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.

14918917_10153849375235723_6517291123125650450_o

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:

cwgqncmwgaehs-0

“”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:

14939566_10153850168870723_2952759365792262173_o

“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

Just before the announcement, an interview with Archbishop De Kesel

Minutes before today’s announcement and presentation of the new archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, Kerknet had the chance to sit down and ask a few questions to Archbishop-elect Jozef De Kesel. The interview about memories of the past and hopes for the future gives some idea of who Msgr. De Kesel is.

In my translation:

aartsbisschop-jozef-de-keselAt your ordination as priest you were surrounded by priests of the family, and especially also your uncle, Leo De Kesel [auxiliary bishop of Ghent from 1960 to 1991, who ordained his nephew]. Was it a matter of course for you to follow in their footsteps?

“The well-known Uncle Fons, a Norbertine from Averbode Abbey, was also there. But no, in 1965 it was already not a matter of course anymore. My vocation comes in part from the family context, but also from my involvement in the Catholic Social Action and in the parish, where a group of us studied the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council.”

Who were your mentors?

“In that time we read, for example, Romano Guardini. I also followed the movement around Charles de Foucauld. Later, when I studied theology, I read with interest the Jesus book and other literature of Msgr. Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner and Willem Barnard.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was also a great source of inspiration for me. I mostly discovered him when I was responsible for the Higher Institute of Religion in Ghent. I was so fascinated by Letters and Papers from Prison that I subsequently read all his works.”

What connects these inspirations?

“The theologians teach me that the Christian faith is a great treasure with a rich content and tradition. Bonhoeffer teaches me to understand that this tradition can be experienced in different contexts.

We no longer live in the  homogenous Christian society of the past. But the comfortable situation of that time is not the only context in which to experience your faith.”

As bishop you chose the motto “with you I am a Christian” in 2002. What did you mean by that?

“The first part of the quote by St. Augustine is, “For you I am a bishop”. By choosing only the second part I clearly state that my first calling as a bishop is to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus. Everything else follows from that. For me it is important to jointly take responsibility. That responsibility binds us as a society. The quote is also a clear choice for collegiality in exercising authority. I am very happy with the three auxiliary bishops that I can count on in the archdiocese.”

What are the great challenges for the Church today?

“The question is not so much how many priests we need and how to organise ourselves. But: what do we have to say to society? Formation and the introduction into the faith are very important for that. It is not a question of having to take an exam in order to be a part of it. There can be many degrees of belonging. But we can assume that there is a certain question or desire when people come to Church.

Don’t misunderstand me. A smaller Church must also be an open Church and relevant for society.”

What sort of Church do you dream of?

“A Church that accepts that she is getting smaller. The Church is in a great process of change and that sometimes hurts. But that does not mean that there is decay. There have been times in which the Church was in decay while triumphing.

I dream of a Church that radiates a conviction, that radiates the person of Jesus Christ. Of an open Church which is not only occupied with religious questions, but also with social problems such as the refugee crisis.

Politics have to be neutral, but society is not. Christians are a part of that and should express themselves.”

You did not take part in the Synod on the family, but will probably get to work with its proposals. What will stay with you from this Synod?

“The Synod may not have brought the concrete results that were hoped for, such as allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. But it is unbelievable how much it was a sign of a Church that has changed. The mentality is really not the same anymore.

I may be a careful person, but I do not think we should be marking time. Mercy is an important word for me, but in one way or another it is still  somewhat condescending. I like to take words like respect and esteem for man as my starting point. And that may be a value that we, as Christians, share with prevailing culture.”

May we assume that you will take up the thread of Cardinal Danneels?

“It is of course not my duty to imitate him, but I have certainly learned much from him. Also from Msgr. Luysterman [Bishop of Ghent from 1991 to 2003], by the way, with whom I have long worked in Ghent.”

Your predecessor liked to court controversy in the media. Pope Francis stands out for his human style. What is the style we may expect from you?

“In the papers I have already been profiled as not mediagenic. We will see. For my part, I will at least approach the media openly and confident.”

Will you be living in Brussels, like Msgr. Léonard, or will you choose the archbishop’s palace in Mechelen?

“Msgr. Léonard will be staying in Brussels for a while, so my first home will be Mechelen. I think it would be interesting to alternate and also have a place in Brussels.”

You like Brussels, don’t you? And Brussels likes you.

“The love is mutual, yes. I am certainly no stranger to the French speaking community in our country.”

The Church in Brussels announced this week that Confirmation and First Communion will now be celebrated at the same time, at the age of ten. A renewal you can agree with?

