The protective hand of the mother – Dutch dioceses consecrated to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart

On Saturday afternoon the Dutch bishops consecrated their dioceses to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, coinciding with the centenary of the first apparition of Mary in Fatima and the tail-end of Pope Francis’ visit to that pilgrimage site in Portugal. The bishops did so at the Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady in Maastricht. All the active Dutch ordinaries and auxiliary bishops were present, as was Cardinal Ad Simonis, archbishop emeritus of Utrecht. From Groningen-Leeuwarden, which is expecting their new bishop on 3 June, diocesan administrator Fr. Peter Wellen was present.

Cardinal Wim Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht and metropolitan of the Dutch Church province, led the consecration during a Vespers, and gave the following homily:

“After the downfall of the Portuguese royal house as the result of a revolution in 1910, a very anticlerical government came to power in which freemasons dictated the tone. This government issued various measures against the Church: the wearing of priestly clothing was forbidden, as was taking religious vows; monasteries and religious orders and congregation were abolished by law and their possessions confiscated; Jesuits were forced to renounce their Portuguese citizenship; religious education in schools was abolished and the government gave themselves the right to appoint professors to seminaries. The brain behind these measures, Alfonso Costa, had the goal of eradicating Catholicism in Portugal in two generations.

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He did not succeed in this for various reasons. The faith of the Portuguese people was too strong en the Holy See resisted successfully. But a very important factor was the apparitions of Mary to three shepherd children in Fatima: Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. These apparitions greatly impacted Portugal, as well as, by the way, the rest of the Catholic world. After an angel appeared to them in 1916, Mary first appeared to them om 13 May 1917. She would do so six times in the period between 1 May and 13 October 2017.

The apparitions of Mary at Fatima are part of a string of important Marian apparitions: in La Salette in 1946, Lourdes in 1858 and Castepetroso in 1888. At all these apparitions, Mary’s message was that we should return to Christ, the Son of God and her son, do penance to gain forgiveness for our own sins and those of others and devote ourselves intensively to prayer, especially the Rosary. But of all these apparitions, those at Fatima were the most prophetic.

This had to do with the content of the three secrets that Mary entrusted there to the shepherd children. The first concerned a vision of hell and a call to prayer, conversion and penance to save souls and bring them to eternal salvation. The existence of hell was (and is) denied by many Christians and is not or barely mentioned by Christian preachers and catechists. The solemn warning of Mary must, however, be taken serious.

The second secret was an announcement of the end of the First World War, but also of the Second World War if people would not stop insulting God. Mary called for prayer and penance to implore God to bring peace. She also asked to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart to prevent atheistic communism to spread from Russia to other countries. Various popes, beginning with Pius XII in a radio message on 31 October 1942, have responded to this. It is significant that communism in Russia fell in 1989.

The third secret was a vision of a bishop in white, the pope, being persecuted, falling down as if dead under the sound of gunshots amid the bodies of bishops, priests, religious and lay people, fallen like martyrs for the faith under communism and fascism. It is an image of the way of the cross that the Church, led by the popes, has gone. On 13 May 2000, Cardinal Sodano announced, during a visit of Pope John Paul II to Fatima, that this vision referred the attack on the pope in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on 13 May 1981.

How should we now look at Mary’s messages in Fatima, and what do they add to our faith in Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer? The revelation of Holy Scripture, the public revelation to all of humanity, has been completed with Jesus Christ. Nothing can be added to that.

Mary’s messages to the shepherd children in Fatima are private revelations. Private revelations do not add anything to the deposit of faith as a whole:  “It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (art. 67). The messages of Mary at Fatima helped to better understand what the faith in Christ required to hold onto under the serious threats to the Church in the twentieth century.

A specific guidance from Mary at Fatima was her call to consecrate Russia, but also other countries or persons, to her Immaculate Heart. The heart represent the interior of the person here, and also the conscience, where the heart of man’s relationship with God lies. We call Mary’s heart immaculate because God safeguarded her from the original sin from the moment of her birth, and also because she remained free from sin in the rest of her life.

The consecration to her Immaculate Heart means two things specifically. Firstly, this consecration means that we want to follow Mary in the choice that she made in her heart of hearts, when the angel asked her to be the mother of God’s Son. She expressed her yes to God with the words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Like Mary, we want to achieve a complete consecration of ourselves to Christ.

We realise, however, that we can’t do so on our own and need God’s grace. And this brings us to the second important meaning of the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: it also expresses that we consecrate ourselves to her motherly care. In other words, that we entrust ourselves to her intercession with God.

Mary’s concrete message at Fatima especially concerned the critical situation of the Church in the previous century. But the message is still current. The situation of the Church has certainly not improved in our century. Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Additionally, there is not only persecution from outside, but also from within.

Pope John Paul II said this his life was saved on 13 May 1981 because Mary deflected the trajectory of the bullet that could have killed him. That bullet is now incorporated in the crown of the statue of Mary in Fatima. To that protecting hand of Mary, through her intercession, the Dutch bishops entrust their dioceses in this Vespers. We pray that Mary places the path of the Church and our personal lives in the protective hands of the Risen Lord, through her constant intercession. Amen.”

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The bishops were joined by numerous priests, religious, seminarians and lay faithful, filling the medieval basilica. Following the consecration, representatives of various groups lit candles at the statue of Our Lady of Fatima.

As 13 May was also the feast day of St Servatius, the first bishop in what is now the Netherlands, several bishops briefly visited the crypt where his remains lie, in the Basilica of St. Servatius, also in Maastricht. While some 130 altar servers from Germany celebrated Mass in the church above, the bishops prayed at the tomb.

 Photo credit: Ramon Mangold

German bishops say yes to Communion for divorced and remarried, but not as a rule

The standing council of the German Bishops’ Conference* yesterday published their thoughts about the pastoral care regarding marriage and family in light of Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ the Apostolic Exhortation which was released early last year. In it, as several media have already noted, the bishops express their support for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the sacraments in certain individual cases. Below, I share my translation of the relevant passage of the text:

dbk logo“Despite all the good intentions of the spouses and in spite of all marriage preparation, it does happen that relationships fail. People find themselves faced with the debris of their relationship-based lives. They suffer because of their failure to fulfill their ideal of a livelong love and relationship. To their own doubts more than enough economic concerns are often added. Especially affected are the children of a failed relationship. In this plight, it is the Church’s duty to accompany people and support them. In many cases this service is provided by the Church’s counselling centres and single-parent ministries. But in daily pastoral care it is necessary to have an even more open ear and heart, thus “encouraging openness to grace” (AL, n. 37).

So we may also answer the question of how the Church should relate to those people who, after a divorce, are civilly remarried and wish to receive the sacrament of penance and the Eucharist. The indissolubility of marrage is part of the indispensable deposit of the faith of the Church. Amoris laetitia leaves as little doubt about this as about the need for a differentiated view on the respective life situations of people. “[T]here is a need “to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations” and “to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition”” (AL, n. 296). Amoris laetita highlights the three aspects of accompanying, discerning and integrating as central guiding principles, starting from the basic assessment: “No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” (AL, n. 297). In life situations which are experienced more often than not as exhausting and stressful, those involved should find that their Church does not forget them. In how we treat the divorced and remarried it must become clear that they belong to the Church, that God does not deprive them of His love and that they are called to love God and their neighbour and be true witnesses of Jesus Christ. The Holy Father clearly emphasises the aspect of accompaniment when he says, “Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel” (Al, n. 299).

What the Pope means in this regard with accompaniment becomes clear when he maintain in Amoris laetitia: “The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace” (Al. n. 301). Amoris laetitia does not offer a general rule for this subject and does not allow for an automatic and general access to the sacraments for all divorced and civilly remarried faithful. Amoris laetitia ignores neither the grave guilt that many people in such situations of the breaking and failure of conjugal relationships carry, nor the fact that a second civil marriage denies the visible sign of the sacrament of marriage, even when the person involved was left by is or her spouse through no fault of their own. But Amoris laetitia does not stop at a categorical and irreversible exclusion from the sacraments. Footnote 336 (to AL n. 300) makes clear that the distinction which “can recognise that in a particular situation no grave fault exists” must lead to differentiated consequences, also regarding the sacraments. Footnote 351 (to AL n. 305) also points out that in a situation which is objectively irregular, someone who is subjectively, but not, or at least not completely culpable, “can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity” (AL, n. 305), when one receives the help of the Church and, in certain cases, also the help of the sacraments. This also speaks in favour of the possibility of receiving the sacraments in these situations.

