faith, for an act of God which transcends any understanding; an act which makes us say in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”

And the Gospel of today shows us what it cost Joseph, but Mary as well, to make themselves so very small for that mysterious work in Jesus. “Son,” Mary says to Jesus, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And then that shocking answer of Jesus! The answer of a child who is only twelve years old, but who already knows that he came from God, who knows, deep inside, what we express in the Nicean Creed, that He is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” Hence His confusing answer: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary had spoken about “Your father and I”, but Jesus quietly corrects His mother’s words: He speaks of “My Father” when He refers to the God of Israel, who resides in the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus has stayed behind in Jerusalem, that is not the flight of a teenager, but because He – in the innocence of twelve-year-old child – wanted to stay in the House of Him who is His true Father: “In my Father’s house is where I had to be”. And Luke acutely says about Joseph and Mary, “they did not understand what he said to them”.  But they will understand later. After they had kept the events in their hearts and considered them for a long time.

Saint Joseph, then, played a major role in the life of the Church. Through him, because of his role as foster father, Jesus discovered in His human conscience the father figure of God, His sole and unique Father.

Our previous Pope, Benedict XVI, whose baptismal name is Joseph, was also characterised by humility and a great modesty. We don’t know a lot yet about his successor, the Bishop of Rome, Francis. But the first signs which he has given in only a few days clearly indicate that the patronage of Saint Francis of Assisi is not just empty words for him. He will be humble, like Benedict XVI, not just in his personality, but also in the outward signs of his mission as successor of Peter. Like Saint Joseph he will consider himself merely a foster father – if I may say it like that – knowing that we are all children of the one true Father, our heavenly Father, and that the Church, the Bride of Christ, is not here just for herself, but only to lead to truth, goodness and the beauty of her only love: the Christ, her bridegroom.

Of course, there were some in the media – which have the valuable task to inform us – who immediately tried to paint our new shepherd in a negative light. But just as fast there were voices, normally not too inclined to speak positively about the Vatican, which, supported by documents, pointed out the baselessness of these accusations. Let us, for our part, thank God for the gift He gives us: not just a new Pope, but also a shepherd with a totally new style. And let us – like he asked us so touchingly on the night of his election – pray intensely for him, for the universal Church for which he has responsibility, and for this world of which he is the foremost spiritual and moral guide. Amen.”

Photo credit: Phk/Kerknet

The goodness of Saint Joseph

Today is the feast day of Saint Joseph, which is by “a significant coincidence” also the day on which Pope Francis is inaugurated as Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. St. Joseph is patron of the universal Church and, on a far smaller scale, also my own patron. So he can’t go unmentioned on the blog today.

Saint_Joseph

“In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong  and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness,  which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and  a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for  love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!”

Pope Francis, Homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome

Art credit: Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni, ca. 1635

Novena to St. Joseph, day 9

Saint Joseph, you are the faithful protector and intercessor of all who love and venerate you. I have special confidence in you. You are powerful with God and will never abandon your faithful servants. I humbly invoke you and commend myself, with all who are dear to me, to your intercession. By the love you have for Jesus and Mary, do not abandon me during life, and assist me at the hour of my death.

Glorious Saint Joseph, spouse of the immaculate Virgin, Foster-father of Jesus Christ, obtain for me a pure, humble, and charitable mind, and perfect resignation to the Divine Will. Be my guide, my father, and my model through life that I may merit to die as you did in the arms of Jesus and Mary.

Loving Saint Joseph, faithful follower of Jesus Christ, I raise my heart to you to implore your powerful intercession in obtaining from the Heart of Jesus all the graces necessary for my spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly the grace of a happy death, and the special grace I now implore: In gratitude for the election of Pope Francis, that he may receive love and charity from both above and below.

Guardian of the Word Incarnate, I am confident that your prayers on my behalf will be graciously heard before the throne of God.

Continuity – Pope Francis’ coat of arms

coat of arms pope francis

Apart from the background, the shield of Pope Francis’ coat of arms is the same as the one he used as archbishop of Buenos Aires. Such displays of heraldry offer a hint at a person’s identity and priorities, and so it is with the Holy Father.

The sun with the logo ‘IHS’ refers to the Jesuit Order, to which Pope Francis belonged. The two lower emblems, the star and the spikenard flower (so not a bunch of grapes) refer to the Blessed Virgin and her spouse, Saint Joseph. Both saints rejoice in a special devotion of Pope Francis.

The motto underneath the shield is also unchanged: “miserando atque eligendo” comes from the holy Venerable Bede’s homily on St. Matthew’s calling by Christ. Rather longer in English, the Latin phrase means “Because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him”. This fits quite well with how we have come to know Pope Francis. No matter what we do or who we are, Christ chooses us because He regards us with mercy and that is a transformative act. Divine mercy makes us worthy to answer the Lord’s call.

The mitre and keys behind the shield are symbols of the power and duties of the papacy. Following Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis is the second pope to not feature the papal tiara on his coat of arms.