“I wrote the brochure about the renewal of the sacraments of initiation myself, and I conclude that Brussels interprets my text to the full. I am very happy about that. Brussels immediately shows itself as the laboratory of renewal that I so appreciate about it.”

The five years in Bruges were not easy. How have they changed you as a man or what did you learn from them?

“In Bruges I had final responsibility in an environment I did not know well. As auxiliary bishop I was happy to often discuss things with the archbishop, and now I was more on my own. As archbishop I am very happy to be able to rely on three good auxiliary bishops with whom I will be pleased to discuss matters. Like my time as episcopal vicar in Ghent and as auxiliary bishop in Brussels, I consider the past five years as an important learning experience.”

Further on up the road – the German Synod fathers look back and ahead

They continue to be the subject of much criticism. Some claim their views have been victorious at the Synod, others say they have not. Some say they are manipulating the media, relishing in their rebelliousness… Well, that’s all fine to write lengthy articles, opinion pieces and blogs about, but I continue detesting conspiracy theories, and rather take people at face value and at their word (which does not mean I agree with them on all matters). On that note, here is my translation of the message of the German bishops who participated in the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Heiner Koch and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, at the conclusion of said meeting:

Dt Synodenteilnehmer

^The German participants in the Synod: Aloys and Petra Buch, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop Heiner Koch and Archabbot Jeremias Schröder OSB

“We conclude the Synod of Bishops in Rome with gratitude. For three weeks we have debated and struggled intensively and encouragingly, controversially and honestly with representatives from all over the world, dug into theological questions and addressed the realities of life of the family. Above all, these weeks were a spiritual wealth: in the celebration of the Eucharist, in common prayer and fraternal conversation we have sought ways in which the mission of the family in Church and world can succeed.

At the basis of our deliberations, next to Holy Scripture and Tradition, were the words of the Second Vatican Council: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (Gaudium et spes, 1). In this spirit we grappled theologically and practically with the needs of the family.

The Synod of Bishops took seriously the situation of families as they are: open, honestly, differentiated globally, but similar in many ways. Across all cultural divides, marriage and family are a constant value of human coexistence. We are therefore grateful to Pope Francis that he followed the synodal way on this topic. It began with the worldwide questionnaire of the Vatican and the Synod of last year. The current conclusion is not the end, but a colon. We must continue on this road for and with the family. No other global institution undertakes such a global contemplation with worldwide participation on the topic of the family.

The Synod has shown the great importance that the Church attaches to marriage and family. There was already a great consensus on this question during the deliberations. The Church encourages people to live marriage and family and the make an effort to continue faithfully on this way and endure difficulties. The Synod emphasised that the normal everyday life of the family is a witness. At the same time we are called to find ways to strengthen and accompany the family. This can happen, for example, by advocating in favour of the family in social policies, especially also for large families or single parents, using state legislation to promote the family and recognising its value for society. This must also and especially happen within the Church, for example through the corresponding training of pastoral workers to accompany families, through better marriage preparation and guidance, especially in the first years of marriage, but also through counselling services and facilities.

It became clear during the Synod that Church guidance is required, especially during times of hardship, for example when raising children is difficult, when family members are ill or disabled, requiring much care and attention, when spouses are fighting, when people are separated and remarry. Here it is important to recognise not only what the Church does, but also to say honestly where we have failed as Church: misconceived efforts to uphold Church teachings have repeatedly led to harsh and merciless attitudes, which caused people pain, especially single mothers and children born outside of marriage, people living together before or in place of marriage, people with homosexual orientation and divorced and remarried people. As bishops we ask these people for forgiveness, as we formulated in our working group.

We are grateful that the Synod has expressed  an appreciation for interfaith marriages and underlined the character of the path of life in marriage and family, while a more positive view of the path before marriage was also discussed. On the topic of divorced and remarried people the necessary distinctions of situations were addressed in the text. It was attempted to avoid generalisations. The Synod is clear that every situation in life must be considered individually. In hindsight we would have wished for more courage to deal with the realities more intensively and recognise them as signs of the times in which God wants to tell us something, but we also recognise that we have learned to go along with other cultures and experiences.

The Synod of Bishops advises the Pope. We will accompany the way forward with our prayers. Pope Francis now has the task to use the wealth of results for the Church. The Holy Father can only take decisions for the entire Church, where he always stand for the unity of the Church and the further synodal path, as he said himself in his historic speech last week.

What was considered in the Synod, we will develop and make concrete at home. As Church we accompany and live with the people, the spouses, the families, especially also with the oppressed, with their joys and hopes, sorrows and fears. Questions which occupy us now are these: How do we open, and not close, the way towards Christ? How do we fully integrate people in the Church? How do we become a Church with open doors? And how do we relate to families in the most difficult situations, such as refugee families, to make a life in dignity possible for them, as the Gospel shows? How can we encourage a new spring in the pastoral care of families in general?