Not all the faithful whose marriage has failed and who have civilly divorced and remarried can receive the sacraments without discernment. More differentiated solutions are needed, which do justice to the individual cases and come into play when a marriage can not be annuled. In this context we encourage all who have reasonable doubt that their marriage is invalid, to make use of the Church’s marriage courts, so that a new marriage may be possible if necessary. […]

Amoris laetitia presumes a process of decision-making accompanied by a pastor. Given this process, in which the conscience of all involved is required in the highest degree, Amoris laetitia allows for the possibility to receive the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. In Amoris laetitia Pope Francis stresses the importance of conscious deicions, when he says, “We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL, n. 37). As it is always about integration, such a spiritual process does not lead in every case to the receiving of the sacraments of penance and Eucharist. The individual decision to not, or not yet, receive the sacraments under the given circumstances, deserves respect and attention. But a decision in favour of receiving the sacraments must also be respected. An attitude of laxity without intense attention for accompaniment, discernment and integration, as does a rigorous attitude which remains in a quick judgment of people in socalled irregular situations. Instead of such extreme attitudes, the decision (Lat. discretio) must be made in personal conversation. We see it as our mission to further develop the path of conscience formation of the faithful. For that it is necessary to enable our pastors and provide them with criteria. Such criteria for the formation of conscience are provided extensively and in an outstandign way by the Holy Father in Amoris laetitia (cv. AL, n 298-300).

Much of this text is not new and echoes what Pope Francis and other bishops have emphasised time and again: the Church must find new ways and means to stand with people whose marriage has failed for whatever reason, and the suggestion must be avoided that these people are somehow no longer part of the Church. New, if not for many bishops (and not just those from Germany) is the conclusion that Amoris laetitia allows for the reception of the sacraments in what are called irregular situations, if in certain indivudal cases. The bishops stress, and this is something that, I fear, will be too often ignored, that the decision to receive the sacraments is not the standard decision to be made in all situations. Neither must it be made by a person alone, and it can certainly not be exercised as a right (but then again, that is true for every single Catholic receiving a sacrament).

What the German bishops are saying is that in some specific cases, often revolving about the guilt, or lack thereof, of a person in an irregular situation (compare a husband who leaves his wife and children with the wife being abandoned – both are in an irregular situation, but they are not equally guilty), receving the sacraments is allowed. But, they add, a well-formed conscience and the accompaniment of a pastor are required for this, and the pastors must be equipped with the tools and criteria to be able to properly accompany the people they are pastorally responsible for.

14_09_kardinalmuellerAnother German bishop had a different focus in a recent interview. Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke about the interpretation of Amoris laetitia in an interview, of which Sandro Magister has a partial translation. Cardinal Müller is very critical about the personal interpretations which are not in line with Catholic doctrine, saying:

Amoris Laetitia must clearly be interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church. […] I don’t like it, it is not right that so many bishops are interpreting Amoris Laetitia according to their way of understanding the pope’s teaching. This does not keep to the line of Catholic doctrine. The magisterium of the pope is interpreted only by him or through the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. The pope interprets the bishops, it is not the bishops who interpret the pope, this would constitute an inversion of the structure of the Catholic Church. To all these who are talking too much, I urge them to study first the doctrine [of the councils] on the papacy and the episcopate. The bishop, as teacher of the Word, must himself be the first to be well-formed so as not to fall into the risk of the blind leading the blind.”

A condition for interpreting what the Pope says does seem to be clarity on the latter’s part, it must be said. The lack thereof has led to the dubia presented by Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra and Meisner and is evident in the various interpretations that exist. Cardinal Müller is correct in stressing that Amoris laetitia must be “interpreted in the light of the whole doctrine of the Church”, but this is evidently not happening everywhere. The German bishops’ interpretation also relies solely on Amoris laetitia, not on earlier magisterial documents, although they do mention the indissolubility of marriage as central tenet of Catholic doctrine.

Cardinal Müller also explains how to avoid confusion about Amoris laetitia and the teachings it does or does not contain or change:

 “I urge everyone to reflect, studying the doctrine of the Church first, starting from the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, which is very clear on marriage. I would also advise not entering into any casuistry that can easily generate misunderstandings, above all that according to which if love dies, then the marriage bond is dead. These are sophistries: the Word of God is very clear and the Church does not accept the secularization of marriage. The task of priests and bishops is not that of creating confusion, but of bringing clarity. One cannot refer only to little passages present in Amoris laetitia, but it has to be read as a whole, with the purpose of making the Gospel of marriage and the family more attractive for persons. It is not Amoris laetitia that has provoked a confused interpretation, but some confused interpreters of it. All of us must understand and accept the doctrine of Christ and of his Church, and at the same time be ready to help others to understand it and put it into practice even in difficult situations.”

Whether the German bishops are incorrectly interpreting Amoris laetitia revolves around the tension between the question of the indissolubility of marriage and the pastoral care for the innocent. What seems to be clear, however, is that magisterial documents such as Familiaris Consortio (1981) and Veritatis Splendor (1993) can not and should not be disregarded when reading Amoris laetitia. These earlier teachings must offer a basis and framework for understanding and realising what Amoris laetitia presents.

*The standing council of the German Bishops’ Conference is made up of one representative from each diocese and consist of the following prelates:

  • Bishop Stephan Ackermann, Trier
  • Bishop Heinz Josef Algermissen, Fulda
  • Bishop Georg Bätzing, Limburg
  • Archbishop Hans-Josef Becker, Paderborn
  • Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, Osnabrück
  • Bishop Karl Borsch, Aachen
  • Archbishop Stephan Burger, Freiburg im Breisgau
  • Bishop Gerhard Feige, Magdeburg
  • Bishop Gebhard Fürst, Rottenburg-Stuttgart
  • Bishop Felix Genn, Münster
  • Msgr. Dietmar Giebelmann, Mainz
  • Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke, Eichstätt
  • Archbishop Stefan Heße, Hamburg
  • Bishop Friedhelm Hofmann, Würzburg
  • Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt, Görlitz
  • Archbishop Heiner Koch, Berlin
  • Reinhard Cardinal Marx, München und Freising
  • Bishop Ulrich Neymeyr, Erfurt
  • Bishop Stefan Oster, Passau
  • Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, Essen
  • Archbishop Ludwig Schick, Bamberg
  • Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers, Dresden-Meißen
  • Bishop Norbert Trelle, Hildesheim
  • Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, Regensburg
  • Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann, Speyer
  • Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki, Cologne
  • Bishop Konrad Zdarsa, Augsburg

 

No fear in violent times – Bishop Wiertz’s letter for Advent

Bishop Frans Wiertz digs into the topic of fear and evil in his letter for Advent. His opinion of modern society is not overly positive, but he finds the antidote in the promise of the angel to the shepherds: “Be not afraid”.

Mgr. F.J.M. Wiertz“Brothers and sisters,

We are preparing ourselves for Christmas. At the heart of the celebration of this feast is of course the story of the birth of Jesus. Every time, we discover new facets in it which are worth reflecting on. This year, our attention is especially drawn to a verse from the song of the angel. The angel heartens the shepherds in their alarm and their fear: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy…” (Luke 2:10).

“Do not be afraid”. This encouragement appears frequently in Holy Scripture, in all kinds of variations. A zealous reader once counted how frequently. He made the surprising discovery that it was no less than 365 times! So you could say that the Word of God encourages us every day: “Have no fear. Do not be afraid”.

Perhaps this appeal is especially necessary in our time. Our society is contradictory. Never before did people have it this good. But still, many have a sense of great discontent. Research has established the presence of this discontent before. Many people individually call themselves happy, but as a society we are unsatisfied and insecure. Our lives are even permeated by a “culture of fear”. People have become afraid of each other.

The brutal violence of terrorism scares us. Our peaceful coexistence is threatened by it. We are worried about the coarseness and hardness of modern life. Normal social contact is disrupted by it. We are even starting to distrust each other. We lock our houses down with security systems and padlocks. “Who can I still trust?” is often heard.

We are undeniably at a crossroads in history. The core values of our coexistence have thoroughly changed in a very short time. Growing individualism is paralysing our common solidarity. Our common bond has become fleeting, loyalty a difficult task.

Does this make us feel good? Young people are looking for a handhold in all sorts of ways. The elderly are worried about their future. For young and old existence has become confusing. Uncertainty takes hold over us.

This uncertainty ultimately comes from the weakening or even the disappearance of the faith in God. God, revealed in Jesus Christ, the power of His Holy Spirit. Many hardly know what to do with it. People are trying to live without God in our time. Without any awareness of His care. Without sense for His love.

By extension, also often enough: without any concern for him or her who remains our neighbour. If God is no longer our Father, we are also no longer each other’s brothers and sisters.  This absence of God and neightbour, that frightens me.

Should we, as Christians, resign ourselves to this culture of fear? The call to ‘watchfulness’ resounds in many texts in the liturgy of Advent. As faithful we must not ignore the problems of this time. We must be on our guard, watch for the power of evil not conquering us.

With all people of good will, we are searching for a peaceful society. The Gospel asks for solidarity in fighting everything that stands in the way of a humane society. The faith in Jesus Christ is at odds with any form of indifference. Pope Francis continuously warns against what he calls a ‘global indifference’.

The frightening situation of a violent world wakes us up. We often close our eyes for the power of evil in our superficial world. Let us open our hearts for the many who have fled the misery of their destroyed homes.

The fear of people in our time is really not unfounded. We can not deny that an evil power is working among us. This should be fought with all virtuous means. Saint Paul still presents us with a very simple and very effective measure: “Conquer evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

We must not allow ourselves to be paralysed by fear. Fear is, after all, a poor counselor. That is why the angel of Christmas warns us, “Do not be afraid.” And he adds, “For behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy… For today … a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Luke 2,10-11).

God did not remain a stranger to us. No distant absentee. From the silence of His mystery He came intimately close to us in Jesus. He broke through His silence. Opened heaven that was closed. The Word of God became man and lives among us.

Faith in the Christ child always gives us new confidence and hope in our sometimes frightening situation. It has become a hard task to give these virtues a stable place in our lives. In order to break the spiral of our fear, we need courage. The courage of a persevering witness of faith. As the Reverend Martin Luther King said, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear”. May the birth of Christ give us that strength of His peace and salvation!

+ Franz Wiertz,
Bishop of Roermond”

Alarm over the new translation of the Lord’s Prayer? Not so much.

prayerLast Wednesday LifeSiteNews published an article, which was later also published on Aleteia, about the new Dutch translation of the Lord’s Prayer, introduced in the dioceses of the Netherlands, Flanders and Suriname on the first Sunday of Advent, 27 November. Claiming that Dutch Catholics are “raising the alarm” over an ideological adaptation of the text of the Our Father, the article gives the impression that Catholics are up in arms about it across parishes everywhere. The truth is rather different.

The LifeSiteNews article draws mainly on the opinions of Vox Populi, a fairly extremely orthodox Catholic group from Flanders, which thus does not speak for the vast majority of Catholics. The fact that they are up in arms, does not mean that the bishops have a full-scale revolt to deal with. Furthermore, the new translation is linked to developments in the Church of the Netherlands that date back to the 1960s. What it fails to acknowledge is that we no longer live in the 60s (or 70s, 80s or 90s, for that matter). Accusing the bishops of enforcing ideological changes simply does not hold up any longer. None of the Dutch bishops comfortably fits in the liberal bracket, and some are even outspoken orthodox.

What the article also overlooks is that the new translation is not the sole endeavour of the bishops of the Netherlands and Flanders. It has actually received the approval of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, so it can not be presented as something done independently from Rome. In reality, the new translation of the Lord’s Prayer is part of the long overdue project to create a new, more accurate, translation of the entire Roman Missal.

It may be appealing to present an image of ruin when it comes to the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, and it is true that in many respects, things are not good, but to ignore the positive developments that also exist is a disservice to the truth. In fact, it underlines the ideological trends at LifeSiteNews.

The issue that Vox Populi raises, and which, in itself, is an issue worth discussing, revolves around two words: “bekoring” (used in the old translation) and “beproeving” (used in the new translation). One can be translated as “temptation”, the other as “test”, but, although we are talking about one language area, these words have different connotations in different parts. In the northern half of the Netherlands “bekoring” is now generally considered positively, while in the Southern half and in Belgium it is more negative and thus draws nearer to the meaning of “beproeving”: being tempted by something can become a test. These changes in meaning and understanding have prompted the bishops to change the translation. Not to introduce a new concept which wasn’t there in the original, but to stay closer to that original meaning.

Shortly before the introduction of the new translation, then-Archbishop De Kesel, who sat on the translation committee on behalf of the Flemish bishops, wrote:

de kesel“Until now this word (temptationis) has been translated as “bekoring” [temptation]. The Greek has peirasmos. This can be translated as both “bekoring” and “beproeving” [ordeal/test]. Most often this is translated as “beproeving”. So “beproeving” is the more concordant translation of the Greek basis. Translating it as “bekoring”, furthermore, presents a theological problem. “Bekoren” means to incite to evil. In Scripture this is said of the devil, not of God. God does not try and encourage man to commit evil. In that sense it is not God who tempts us, as the Letter of James (1:13) explicitly says. James responds here to an incorrect understanding of temptation or testing. It is not God, but, “when a man is tempted, it is always because he is being drawn away by the lure of his own passions”.

Yet it is an undeniable Biblical concept that God can test someone’s faith. For example, Abraham was tested, and so Jesus was tested also. “Thereupon, the Spirit sent him out into the desert:  and in the desert he spent forty days and forty nights, tempted by the devil” (Mark 1:12-13). The wording is striking and to the point: it is the Spirit who sends Jesus to the desert to be tested for forty days by Satan. The Spirit of God does not lure us into doing evil and test us in that way, but He can bring us into situations in which our faith is being tested. These are situations in which we are presented with the unavoidable choice: for God and thus against evil, or for evil and thus against God. Only in and through the testing we know whether or not we really believe in God. Whether we, like Abraham, trust Him unconditionally, even in the darkest hour. This is also the meaning of the forty years in the desert. As Deuteronomy 8:2 says: “the Lord thy God led thee through the desert, testing thee by hard discipline, to know the dispositions of thy heart”.

Hence the meaning of the final prayer in the Our Father. We do not ask God not to tempt us. He doesn’t. But we do ask Him not to test us beyond our abilities. And this is not just any test. It is about whether or not, when it really matters, we won’t deny our vocation as Christians. That, as happened to Simon Peter, we would say, when things get dangerous, “No, I do not know Him.” That is what we ask God earnestly in the last prayer of the Our Father: do not lead us to that ordeal.””

So, no, there is no revolt brewing, and neither is there an ideological agenda being pursued. A case can certainly be made for either translation of the word ‘temptation’. But, although the Dutch language area is small, it is home to a range of cultural and linguistic differences. When drafting a translation that can be used for the entire area, some changes must be made that will be understood differently in different places. That is why proper catechesis was and remains necessary. The explanation offered by Cardinal De Kesel is not automatically understood by all Dutch-speaking faithful, so it must be explained. Not by ideological groups like Vox Populi, but by the ones who commissioned the new translation: the bishops and with them the priests in the parishes.

Lastly, change is always difficult. It will take time for the new translation to take hold. But take hold it will, and I expect sooner rather than later.