The final text of the Synod of Bishops opens perspectives for action and gives impulses for further theological thought. That will also be incorporated in the message of the German bishops about marriage and family, which we are currently working on. What is important is this: the synodal path of the Church continues. Perhaps it has only just begun. The Church stays on the path and with the people, also in the questions of marriage and family. We, as Church in Germany, want to continue on this road with Pope Francis. Encouraged and strengthened we return to our dioceses.”

Photo credit: KNA

The tension between doctrine and reality – Cardinal Marx’s intervention

Earlier today we had a short Synod intervention from Cardinal Danneels, and now one of the longest, from Cardinal Reinhard Marx. It’s also one of the most fearless, as the German cardinal talks about some of the topics that he has been criticised heavily for: Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and graduality.

Like the intervention of Bishop Bode, Cardinal Marx’s text is based heavily on the life experiences of the faithful concerned. And while it is essential for the Church to meet people where they are, I do miss the essential aspect of our faith: that is a revelation faith. Its foundation is objective truth, and while the way we relate to that truth, communicate it and help people achieve it (acknowledged by Cardinal Marx as he discusses our call to holiness) can and should vary according to circumstances, that truth does and can not. In the debate about Communion for divorced and remarried faithful (a circumstance consequently referred to in this intervention as only possible when we are talking about civil divorce and marriage) this is something that we must keep in mind. It defines what we can do pastorally.

Anyway, the intervention. The original German text is here.

marxFifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council once again made the Gospel a source of inspiration for the life of individuals and society. The same is true for the “Gospel of the family” (Pope Francis). In the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes (GS) it developed a doctrine of marriage which was further developed by the Popes after the Council. Even when the Council did not the answer all the questions which concern us now, it did lay a theological foundation which helps us to answer our current questions.

The Council understands marriage as an “intimate partnership of married life and love” (GS, 48) and develops the doctrine of marriage in the context of a theology of love. The love between man and woman “is directed from one person to another through an affection of the will; it involves the good of the whole person, and therefore can enrich the expressions of body and mind with a unique dignity, ennobling these expressions as special ingredients and signs of the friendship distinctive of marriage”. This love “pervades the whole of their lives: indeed by its busy generosity it grows better and grows greater” (GS, 49). The Council emphasises that this love between man and woman requires the institutional and legal framework of marriage, to develop and keep it permanently in good and bad days. Not in the last place does the institution of marriage serve the wellbeing of children (cf. GS, 50).

With the help of this theology of love and also the theology of the covenant, which can only be insufficiently outlined here, the Council succeeded in making the sacramentality of marriage understandable again. Marital love becomes an image of the love of Christ for His Church and the place where the love of Christ becomes tangible. In order to also express this connection between the divine and the human verbally, the Council speaks of the covenant of marriage. Finally, the indissoluble fidelity is an efficacious sign of Christ’s love in this world.

In the end, the Council sees human sexuality as an expression of love and suggests a new direction in sexual ethics. “This love is uniquely expressed and perfected through the appropriate enterprise of matrimony. The actions within marriage by which the couple are united intimately and chastely are noble and worthy ones. Expressed in a manner which is truly human, these actions promote that mutual self-giving by which spouses enrich each other with a joyful and a ready will” (GS, 49). To this richness belong without doubt also, but not only, the conception and education of children. For the Council fathers expressly emphasise that marriage without children also “persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility”(GS, 50).

It is this Synod of Bishops’ task to deepen and develop this theology of respectively love and the covenant, which the Council has established in basic features, but which is not yet completely reflected in canon law, with an eye on the current challenges in the pastoral care regarding marriage and family. I would like to focus on two challenges: marriage preparation and guidance, and the question of reasonably dealing with those faithful whose marriage has failed and those – not a few – who have divorced and are civilly remarried.

It is no coincidence that the Council speaks of growing in love. That is true for living together in marriage; but it is equally so for the time of preparation for marriage. Pastoral care should be developed which shows clearer than before the travelling aspect of being Christian, also in relation to marriage and family. We are all called to holiness (cf. Lumen gentium, 39), but the road towards holiness only ends on the Last Day, when we stand before the judgement seat of Christ. This path is not always straight and does not always lead directly to the intended goal. In other words: the path of life of the spouses has times of intense feelings and times of disappointment, of successful joint projects and failed plans, times of closeness and times of alienation. Often the difficulties and crises, when they are overcome together, are the ones that strengthen and consolidate the marriage bond. The Church’s marriage preparation and guidance can not be determined by moralistic perfectionism. It should not be a program of “all or nothing”. What is more important is that we see the various life situations and experiences of people in a differentiated way. We should look less at what has not (yet) been achieved in life, or perhaps what has thoroughly failed, but more at what has already been achieved. People are usually not motivated by the raised finger to go forward on the road to holiness, but by the outstretched hand. We need pastoral care which values the experiences of people in loving relationships and which is able to awaken a spiritual longing. The sacrament of marriage should in the first place be proclaimed as a gift that enriches and strengthens marriage and family life, and less as an ideal that can not be attained by human achievement. As indispensable as lifelong loyalty is for the development of love, so the sacramentality of marriage should not be reduced to its indissolubility. It is a comprehensive relationship which unfolds.

The moment of receiving the sacrament of marriage is indeed the beginning of the way. The sacrament not only happens at the moment of marrying, in which both spouses express their mutual love and loyalty, but unfolds in the road they take together. Giving shape to common life in marriage is the responsibility of the spouses. The Church’s pastoral care can and should support the spouses, but must respect their responsibility. We should give more space to the consciences of the spouses in proclamation and pastoral care. Certainly, it is the Church’s duty to form the consciences of the faithful, but people’s judgement of conscience can not be replaced. That is especially true in situations in which the spouses must make a decision in a conflict of values, such as when the openness to conceiving children and the preservation of marriage and family life are in conflict with each other.

But appreciative and supportive pastoral care can also not prevent all marriages from failing, spouses from ending their covenant of life and love and separating. The new process of establishing the nullity of a marriage can also not cover all cases in the right way. Often the end of a marriage is neither the result of human immaturity, nor of a lack of willingness in marriage. Dealing with faithful whose marriages have failed and who, often enough, entered a new civil marriage after a civil divorce, remains therefore a pressing pastoral problem in many parts of the world. For many faithful – including those whose marriages are intact – it is a matter of credibility of the Church. I know this from many conversations and letters.

Thankfully, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI left it no doubt that civilly divorced and remarried faithful are also part of the Church, and repeatedly invited them to take an active part in the life of the Church. It is therefore our duty to develop welcoming pastoral care for these faithful and involve them ever more in the life of communities. To them the Church has to witness of the love of Christ, which applies in the first place to those who have failed in their intentions and efforts. For “it is not those who are in health that have need of the physician, it is those who are sick” (Matt. 9:12). It is the mission of the Church to heal the wounds caused by the failing of a marriage and the separation of spouses, and show them that God is with them, also in these difficult times. Can we really heal without allowing the sacrament of Reconciliation?

With an eye on the civilly divorced and remarried faithful who take an active part in community life, many faithful ask why the Church refuses them, without exception, participation in sacramental Communion. Many in our communities can not understand how one can be in full community with the Church and at the same time excluded from the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. The fact that civilly divorced and remarried faithful objectively live in adultery and as such are in contradiction to what is presented emblematically in the Eucharist, the faithfulness of Christ to His Church, is given as reason. But does this answer do justice to the situation of those concerned? And is it sacramental-theologically compelling? Can people who are considered to be in a situation of grave sin truly have the feeling of belonging completely to us?

In the German Bishops’ Conference we have also occupied ourselves intensively over the past years with the theology and pastoral ministry of marriage and family. We took the Holy Father’s assignment seriously, to think about the topic, discuss and deepen it, in the time between the Synods. The German Bishops’ Conference has organised a day of study about this, together with the Bishops’ Conferences of France and Switzerland, in May of 2015, the contributions of which have also been published. In the theological faculties too, the topics were taken up and debated in biblical-theological, exegetical, canonical and pastoral-theological perspectives. Additionally, there were conversations with theologians and publications. We have learned that the theological work about this must continue in the future.

About the topic of civilly divorced and remarried faithful the German bishops have themselves published in June of last year further considerations and question, which I would like to outline briefly.

Someone who, after the failure of a marriage has entered into a new civil marriage, from which often children were born, has a moral responsibility to the new partner and the children which he or she can not denounce without being burdened with new guilt. Even if a renewal of the previous relationship were possible – which it generally isn’t –  the person concerned finds himself in an objective moral dilemma from which there is no clear moral theological way out. The advise to refrain from sexual acts in the new relationship seems unreasonable to many. There is also the question if sexual acts can be judged in isolation from the context of life. Can we assess sexual acts in a second civil marriage as adultery without exception? Independent of an assessment of the particular situation?