Wake up! – Bishop Oster’s letter for Advent

Passau’s Bishop Stefan Oster takes St. Paul’s words as his own in his letter for Advent, urging us to wake up from sleep. We must wake up to actively pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ, in the knowledge that the most important commandment is to love Him. And we can, as the bishop says, “it is really possible to love Jesus”.

oster“Dear sisters and brothers,

It is time to rise up from sleep! So goes the urgent admonition from St. Paul to the Christians of Rome in today’s reading. It is time to get up from sleep. Paul lives in a very deep inner unity with Christ. And it is characteristic of people like Paul, throughout history, that they see their own time as broken, superficial, threatened. As lulled to sleep. This in comparison to what they themselves experience inwardly, which has grasped them within, what is to them to true, a reality: the closeness to Christ. And, like Jesus Himself in the Gospel, Paul sees the danger that we people become inwardly deaf and blind to His presence, that we no longer have any sensitivity for His being near to us, that He wants to transform us from within, every day and every hour. It is time to get up, Paul says. In the Gospel Jesus says: be watchful, be prepared. You do not known the hour at which the Son of Man comes.

Dear sisters and brothers, I would most of all like to call you and also myself and all of us in a similar way: it is time to rise up from sleep. Jesus is coming, Jesus is near. Am I willing? Is my heart open to Him, who wants to come in glory, wants to come again in the fullness of love, of truth, of light and power. And who now already wants to enter our hearts every day, so that we may truly know Him, from heart to heart, when we meet Him face to face. Or are we perhaps not also often in a situation in which we should basically fear His coming, after having forgotten Him for so long?

You know that we are occupying ourselves in the diocese with a great topic: how can we help each other to find a new faith, to deepen it anew? What does “new evangelisation” mean? How do we open our faith in such a way that it touches people of today, with their questions of today? That they sense that this is really a source of life, healing, depth, beauty and truth? I am convinced that we can only find the answers to such questions when we also ask ourselves again: Do I know Jesus? Am I really interested in Him? Do I really believe that He can touch and transform my life here and now? Has He already touched it? Have I, for example, ever been moved in my heart by what we celebrate at Easter, namely that Jesus lives?! And do I believe that He also lives in our Church, in the celebration of the sacraments? And do I also believe that He also lives in me, and wants to enable me to become like Him, to love and trust like Him?

Dear sisters and brothers, it is really possible to love Jesus. And in the Gospel Jesus tells us very clearly that we should try. And He even tells us that loving Him is the most important commandment of all. Our ability to love our fellow men, our neighbours like ourselves, but also the poor, the marginalised, this ability comes from Him, from our relationship with Him, from remaining with Him. He wants us to become more like Him. And I earnestly believe, dear sisters and brothers, that our ability to help other people come to faith also depends on our relationship with Jesus. From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks, He tells us. And all that once conquered your heart will make you act differently than before this conquest. Does our behaviour show that Jesus has conquered our hearts? Do we rightly bear His name, when we call ourselves Christians?

I am well aware that these questions are challenging for all of us. For me as well, of course. And of course, a relationship with Jesus is also a path, a process, a maturing and ripening, often with highs and lows. It is never cut and dry. Often one feels like a beginner. But my question to us is this: have we already begun the journey? Have we understood how important this relationship is for our lives, for our salvation? Or don’t we believe too often: being a Christian means not doing anything to anyone, and trying to be reasonably nice?! This would be a great misunderstanding, because being a Christian is in the first place a relationship, a relationship that transforms. New evangelisation is therefore, for example: learning to pray anew, alone and together. Look for people with whom you can regularly come together, to pray together; to read Scripture together – and to tell each other what role Jesus plays in your lives. And when you think that you would have nothing to say, let yourself be strengthened by the stories of others. In this way you will learn to become more sensitive to Jesus’ presence in your life. Dear sisters, dear brothers, Jesus is looking for people who will passionately live with and for Him, regardless of where and how old they are. He is looking for people who can speak, who can speak about their faith and their lives with the Lord. The Church therefore needs individuals, but also groups and communities, to put this into practice – and also help other people to find words – to speak of our faith anew.

What do you think, dear sisters and brothers, is it not time to get up? And, as Paul says, to rise from sleep? Form a sleep which wants to convince us that the faith is self-perpetuating? From the inertia which wants us to consider everything else more important than the most important relationship of our lives! Is it not time to return to Jesus again and ask Him to recoginise us? The time of Advent before is a good opportunity for that! We prepare ourselves for His coming. We celebrate the greatest event in world history. And we Christians have the privilege to believe that it is and remains true, and that it happens also today! In and among us! Do we believe it? Or do we rather remain in bed? I am in favour of waking up and allowing ourselves to be touched anew by His love, who is for me personally, who knows me, who wants to come to my heart and who is eternal. I very much wish, dear sisters and brothers, that you will be touched anew by it in this Advent. And I am grateful for all who help to introduce others to this mysteries. God bless you all.

Given on the first Sunday of Advent 2016

Dr. Stefan Oster SDB, Bishop of Passau.”

Pope in Sweden – the Dutch translations

In this post I have collected my translations of the various homilies and addresses given by Pope Francis during his short visit to Sweden. Perhaps needlessly said, apart from this paragraph, the post will consist of Dutch text.

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Homilie tijdens de oecumenische gebedsdienst in Lund:

“”Blijf in mij zoals ik in u” (Joh. 15:4). Deze woorden, uitgesproken door Jezus bij het Laatste Avondmaal, laten ons een blik werpen in het hart van Christus, kort voor Zijn ultieme offer aan het kruis. We kunnen Zijn hart voelen kloppen met liefde voor ons en Zijn verlangen voor eenheid onder allen die in Hem geloven. Hij vertelt ons dat Hij de ware wijnstok is en wij de ranken die, net zoals Hij één is met de Vader, één met Hem moeten zijn, willen we vrucht dragen.

Hier in Lund, tijdens deze gebedsdienst, willen wij ons gezamenlijk verlangen laten zien om één te blijven met Christus, zodat we leven hebben. We vragen Hem: “Heer, help ons in uw genade om dichter met U verenigd te zijn en zo, samen, een effectievere getuigenis te geven van geloof, hoop en liefde.” Dit is ook een moment om God te danken voor het werk van onze vele broeders en zusters van verschillende kerkelijke gemeenschappen die weigerden genoeg te nemen met verdeeldheid, maar in plaats daarvan de hoop op verzoening van allen die in de ene Heer geloven levend hielden.

Als katholieken en Lutheranen zijn we een gezamenlijke weg van verzoening gegaan. Nu, in de context van de herdenking van de Reformatie van 1517, hebben we een nieuwe kans om een gezamenlijke weg te kiezen, één die in de afgelopen vijftig jaar vorm heeft gekregen in de oecumenische dialoog tussen de Lutherse Wereldfederatie en de Katholieke Kerk. Ook wij kunnen geen genoegen nemen met de verdeeldheid en afstand die onze scheiding tussen ons geschapen heeft. Wij hebben de kans een kritiek moment van onze geschiedenis te repareren door voorbij de controverses en meningsverschillen, die ons er vaak van hebben weerhouden elkaar te begrijpen, te gaan.

Jezus zegt ons dat de Vader de “wijngaardenier” is (vg. vers 1) die de wijnstok verzorgt en snoeit om te zorgen dat die meer vrucht draagt (vg. vers 2). De Vader heeft steeds zorg voor onze relatie met Jezus, om te zien of we werkelijk één met Hem zijn (vg. vers 4). Hij waakt over ons, en Zijn blik van liefde zet ons aan ons het verleden te zuiveren en in het heden te werken om een toekomst van eenheid tot stand te brengen, die Hij zozeer verlangt.

Ook wij moeten met liefde en eerlijkheid naar ons verleden kijken, fouten herkennen en vergeving zoeken, want God alleen is onze rechter. Met dezelfde eerlijkheid en liefde moeten we inzien dat onze verdeeldheid ons scheidt van de oorspronkelijke intuïtie van het volk van God, dat van nature verlangt één te zijn, en dat die verdeeldheid historisch bestendigd werd door de machthebbers van deze wereld, en niet zozeer het gelovige volk, dat altijd en overal met zekerheid en liefde door zijn Goede Herder geleid moet worden. Zeker, er was aan beide zijden een oprechte wil om het ware geloof te belijden en te behouden, maar tegelijkertijd weten we dat we in onszelf zijn opgesloten door angst voor of vooroordeel over het geloof dat anderen met een ander accent en taal belijden. Zoals Paus Johannes Paulus II zei: “We moeten niet toestaan dat wij worden geleid door de intentie onszelf te willen benoemen als rechters van de geschiedenis, maar alleen door de motivatie om beter te willen begrijpen wat er is gebeurd en om boodschappers van de waarheid te worden” (Brief aan Kardinaal Johannes Willebrands, President van het Secretariaat voor de Christelijke Eenheid, 31 oktober 1983). God is de wijngaardenier, die de wijnrank met immense liefde verzorgd en beschermd; laten wij geraakt zijn door Zijn waakzame blik. Het enige dat Hij verlangt is dat wij als levende ranken in Zijn Zoon Jezus blijven. Met deze nieuwe blik op het verleden beweren we niet een onpraktische correctie op wat er gebeurd is te willen realiseren, maar “het verhaal anders te vertellen” (Luthers-Rooms Katholieke Commissie over de Eenheid, Van Conflict naar Eenheid, 17 juni 2013, 16).