In sacramental-theological regard two things should be considered. Can we, in all cases and with a clear conscience, exclude faithful who are civilly divorced and remarried from the sacrament of Reconciliation? Can we refuse them the reconciliation with God and the sacramental experience of the mercy of God even when they sincerely regret their guilt in the failure of marriage? Regarding the question of allowing sacramental Communion, it must be considered that the Eucharist not only makes present the covenant of Christ with His Church, but also always renews it and strengthens the faithful on their way to holiness. The two principles of admission to the Eucharist, namely the testimony of unity of the Church and the participation in the means of grace, can at times be at odds with one another. In the Declaration Unitatis redintegratio (N. 8), the Council says: “Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice”. Beyond ecumenism, this statement is also of fundamental pastoral importance. In his Apostolic Letter Evangelii gaudium the Holy Father adds, with reference to the teachings of the Fathers of the Church: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness” (N. 47).

Starting from the theological foundations established by the Second Vatican Council we should seriously consider the possibility – based on the individual case and not in a general way – of allowing civilly divorced and remarried faithful to receive the sacraments of Confession and Communion, when common life in the canonically valid marriage has definitively failed and this marriage can not be nullified, the commitments of this marriage are settled, there is regret for the guilt of the end of this marital common life and there is the honest will to live the second civil marriage in faith and raise the children in the faith.

Building up from reality – Bishop Bode’s intervention

It’s almost a week ago, but here is the translation of the intervention by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode. Reading it, it becomes clear that some of his points have been used in the German language groups’ report on Part II, which I shared in translation earlier.

Like Archbishop Koch before him, Bishop Bode bases his thought on his experiences as bishop and official in the German Bishops’ Conference, as he makes clear in his opening paragraph. While not averse to theology, he underlines that the Church must meet the people where they are, in their less-than-perfect situations and with their experiences, questions and feelings.

Bishop Bode has been criticised heavily, and while I share some of that criticism, it is important to recognise what he is doing here: asking questions about what the Church is doing. Is it really effective, he wonders, and do we achieve what we set out to do?

Read the German text here, and my translation below:

bode_purpur_240I have been a bishop now for four decades, and for 20 years of those I have been ordinary of Osnabrück. Since 2010 I have also been leading the pastoral commission of the German Bishops’ Conference, and before that I was the chairman of the youth commission for fourteen years. In that capacity I speak to you:

It is a great challenge for the Church to convey her high esteem of marriage, which as sacrament is a life fulfilment of the Church, to the people of our time. There where marriage succeeds as a lifelong Union, where this “eminently human” love is experienced “from one person to another through an affection of the will” (Gaudium et Spes, 49), where spouses remain faithful, remain inclined to one another, give life to and raise children and pass on the love received, there the Church is ever new and something more than the salt of the earth and the city on the mountain. “The Church is a blessing for the family and the family is blessing for the Church”, says the Instrumentum laboris (59).

In order to bring the Catholic understanding of marriage closer to the faithful and in extension to all people of good will, and convince them in a lasting way, it is crucial to respond to each person’s individual life story, to the realities of life and their histories. Man is a historical being. He always relates to us as formed by experience, never als a neutral recipient of a message that he needs to align to. This acknowledgement of his biography is not a pastoral strategy or a methodical trick. Rather, the acknowledgement of individual life histories is itself part of Catholic teaching. The Second Vatican Council, in the opening words of Gaudium et Spes speaks of it, that there is nothing genuinely human which does not raise an echo in their hearts (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 1). The Instrumentum laboris of this Synod takes on this thought when it speaks of “divine pedagogy” (39). Relating ever anew to the biography of people is an essential task, if the general and basic principles of a doctrine – especially the doctrines of marriage and family – want to have space and form in human lives. Thomas Aquinas explained the necessity of a concrete application, for example when he says, “To prudence belongs not only the consideration of reason, but also the application to action, which is the goal of practical reason” (STh II-II-47, 3: “ad prudentiam pertinet non solum consideratio rationis, sed etiam applicatio ad opus, quae est finis practicae rationis“). This application can, however, not succeed without including the circumstances in the concrete action.

Tying onto the history and form of life is in that regard not possible without going to the persons, to the people, understanding their thoughts and motives, and not without concretisation of the general guiding principles to the particular life situation as far as possible. That is also a service to the truth. “The faithful’s attitude towards people who have not yet come to an understanding of the importance of the Sacrament of Marriage is expressed primarily in a personal, friendly relationship which accepts another as he/she is, without judging, and seeks to meet his/her basic needs and, at the same time, witnessing to God’s love and mercy. It is important to be clearly aware that everyone is weak and that each person is a sinner like everyone else, yet not failing to affirm the blessings and values of a Christian marriage. Moreover, people need to become aware that in God’s plan the family is not a duty but a gift, and that today the decision to enter into the Sacrament of Marriage is not a foregone conclusion but something to be developed and a goal to be achieved” (Instrumentum laboris, 61). And it is always good to take particular aspects into account and deal with material conflicts. Often enough, it is a search for the “minus malum“, the lesser evil.