Jezus herinnerert ons eraan: “Los van Mij kunnen jullie niets” (vers 5). Hij is degene die ons onderhoudt en ons aanmoedigt manieren te vinden om onze eenheid steeds zichtbaarder te maken. Zeker, ons verdeeldheid is een enorme bron van lijden en onbegrip geweest, maar het heeft ons er ook toe geleid eerlijk te erkennen dat we zonder Hem niets kunnen; zo heeft het ons in staat gesteld bepaalde aspecten van ons geloof beter te begrijpen. Dankbaar erkennen we dat de Reformatie geholpen heeft de Heilige schrift een meer centrale plaats te geven in het leven van de Kerk. Door het gezamenlijk luisteren naar het woord van God in de Schrift zijn er belangrijke stappen voorwaarts gezet in de dialoog tussen de Katholieke Kerk en de Lutherse Wereldfederatie, wiens vijftigste verjaardag we nu vieren. Laten we de Heer vragen dat Zijn woord ons bijeen mag houden, want het is een bron van voeding en leven; zonder de inspiratie van het woord kunnen we niets.

De geestelijk ervaring van Maarten Luther daagt ons uit ons te herinneren dat wij zonder God niets kunnen. “Hoe kan ik een genadige God verkrijgen?” Deze vraag achtervolgde Luther. De vraag van een rechtvaardige relatie met God is in feite de bepalende vraag voor ons leven. Zoals we weten ontmoette Luther die genadige God in het goede nieuws van Jezus, mensgeworden, gestorven en verrezen. Met het concept van sola gratia herinnert hij ons eraan dat God altijd het initiatief neemt, nog voor enige menselijke reactie, zelfs als Hij dat antwoord wil opwekken. De rechtvaardigingsleer drukt zo de essentie van het menselijke bestaan tegenover God uit.

Jezus spreekt voor ons als onze bemiddelaar voor de Vader; Hij vraagt Hem dat Zijn leerlingen één mogen zijn, “zodat de wereld kan geloven” (Joh. 17:21). Dat geeft ons troost en inspireert ons om één te zijn met Jezus, en daarom te bidden: “Geef ons de gave van eenheid zodat de wereld kan geloven in de kracht van uw barmhartigheid”. Dit is de getuigenis die de wereld van ons verwacht. Wij christenen zullen geloofwaardige getuigen van de barmhartigheid zijn in zoverre dat vergeving, vernieuwing en verzoening dagelijks onder ons worden ervaren. Samen kunnen wij Gods barmhartigheid verkondigen en zichtbaar maken, concreet en met vreugde, door de waardigheid van ieder persoon hoog te houden en te bevorderen. Zonder deze dienst aan en in de wereld is het christelijk geloof onvolledig.

Als Lutheranen en katholieken bidden wij samen in deze kathedraal, in het bewustzijn dat we zonder God niets kunnen. Wij vragen Zijn hulp om levende ledematen te zijn, blijvend in Hem, steeds met behoefte aan Zijn genade, zodat we samen Zijn woord aan de wereld kunnen geven, die zijn tedere liefde en barmhartigheid zo nodig heeft.”

Gezamenlijke verklaring ter gelegenheid van de gezamenlijke Katholiek-Lutheraanse herdenking van de Reformatie:

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“”Laten we met elkaar verbonden blijven, jullie en Ik, want zoals een rank geen vrucht kan dragen uit eigen kracht, maar alleen als ze verbonden blijft met de wijnstok, zo kunnen ook jullie geen vrucht dragen als je niet met Mij verbonden blijft” (Johannes 15:4).

Met dankbare harten

Met deze Gezamenlijke Verklaring drukken wij vreugdevolle dankbaarheid aan God uit voor dit moment van gezamenlijk gebed in de kathedraal van Lund, aan het begin van het jaar waarin we het vijfhonderdste jubileum van de Reformatie herdenken. Vijftig jaar aanhoudende en vruchtbare oecumenische dialoog tussen katholieken en Lutheranen heeft ons geholpen vele verschillen te overbruggen, en heeft ons wederzijds begrip en vertrouwen versterkt. Tegelijkertijd zijn we dichter tot elkaar gekomen door de gezamenlijke dienst aan onze naasten – vaak in situaties van lijden en vervolging. Door dialoog en gedeelde getuigenis zijn we niet langer vreemden. We hebben veeleer geleerd dat wat ons verenigdt groter is dan wat ons scheidt.

Van conflict naar gemeenschap

Hoewel we ten diepste dankbaar zijn voor de geestelijke en theologische gaven van de Reformatie, belijden en betreuren we voor Christus ook dat Lutheranen en katholieken de zichtbare eenheid van de Kerk hebben beschadigd. Theologische verschillen gingen samen met vooroordelen en conflicten, en religie werd een instrument voor politieke doeleinden. Ons gezamenlijk geloof in Jezus Christus en ons doopsel vereist van ons een dagelijkse bekering, waarmee we de historische meningsverschillen en conflicten die het dienstwerk van de verzoening verhinderden van ons afwerpen. Hoewel het verleden niet verandert kan worden, kan wat er herinnert wordt en hoe het wordt herinnert wel veranderen. Wij bidden voor de genezing van onze wonden en van de herinneringen die ons beeld van de ander blokkeren. We verwerpen nadrukkelijk alle haat en geweld, in het verleden en heden, vooral wanneer uitgevoerd in de naam van religie. Vandaag horen we het gebod van God om alle strijd aan de kant te zetten. We erkennen dat we, bevrijd door genade, voorwaarts gaan naar de eenheid waartoe God ons steeds roept.

Onze toewijding aan gezamenlijke getuigenis

Nu we die periode in de geschiedenis als een last achter ons laten, beloven wij plechtig samen te getuigen van Gods barmhartige genade, zichtbaar in de gekruisigde en verrezen Christus. In het bewustzijn dat de manier waarop wij ons tot elkaar verhouden onze getuigenis van het Evangelie vorm geeft, wijden wij ons toe aan de verdere groei van gemeenschap, geworteld in het doopsel, terwijl we proberen de overblijvende obstakels die volledige eenheid nog verhinderen te verwijderen. Christus verlangt dat we één zijn, zodat de wereld kan geloven (vg. Joh. 17:21).

Vele leden van onze gemeenschappen verlangen ernaar de Eucharistie aan één tafel te ontvangen als een concrete uitdrukking van volledige eenheid. Wij ervaren de pijn van degenen die hun hele leven delen, behalve de verlossende aanwezigheid van God aan de Eucharistische tafel. Wij erkennen onze gezamenlijke pastorale verantwoordelijkheid om een antwoord te geven op de geestelijke dorst en honger van onze mensen om één te zijn in Christus. Wij verlangen ernaar dat deze wond in het Lichaam van Christus zal genezen. Dit is het doel van onze oecumenische inspanningen, die we willen bevorderen, ook door onze toewijding aan de theologische dialoog te hernieuwen

We bidden tot God dat katholieken en Lutheranen samen zullen kunnen getuigen van het Evangelie van Jezus Christus, en de mensheid uitnodigen het goede nieuws van Gods verlossende handelen te horen en ontvangen. We bidden tot God om inspiratie, aanmoediging en kracht zodat we naast elkaar kunnen staan in het dienstwerk, de menselijke waardigheid en rechten hooghouden, met name van de armen, werken voor gerechtigheid en alle vormen van geweld afwijzen. God roept ons op allen die verlangen naar waardigheid, gerechtigheid, vrede en verzoening nabij te zijn. Vandaag in het bijzonder verheffen we onze stemmen voor een einde aan het geweld en extremisme dat zo vele landen en gemeenschappen, en talloze zusters en broeders in Christus, treft. We sporen Lutheranen en katholieken aan om samen te werken in het ontvangen van de vreemde, degenen die gedwongen zijn te vluchten vanwege oorlog of vervolging te hulp te komen, en de rechten van vluchtelingen en asielzoekers te verdedigen.

Meer dan ooit beseffen we dat ons gezamenlijk dienstwerk in deze wereld moet reiken tot aan Gods scheppen, die lijdt onder uitbuitingen en de gevolgen van onverzadelijke hebzucht. We erkennen het recht van toekomstige generaties om te genieten van Gods wereld in al haar potentieel en schoonheid. We bidden voor een omslag in harten en hoofden die leidt tot een liefdevolle en verantwoordelijke zorg voor de schepping.

Eén in Christus

Op deze gunstige gelegenheid drukken wij onze dankbaarheid uit aan onze broeders en zusters die de verschillende christelijke wereldgemeenschappen en broederschappen vertegenwoordigen die hier aanwezig zijn en zich aansluiten bij ons gebed. Nu we ons opnieuw toewijden aan de beweging van conflict naar gemeenschap, doen we dat als ledematen van het ene Lichaam van Christus, waarin we door het doopsel zijn opgenomen. We nodigen onze oecumenische partners uit ons aan onze verplichtingen te herinneren en ons te bemoedigen. We vragen hen voor ons te blijven bidden, met ons op weg te gaan en ons te ondersteunen in het uitvoeren van de gebedsvolle verplichtingen die wij vandaag uitspreken.

Oproep aan katholieken en Lutheranen in de wereld

Wij roepen alle Lutherse en katholieke parochies en gemeenschappen op om stoutmoedig en creatief, vol vreugde en hoop te zijn in hun toewijding om de grote reis voor ons voort te zetten. In plaats van conflicten uit het verleden, zal Gods geschenk van eenheid onder ons de samenwerking leiden en onze solidariteit verdiepen. Door dichter in het geloof tot Christus te komen, door samen te bidden, door naar elkaar te luisteren, door de liefde van Christus voor te leven in onze relaties, zullen wij, katholieken en Lutheranen, onszelf openstellen voor de kracht van de Drieëne God. Geworteld in Christus en van Hem getuigend vernieuwen wij onze vastberadenheid om trouwe voorboden te zijn van Gods grenzeloze liefde voor de hele mensheid.”

Toespraak tijdens het Oecumenisch evenement in Malmö Arena:

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“Ik dank God voor deze gezamenlijke herdenking van het vijfhonderste jubileum van de Reformatie. We gedenken dit jubileum met een hernieuwde geest en erkennen dat de christelijke eenheid een prioriteit is, omdat we weten dat er meer is dat ons verenigt dan ons scheidt. De weg die we gegaan zijn om die eenheid te bereiken is zelf een groot geschenk dat God ons geeft. Met deze hulp zijn we vandaag hier bijeen gekomen, Lutheranen en katholieken, is een geest van broederschap, om onze blik te richten op de ene Heer, Jezus Christus.

Onze dialoog heeft ons geholpen te groeien in wederzijds begrip; het heeft wederzijds vertrouwen bevordert en ons verlangen om verder te gaan naar volledige eenheid bevestigd. Eén van de vruchten van deze dialoog is de samenwerking tussen verschillende organisaties van de Lutherse Wereldfederatie en de Katholieke Kerk. Dankzij deze nieuwe sfeer van begrip zullen Caritas Internationalis en de World Service van de Lutherse Wereldfederatie vandaag een gezamenlijk overeengekomen verklaring ondertekenen die gericht is op het ontwikkelen en versterken van een geest van samenwerking ter bevordering van de menselijke waardigheid en sociale gerechtigheid. Ik groet van harte de leden van beide organisaties; in een wereld die door oorlogen en conflicten uit elkaar getrokken wordt, zijn en blijven zij een lichtend voorbeeld van toewijding tot en dienst aan de naaste. Ik moedig u aan voort te gaan op de weg van samenwerking.

Ik heb aandachtig geluisterd naar de mensen die getuigenis hebben gegeven, hoe zij te midden van zoveel uitdagingen dagelijks hun leven toewijden aan het opbouwen van een wereld die steeds meer wil reageren op het plan van God, onze Vader. Pranita sprak over de schepping. De schepping zelf is duidelijk een teken van Gods grenzeloze liefde voor ons. Als gevolg kunnen de geschenken van de natuur ons tot het overwegen van God aanzetten. Ik deel je zorg over het misbruik dat onze planeet, ons gezamenlijk thuis, schaadt en ernstige gevolgen heeft voor het klimaat. Zoals we in ons, in mijn land zeggen: “Uiteindelijk zijn het de armen die de kosten betalen voor ons feesten”. Zoals jij terecht opmerkte hebben zij de grootste impact op degenen die het meest kwetsbaar en behoeftig zijn; zij worden gedwongen te emigreren om aan de gevolgen van klimaatverandering te ontsnappen. Wij allemaal, en wij christenen in het bijzonder, zijn verantwoordelijk voor de bescherming van de schepping. Onze manier van leven en ons handelen moet altijd overeenstemmen met ons geloof. Wij zijn geroepen harmonie op te wekken in onszelf en met anderen, maar ook met God en Zijn handwerk. Pranita, ik moedig je aan vol te houden in je toewijding in naam van ons gezamenlijk thuis. Dank je!

Mgr. Hector Fabio vertelde ons over het gezamenlijk werk van katholieken en Lutheranen in Colombia. Het is goed om te weten dat christenen samenwerken om gemeenschappelijke en maatschappelijke processen van algemeen belang op te starten. Ik vraag jullie in het bijzonder te bidden voor dat grootse land, zodat, door middel van de samenwerking van iedereen, de vrede, waar zo naar verlangd wordt en die zo nodig is voor een menswaardig samenleven, eindelijk kan worden behaald. En omdat het menselijk hart, als het naar Jezus kijkt, geen grenzen kent, moge het dan een gebed zijn dat verder reikt, en al die landen omvat waar ernstige conflicten voortduren.

Marguerite maakt ons bewust van de hulp aan kinderen die het slachtoffers zijn van wreedheid en het werk voor de vrede. Dit is zowel bewonderenswaardig en een oproep om de talloze situaties van kwetsbaarheid van zo vele personen die zich niet kunnen laten horen serieus te nemen. Wat jij als missie beschouwd is een zaadje, een zaadje dat overvloedig vrucht draagt, en vandaag, dankzij dat zaadje, kunnen duizenden kinderen studeren, groeien en in goede gezondheid leven. Je hebt geïnvesteerd in de toekomst! Dank je! En ik ben dankbaar dat je zelfs nu, in ballingschap, een boodschap van vrede blijft verspreiden. Je zei dat iedereen die jou kent denkt dat wat je doet gek is. Natuurlijk, het is de gekte van de liefde voor God en onze naaste. We hebben meer van die gekte nodig, verlicht door het geloof en vertrouwen op de voorzienigheid van God. Blijf werken, en moge die stem van hoop die je aan het begin van je avontuur hebt gehoord, en je investering in de toekomst, je eigen hart en de harten van vele jonge mensen blijven raken.

Rose, de jongste, gaf een werkelijk ontroerende getuigenis. Ze heeft gebruik kunnen maken van het sporttalent dat God haar gaf. In plaats van haar energie te verspillen in negatieve situaties heeft ze voldoening gevonden in een vruchtbaar leven. Luisterend naar jouw verhaal, dacht ik aan de levens van zoveel jonge mensen die verhalen als het jouwe zouden moeten horen. Ik wil dat iedereen weet dat ze kunnen ontdekken hoe prachtig het is om kinderen van God te zijn en wat een privilege het is om door Hem geliefd en gekoesterd te zijn. Rose, ik dank je vanuit mijn hart voor jouw werk en toewijding om andere vrouwen aan te moedigen om weer naar school te gaan, en voor het feit dat je dagelijks bidt voor vrede in de jonge staat Zuid-Sudan, die dat zo erg nodig heeft.