Not in the last place, we should see people as being on the road to something better, for the sake of a “joyful and optimistic proclamation of the truths of the faith concerning the family” (Instrumentum laboris, 79). So questions regarding the pastoral approach to marriage and family such as the following were raised:

  • Can we really convince couples who – not only in Germany – usually first live together outside of the marriage bond, of the value of marriage, when we uphold to them: You are living in grave sin?
  • Are we sufficiently aware of the chances which are there, when couples return to the Church after a long time, with the desire for a Church wedding? Do we maintain an “open doors” culture (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 47)? Do we offer them good and long marriage preparation, a path we travel together with them?
  • Do we offer sustained spiritual help and guidance to couples and families who, for various reasons, have a hard time integrating the Good News and the faith in their lives?
  • How do meet couples in relationship crises and breaking relationships? Do we accompany these people unconditionally or do we only exert additional pressure through moral teachings?
  • And not in the least: Do we show our sisters and brothers in Christ who have entered into a new relationship after the previous one ended that they too belong to the Church? A Church with open doors, a mother with an open heart (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 46)?
  • Do we actually see the individual cases sufficiently differentiated enough? Can access to the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist really be categorically denied in every case?

From this Synod, I especially hope that the results of our discussions will send out a clear signal of support for the beneficial efforts of the Holy Father and the salvation of people.

I thank all Synod father as well the auditors for what they have already done in this regard.

Rome, 10 October 2015

Franz-Josef Bode
Bishop of Osnabrück

Germanicus 2 – the German language group digs into mercy and truth

The language groups have published their second summaries of their discussions about the second part of the Instrumentum laboris. The German group gets decidedly more theological in theirs, as they discuss the false opposition between mercy and truth, grace and justice, graduality, and the practical consequences of understanding sacramental marriage in a historical and biographical way.

In today’s press conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols recommended the German contribution as the most theologically sound.

This is my translation of the German original that was, once again, composed by Archbishop Heiner Koch:

synod german circle“We have extensively discussed the concepts of mercy and truth, grace and justice, which are constantly treated as being in opposition to one another, and their theological relationships. In God they are certainly not in opposition: as God is love, justice and mercy come together in Him. The mercy of God is the fundamental truth of revelation, which is not opposed to other truths of revelation. It rather reveals to us the deepest reason, as it tells us why God empties Himself in His Son and why Jesus Christ remains present in His Church through His word and His sacraments. The mercy of God reveals to us in this way the reason and the entire purpose of the work of salvation. The justice of God is His mercy, with which He justifies us.

We have also discussed what the consequences of this are for our accompaniment of married couples and families. It excludes a one-sided deductive hermeneutic which subsumes concrete situations under a general principle. For Thomas Aquinas as well as the Council of Trent, the implimentation of basic principles of prudence and wisdom to the particular and often complicated situations, is pending. This is not about exceptions to which the word of God does not apply, but about the question of a fair and reasonable application of the words of Jesus – such as the words about ithe indissolubility of marriage – in prudence and wisdom. Thomas Aquinas explained the necessity of a concrete application, for example when he says, “To prudence belongs not only the consideration of reason, but also the application to action, which is the goal of practical reason (STh II-II-47, 3: “ad prudentiam pertinet non solum consideratio rationis, sed etiam applicatio ad opus, quae est finis practicae rationis“).

Another aspect of our discussion was in the first place the gradual introduction of people to the sacrament of marriage, beginning with non-binding relationships, via couples cohabitating or only civilly married couples to valid and sacramental marriage, as frequently mentioned in Chapter 3 of the second part, Accompanying these people pastorally in the various steps is a great pastoral task, but also a joy.