En na het horen van deze krachtige getuigenissen, die ons deden nadenken over onze eigen levens en hoe we reageren op de noodsituaties overal om ons heen, wil ik al die regeringen danken, die vluchtelingen helpen, alle regeringen die ontheemde mensen asielzoekers helpen. Alles dat gedaan wordt om deze mensen in nood te helpen is een groots gebaar van solidariteit en een erkenning van hun waardigheid. Voor ons christenen is het prioriteit om erop uit te gaan en de verstotenen – want zij zijn werkelijk verstoten uit hun thuislanden – en de gemarginaliseerden van onze wereld te ontmoeten, en de tedere en barmhartige liefde van God, die niemand afwijst en iedereen accepteert, voelbaar te maken. Wij christenen zijn vandaag geroepen om actieve deelnemers te zijn in de revolutie van tederheid.

Straks horen we de getuigenis van Bisschop Antoine, die in Aleppo woont, een stad die op de knieën gedwongen is door de oorlog, een plaats waar zelfs de meest fundamentele rechten met minachting worden behandelt en vertrapt. In het nieuws horen we elke dag over het afschuwelijke lijden vanwege de strijd in Syrië, door dat conflict in ons geliefde Syrië, die nu al meer dan vijf jaar duurt. Te midden van zoveel verwoesting is het werkelijk heldhaftig dat mannen en vrouwen daar gebleven zijn om materiële en geestelijke hulp te bieden aan de noodlijdenden. Het is ook bewonderenswaardig dat jij, beste broeder Antoine, blijft werken tussen zulk gevaar om ons te kunnen vertellen over de tragische omstandigheden van het Syrische volk. We houden ieder van hen in onze harten en gebeden. Laten we de genade van oprechte bekering afsmeken over de verantwoordelijken voor het lot van de wereld, voor die regio en voor allen die daar ingrijpen.

Beste broeders en zusters, laat ons niet ontmoedigd raken tegenover vijandigheid. Moge de verhalen, de getuigenissen die we hebben gehoord, ons motiveren en ons een nieuwe impuls geven om steeds nauwer samen te werken. Als we weer thuiskomen, mogen we dan een toewijding meebrengen om dagelijkse gebaren van vrede en verzoening te maken, om moedige en trouwe getuigen van christelijke hoop te zijn. En zoals we weten, de hoop stelt ons niet teleur! Dank u!”

Homilie in de Mis voor Allerheiligen:

“Vandaag vieren we met de hele Kerk het hoogfeest van Allerheiligen. Hiermee herdenken we niet alleen hen die in de loop der eeuwen heiligverklaard zijn, maar ook onze vele broeders en zusters die, op een stille en onopvallende wijze, hun christelijk leven hebben geleefd in de volheid van geloof en liefde. Onder hen zijn zeker vele van onze verwanten, vrienden en bekenden.

Dit is voor ons dan een viering van heiligheid. Een heiligheid die niet zozeer te zien is in grote daden of buitengewone gebeurtenissen, maar veeleer in dagelijkse trouw aan de eisen van ons doopsel. Een heiligheid die bestaat in de liefde voor God en de liefde voor onze broeders en zusters. Een liefde die trouw blijft tot het punt van zelfopoffering en volledige toewijding aan anderen. We denken aan de levens van al die moeders en vaders die zich opofferen voor hun gezinnen en bereid zijn – ook al is dat niet altijd makkelijk – van zoveel dingen af te zien, zoveel persoonlijke plannen en projecten.

Maar als er één ding typisch is voor de heiligen, is het dat zij daadwerkelijk gelukkig zijn. Zij hebben het geheim van authentiek geluk ontdekt, dat diep in de ziel ligt en zijn bron heeft in de liefde van God. Daarom noemen we de heiligen zalig. De Zaligsprekingen zijn hun weg, hun doel richting het thuisland. De Zaligsprekingen zijn de weg van het leven die de Heer ons leert, zodat wij in Zijn voetstappen kunnen volgen. In het Evangelie van de Mis van vandaag hoorden we hoe Jezus de Zaligsprekingen verkondigde aan een grote menigte op de heuvel bij het Meer van Galilea.

De Zaligsprekingen zijn het beeld van Christus en als gevolg van elke christen. Ik zou er hier slechts één willen noemen: “Zalig die zachtmoedig zijn”. Van zichzelf zegt Jezus: “Kom bij Mij in de leer, omdat Ik zachtmoedig ben en eenvoudig van hart” (Matt. 11:29). Dit is zijn geestelijk portret en het onthult de overvloed van Zijn liefde. Zachtmoedigheid is een manier van leven en handelen die ons dichter bij Jezus en elkaar brengt. Het stelt ons in staat alles dat ons verdeelt en vervreemd aan de kant te zetten, en steeds nieuwe manieren te vinden om verder te gaan op de weg van eenheid. Zo was het met de zonen en dochters van dit land, waaronder de heilige Maria Elisabeth Hesselblad, kortgeleden heiligverklaard, en de heilige Birgitta van Vadstena, mede-patrones van Europa. Zij hebben gebeden en gewerkt om banden van eenheid en broederschap tussen christenen te smeden. Een zeer sprekend teken hiervan is dat we hier in uw land, getekend als het is door het naast elkaar leven van vrij verschillende volkeren, samen het vijfde eeuwfeest van de Reformatie herdenken. De heiligen brengen verandering tot stand door zachtmoedigheid van het hart. Met die zachtmoedigheid komen wij tot het begrip van de grootsheid van God en aanbidden we Hem met oprechte harten. Zachtmoedigheid is de houding van hen die niets hebben te verliezen, omdat hun enige rijkdom God is.

Op een bepaalde manier zijn de Zaligsprekingen de identiteitskaart van de christen. Zij identificeren ons als volgelingen van Jezus. Wij zijn geroepen zalig te zijn, volgers van Jezus te zijn, de problemen en angsten van onze tijd het hoofd te bieden met de geest en liefde van Jezus. Zo moeten wij in staat zijn nieuwe situaties te herkennen en beantwoorden met verse geestelijke energie. Zalig zijn zij die trouw blijven terwijl zij het kwaad verdragen dat anderen hen toebrengen, en hen vergeven vanuit hun hart. Zalig zijn zij die in de ogen kijken van de verlatenen en gemarginaliseerden, en hen hun nabijheid laten zien. Zalig zijn zij die God in ieder persoon zien, en hun best doen om anderen Hem ook te laten ontdekken. Zalig zijn zij die ons gezamenlijk thuis beschermen en verzorgen. Zalig zijn zij die afzien van hun eigen gemak om anderen te helpen. Zalig zijn die bidden en werken voor de volledige eenheid tussen christenen. Dit zijn allemaal boodschappers van Gods barmhartigheid en tederheid, en zij zullen zeker van Hem hun verdiende loon ontvangen.

Beste broeders en zusters, de oproep tot heiligheid is aan iedereen gericht en moet van de Heer ontvangen worden in een geest van geloof. De heiligen moedigen met hun levens en voorspraak bij God aan, en wijzelf hebben elkaar nodig als we heiligen willen zijn. Elkaar helpen heiligen te worden! Laat ons samen de genade afsmeken om deze oproep met vreugde te ontvangen en mee te werken en de vervulling ervan. Aan onze hemelse Moeder, Koningin van Alle Heiligen, vertrouwen we onze intenties toe en de dialoog gericht op de volledige eenheid van alle christenen, zodat wij gezegend mogen zijn in ons streven en heiligheid in eenheid mogen behalen.”

Photo credit: CNS/Paul Haring

‘From Conflict to Community’ – Nordic bishops on the eve of Pope Francis’ ecumenical visit

The members of the Nordic Bishops’ Conference – covering the countries of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland – have written a pastoral letter looking ahead to Pope Francis’ visit to Lund and Malmö, as well as the state and future of ecumenical relations with the Lutheran church in their countries. They rightly indicate that the anniversary of the Reformation, which will begin with the events in Lund that the Pope will attend, is no reason to celebrate for Catholics.

My translation of the document, which generally aligns itself closely with ‘From Conflict to Communion’, the 1999 document in which the Catholics and Lutherans agreed on the doctrine of justification. My translation follows:

7904248_orig“In 2017 we mark an event which has had great consequences for the Christian faith, in the first place in Europe. In the year 1517 Martin Luther initiated a process which became known in history as the Reformation and which, especially for our Lutheran fellow Christians represents an important moment in the development of their ecclesiastical tradition and identity. But since the Reformation would have been impossible without the Catholic basis, it is appropriate that we, as Catholic Christians, also think about it. That is already expressed in the document ‘From conflict to communion’, the result of dialogue in the Lutheran-Catholic Commission for the Unity of the Church. This tekst is directed towards a common commemoration, which is based on reflection rather than triumphalism.

Despite all explainable reasons, the Reformation caused a split in Christianity, which remains painful to this day. In the Nordic countries this split meant that the Catholic Church could only start again after many centuries. That is why the 500th anniversary of the event of the Reformation can not be observed as a celebration in the true sense. Rather it should be recalled in contrition. The process of reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the churches of the Reformation began many decades ago. But we can not tire of striving for the full unity in Christ.

At the start of the 16th century, the Catholic Church was in need of reform, something that not only Martin Luther, but also others acknowledged and expressed at that time. But instead of dealing with the necessary doctrinal questions, Christians of different confessions have instead done much harm to each other. At the closing of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Pope Francis prayed for “mercy and forgiveness for the unevangelical behaviour of Catholics towards other Christians”. In Sweden several Lutheran ministers have responded to that and also asked us Catholics for forgiveness.

The important questions is now, how we can continue together to come closer together in faith, in hope and in love? We, the Catholic bishops in the north of Europe, want to go on this path of reconciliation with our Lutheran brothers and sisters and do everything to promote unity.

Ecclesia semper reformanda

The Church must always let herself be converted and renewed by Christ. We are indeed a holy people, but a people of sinners on pilgrimage to eternity. Conversion, contrition and maturing in the faith are important stations on this path. Through the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church opened herself to many things that are also important to Lutheran Christians, for example the role of Holy Scripture and the meaning of the priesthood of all baptised. Thus, many difference have actually disappeared.

What still divides is, among other things, the sacramentality of the Church, as well as the understanding of the sacrament and the office. As Catholics we believe that the Church is the fundamental sacrament in which the incardinated word becomes present through the sacraments, in order to unite with us in love and transform us in Himself.

At the same time we see that many faithful Lutheran Christians become increasingly open to these aspects. A questions that remains pending and which is painfully felt on both sides is that of the common Eucharist. As much as this desired is justified, the unity of the Lord’s Table must also reflect the full unity in faith.

The Petrine office is also difficult to understand for many Lutheran Christians. But the personality of Pope Francis has made it more understandable. Pope Saint John Paul II already invited all non-Catholic Christians to think about other ways of  exercising the Petrine office (Ut Unum Sint, N.95).

Traditionally, the role of Mary and the saints has also been contentious. But among many non-Catholic Christians the meaning of Mary as the Mother of God and example in faith is being re-acknowledged.

Despite the mutual approach in question of doctrine, greater differences in questions of ethics and morality have recently appeared. But even when these make the dialogue in some respects more difficult, it should not be given up.

Definition of the Christian faith

In all ages Christians have formulated teachings to clearly define doctrine, distinguish them from false ideas or to convey them intelligebly. Often such formulations evolved into bones of contention, which for a long time created great frontlines between Christians. The principles of the reformers were similarly divided for many centuries. It is nevertheless fruitful, also for Catholics, to constructively engage with them.

Sola fide

The faith is undoubtedly necessary for justification. We share the central mysteries of the faith – for example, about the Trinity, about Jesus Christ, about salvation and justification – with our Lutheran brothers and sisters. We rejoice in this unity of faith which is based in baptism and expressed in the joint declaration about justification. That is why it is our mission to be witnesses of these truths of faith in our secular society. In our Nordic countries, where few practice their faith, it is important to proclaim the good news together and with one voice.

Sola Scriptura

Only through Holy Scripture can we receive the full revelation about the salvation which is offered to us in Christ. This revelation in received and shared in the Church. Through the teaching office of the Church this living tradition in Holy Scripture is codified. For us Catholics Church, teaching, tradition and Scripture belong together. In the Church and with the Church, Scripture is opened for us.  In this way the faith becomes ever more alive for us. Recently the number of Lutheran Christians who agree with  us believe that Scripture and the tradition of the Church are closely connected, has been on the rise.

Sola gratia

“Everything is mercy”, the saintly Doctor of the Church Thérèse of Lisieux, who can be considered as the Catholic answer to Martin Luther, says. Without God’s mercy we can do nothing good. Without His mercy we can not come to eternal life. Only through God’s mercy can we be justified and holy. Mercy can truly transform us, but we must also respond to this mercy and work alongside it. In the Mother of God, Mary, full of mercy and immaculate, we see how much can God can do in a person.

For many Lutheran Christians it is still difficult to agree with this truth. But we also see that many of them are open to similar questions about growth in prater and in holiness.

Simul iustus et peccator

We are all at the same time justified and sinners. As Catholics we believe that we are really sinners; but through the mercy of God we can receive forgiveness of all guilt in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As baptised Christians we are called to holiness. The Church is a school of holiness. The saints, who we can ask to intercede for us, are shining examples and role models of this holiness. One of these role models is a woman from our countries, Saint Elisabeth Hesselblad, who was recently canonised. She is an incentive to all of us to go the way of holiness more consciously.

We see that many Lutherans are also open to the saints, such as, for example, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In our secularised world we need such witnesses of faith. They are living and credible witnesses of our faith.

Martyrium

We know that also in our time many Christians are persecuted for their faith and that there are also many blood witnesses. Martyrdom unites Christians from various churches. We think of all Christians, also in the Middle East, who are persecuted and yet remain true to Christ and His Church. Their example also strengthens us in our faith. Many Christians from these countries have also come to us in the north. it is therefore important that we, all Christians in our countries, maintain, protect and deepen what we share in faith. Then we can also increasingly give and common witness of the risen Lord.

Future perspectives

The joint declaration ‘From conflict to communion’ closes with five ecumenical imperatives, suggested to us Catholics and Lutherans to take further steps on the common way to unity. They are:

  1. Beginning from a perspective of unity and not of division, and promoting what we have in common.
  2. At the same time allowing oneself to be transformed by the witness of the other.
  3. Committing oneself to the search for visible unity.
  4. Rediscovering jointly the power of the Gospel of Christ for our time.
  5. Witness together of the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.

Also when these five imperatives speak of great and not always simple concerns, their message is clear, but only when we devote outself completely to Christ and together rediscover the power of the Gospel (cf. 4th imperative).

We are happy and thank God that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, will be coming to Lund on the occasion of the commemoration of the Reformation, to strengthen us in faith.

We therefore invite all Catholics to accompany the preparations for the papal visit with their prayer and to participate in as great a number as possible in both the ecumenical meeting in Malmö Arena and the Mass in Swedbank Stadion. In that way we will show both the joy, as Catholics, of being with Pope Francis, and also respect for the identity of our Lutheran fellow Christians, grown from the Reformation. Despite the still existing differences we are convinced, confident in the mercy of God, that ways towards common unity can be found.

On the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, 15 October 2016

+ Czeslaw Kozon, Bishop of Copenhagen

+ Anders Arborelius OCD, Bishop of Stockholm

+ Bernt Eidsvig Can. Reg, Bishop of Oslo, Administrator of Trondheim

+ David Tencer OFM Cap, Bishop of Reykjavik

+ Teemu Sippo SCJ, Bishop of Helsinki

+ Berislav Grgic, Bishop-Prelate of Tromsø

+ Gerhard Schwenzer SS.CC., Bishop emeritus of Oslo”

csm_vollversammlung_01_37cd1858a6^Bishops Grgic, Sippo, Eidsvig, Kozon, Arborelius and Tencer, with Sr Anna Mirijam Karschner CPS, the general secretary of the Nordic Bishops’ Conference.