It also became clear to us that we are too static and not biographical-historical in many debates and observations. The Church’s  doctrine of marriage was developed and deepened in history. First it was about the humanisation of marriage, which condensed into the conviction of monogamy. In light of the Christian faith the personal dignity of the spouses was recognised more deeply and the divine likeness was perceived more deeply in the relationship of husband and wife. In a further step the ecclesiality of marriage was deepened and it was understood as a house church. Subsequently, the Church became more aware of the sacramentality of marriage. This historical path of deeper understanding is today also visible in the biography of many people. They are first touched by the human dimension of marriage, in the environment of the Church they become convinced of the Christian view on marriage and from there they find their way to the celebration of sacramental marriage. As the historical development of the Church’s teaching has taken time, so her pastoral care must also accord the people on their path to sacramental marriage a time of maturing and not act according to the principle of “all or nothing”. Here the thought of  a “growth process” (Familiaris Consortio, 9) can be developed further, as John Paul II already established in Familiaris Consortio: “The Church’s pastoral concern will not be limited only to the Christian families closest at hand; it will extend its horizons in harmony with the Heart of Christ, and will show itself to be even more lively for families in general and for those families in particular which are in difficult or irregular situations” (FC 65). Here the Church inevitably stands in the conflict between a necessary clarity in teaching about marriage and family on the one hand, and the specific pastoral task to accompany and convince those people whose lives only comform in part with the principles of the Church on the other. It is important to take steps with them on the road to the fullness of life in marriage and family, as the Gospel of the family promises.

Personally oriented pastoral care, which equally includes the normativity of doctrine and the personality of the person, keeps his ability to be conscientious in mind and strengthens his responsibility, is necessary in this regard. “For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths” (Gaudium et Spes, 16).

We ask to consider to more aspects for the final text:

Every impression should be avoided that Scripture is used only as a source of quotations for dogmatic, legal or ethical convictions. The law of the New Covenant is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the faithful (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, N. 1965-1966). The written word must be integrated into the living Word that resides in the hearts of people through the Holy Spirit. This gives Scripture a broad spiritual power.

Lastly, we have struggled with the concept of natural marriage. In the history of mankind natural marriage is always shaped culturally. The concept of natural marriage can imply that there is a natural way of living of people without a cultural imprint. We therefore pro[pose to formulate: “Marriage justified in Creation”.”

Danger and salvation – At Bishop Bentz’s ordination, Cardinal Lehmann about the office of bishop

udo bentz ordinationIn his homily at the ordination of Bishop Udo Bentz as auxiliary bishop of Mainz, last Sunday, Cardinal Karl Lehmann drew heavily on St. Augustine, and especially on his thoughts on the office of bishop, and the dangers of it. The cardinal wants to emphasise the fact that a bishop always remains a part of the faithful, with whom he  shares a common Christianity.

There is also a personal element in the homily, towards the end, as Cardinal Lehmann reflects on his many years as bishop of Mainz and the people he shared that time with. It is hard not to read this in the light of his upcoming retirement. Aged 79, it is a safe bet that Cardinal Lehmann will retire between now and his 80th birthday, on 16 May next year. He has been the bishop of Mainz since 1983, and as such he is the longest-serving German bishop, and one who is still the ordinary of the diocese he was ordained for.

Here is the cardinal’s homily in my translation:

lehmann“Honourable sisters and brothers in the Lord!

Dear brother Dr. Udo M. Bentz, about to be ordained as bishop!
Dear co-consecrators Karl-Josef Cardinal Rauber and Archbishop Stephan Burger!
Dear brothers in the office of deacon, priest and bishop!

What is a bishop? Why and how do we have such an office in the Church? An initial answer can already be found in the word for this service. “Episcopus“, from which the word bishop comes, is one who “oversees”, and a “guardian”, a “supervisor”. From the Bible, the word also derives from “shepherd”. Incidentally, the liturgy of ordination, the act of ordination, with its ancient signs and gestures, words and hymns, so eloquent and filled with meaning, that any preaching can be but a small introduction to these events. I will mention but one especially impressive image: during the entire prayer of ordination two priests hold the Gospel book above the head of the ordained. The bishop should be completely under the Gospel and serve Him.

Today I choose another path and will discuss some words from Saint Augustine. As is well known, as bishop of Hippo on northern Africa, he would always speak about the office of bishop on the day of his ordination. He would certainly also have done so at bishops’ ordinations in the African Church province. Sita, the titular see of Udo Bentz, in north Africa, belonged to it. One can already learn much from these homilies.  I want to try and do so with you.

For that purpose I have chosen a text from the homilies, which is incidentally also quoted in the great text about the Church from the Second Vatican Council (LG 32): “What I am for you terrifies me; what I am with you consoles me. For you I am a bishop; but with you I am a Christian. The former is a duty; the latter a grace. The former is a danger; the latter, salvation” (Serm. 340, 1: PL 38, 1483).

During the Second Vatican Council this text was cited as an important point in relation to the statements concerning the laity. That may surprise, since there is a separate chapter on bishops. Here in relation to the laity, they and the holders of offices become in a very fundamental way like brothers, yes, like a family of God, through which the new commandment of love in realised. At many points, especially in the second chapter of the Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council strongly emphasised this fundamental commonality. That is why it is a very fundamental decision of the Council to concentrate the understanding of the People of God on the commonality of all believers, and not in advance on any distinction between the various charisms, services and offices. A “true equality” can then be established in building up the Body of Christ and in the call to holiness. As LG 32 puts it: “And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, pastors and dispensers of mysteries on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ. For the distinction which the Lord made between sacred ministers and the rest of the People of God bears within it a certain union, since pastors and the other faithful are bound to each other by a mutual need. Pastors of the Church, following the example of the Lord, should minister to one another and to the other faithful. These in their turn should enthusiastically lend their joint assistance to their pastors and teacher” (Constitution on the Church “Lumen gentium”, Chapter 4, par. 32). It is understandable that these words from Saint Augustine have often been repeated very often in recent years and decades, together with the remarks from the Constitution on the Church about the laity.

Certainly, one should not take this text as noncommittal expression of a mere personal modesty. This is about a true theology of office and at the same time about the unity of Christianity in the variety of tasks.

“For you I am a bishop…” Augustine does not see the office as contained in itself, in its value and power. Her understands it entirely in relation to the task entrusted to him. The office of bishop is entirely a service to the sisters and brothers in the faith. Augustine also says this in another way, that  the guidance and leadership are only fulfilled in the fruitfulness and “usefulness” of his service to the people.

As we know, Augustine considered the task of being bishop a burden on his shoulder and which often also depressed him. From that comes the anxiety and doubt if he really did justice to his task, especially in the eyes of others, and fulfilled it adequately before God. This is in sharp contrast to many homilies at a first Mass or anniversary of a bishop, even in our time. For Augustine wonder if this high office, which certainly demands much of him, is not a great danger to himself. We often think differently and often believe that a high official is already closer to God because of his position, and has so many merits that God will automatically save him and give him eternal life. For Augustine, the office is no relief, but a danger to his salvation, as becomes very clear in the sermon quoted at the beginning. In the Middle Ages they thought similarly. One need only think of Dante.

What comforts the bishop of Hippo in the face of this danger, is the shared Christianity with all sisters and brothers. Here the bishop is part of “normal” Christian life. There each is first responsible for himself when this can also be freely extended to others. So Augustine can say, in short, “Learning is dangerous, but students are safe”. He who stands “above” others, must be judged and addressed according to the measure of his task. The terror of this diminishes when one completely becomes a part of the flock of believers. This unity is even more important than the office alone.

Many burdens of office become light when one is quite humble in relations with the normal and simple People of God. I personally often like to speak in this regard of belonging to the “foot soldiers” of God. It then also becomes visible what has been given and asked of others and does not overestimate oneself. This unity in Christianity with many other makes more modest and humble. It is in any case contrary to all overconfidence of office.

Nevertheless, Augustine is very much aware about the own responsibility of the office, which he does not underestimate. He also does not deny it. He talks about the office as a duty (officium). He agrees with Pope Gregory the Great that the bishop is the “watcher”, the one who looks ahead and so has to lead the way. He must be ready for conflicts if the Gospel demands it. Like Jesus he must also be willing to give his own life. This can result in a profound loneliness. That is why the unity with all the faithful is, once again, so important.

That one statement by St. Augustine, “What I am for you…”, which reflects, with many similar insights in his work, a deep grounding in the Triune God, says more about the office of bishop and its execution than many great treatises about the theology of office. I am in any case grateful to St. Augustine for these words. For me they remain valuable and helpful.

As bishop, I have been able to experience  this mutual support, this shared Christianity and life in various duties here in Mainz for a long and rich time. I thank the many women and men, young and old for the solidary way with which they supported our service. Time and again, I was able to gratefully feel this foundation, together with my predecessors Bishop Stohr and Cardinal Volk, and the auxiliary bishops Joseph Maria Reus, Wolfgang Rolly, Franziskus Eisenbach, Werner Guballa and Ulrich Neymeyr. This applies to both voluntary and paid staff. Because of it I was able to always do my duty with joy and gratitude. A prerequisite is certainly that one listens to others and remains in dialogue with them and that one acknowledges what others say until the end, as Saint Benedict teaches us in his rule, and that one is also willing to accept corrections. Only in this way unity is possible without blurring the differences in responsibilities.

With this gratitude I also ask that we maintain this valuable heritage of a good tradition in the Church, for which Saint Augustine stands and which once again comes to life in the Second Vatican Council, through our working together, not only today, but also tomorrow, as an indispensible element in the construction of the Church of Mainz. I also wish this spiritual and pastoral heritage for you, dear Udo M. Bentz, in the name of all present on your ordination day and for your service. Carry the torch of faith onwards. The fire still burns under the ashes. Amen.

Karl Cardinal Lehmann, Bishop of Mainz”

bentz