‘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.

“Ordered pluriformity” – Pope Francis explains the gifts of hierarchy and charism

Pope Francis received the participants of the plenary session of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in a private audience today. He also addressed them and, unsurprisingly in this Holy Year, his main topic was mercy. But there is more to his words than most would expect.

OSSROM93175_Articolo

^Pope Francis with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation, and, at left, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Archbishop of Valencia and one of the members of the congregation.

Too often, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is depicted as an opponent to Pope Francis and his attempts to reform the Curia and, especially, emphasise the importance of Christian mercy and mission in modern society. This stems from a perceived opposition between mercy (and, by extension, the practical application of faith and its consequences in society) and doctrine, as if the two are not complementary. We must show mercy, but we also need to know what that mercy is. It is the congregation’s duty to safeguard that, to ensure that what is being said and done in the name of the faith is indeed in agreement with that faith.

In his address, Pope Francis emphasised the complementarity between mercy and doctrine when he said,

“[H]ierarchical and charismatic gifts are called to collaborate in synergy for the good of the Church and of the world. The testimony of this complementarity is all the more urgent today and it represents an eloquent expression of that ordered pluri-formity that connotes all ecclesial fabric, as reflection of the harmonious communion that it lives in the heart of God, One and Triune.”

In other words, the Church and the world need both the gifts exhibited in the hierarchy, or that part of the Church which is called to teach, and those of the various charisms, the fruits of the Spirit which become visible in the faithful everywhere in the world. The Holy Father speaks of an “ordered pluriformity”, a term which in itself summarises this complementarity I referred to above. This complementarity, the Pope continues, is an expression of the essence of the Trinity.

Another important element that Pope Francis mentions, albeit in the context of synodality, is proper understanding. Instead of seeing mercy as “being nice” and doctyrine as “being mean”, we must make a proper endeavour to understand both, on their own and in relation to each other. There is no opposition, no fight between the two. Rather, the struggle must be about knowing, developing and displaying both, to come “to an ever more realized, deepened and dilated communion at the service of the life and mission of the People of God.”

Synod of Bishops – Day Three

Trying to stay up to speed with the news is a task and a half, especially if it needs to be done in any free time available. Hence the relative silence yesterday and the double coverage of the Synod of Bishops today.

On to Day 3 then, which coincided with Wednesday. In the morning the Synod fathers split of in the several working groups, which are divided by language group. First on their agenda was the election of moderators and relators, or presiding prelates and communication officers, a list which was presented at the start of the afternoon session. The list of groups, with their moderators and relators is as follows:

  • Anglicus A: Moderator: Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Archbishop of Durban, South Africa. Relator: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville, United States.
  • Anglicus B: Moderator: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Ireland. Relator: Archbishop Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, United Kingdom.
  • Anglicus C: Moderator: Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, India. Relator: Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow, United Kingdom.
  • Anglicus D: Moderator: Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia. Relator: Bishop Kieran O’Reilly, Bishop of Killaloe, Ireland.
  • Gallicus A: Moderator: Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Relator: Bishop Dominique Rey, Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, France.
  • Gallicus B: Moderator: Archbishop Yves Patenôtre, Archbishop of Sens, France. Relator: Archbishop Claude Dagens, Archbishop of Angoulême, France.
  • Germanicus: Moderator: Bishop Ägidius Zsifkovics, Bishop of Eisenstadt, Austria. Relator: Bishop Ladislav Nemet, Bishop of Zrenjanin, Serbia.
  • Hispanicus A: Moderator: Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, Archbishop of Tlalnepantla, Mexico. Relator: Archbishop Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, Archbishop of Valladolid, Spain.
  • Hispanicus B: Moderator: Bishop Julio Terán Dutari, Bishop of Ibarra, Ecuador. Relator: Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, Auxiliary Bishop of Valparaíso, Chile.
  • Italicus A: Moderator: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. Relator: Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation.
  • Italicus B: Moderator: Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa, Italy. Relator: Archbishop Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Italy.
  • Italicus C: Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. Relator: Father Renato Salvatore, Superior General of the Clerks Regular of the Ministers of the Sick (Camillians).

In the afternoon, the Synod continued with the interventions of 16 fathers. The first speaker, Cardinal Tauran (pictured at right), said some interesting things about interreligious dialogue, which is, of course, his area of expertise. In that dialogue, he said,

“there is no room for syncretism or relativism! Faced with adepts from other religions with a strong religious identity, it is necessary to present motivated and doctrinally equipped Christians. This makes the new evangelization a priority to form coherent Christians, capable of demonstrating their faith, with simple words and without fear.”

About the situation in Turkey, Bishop Louis Pelâtre, the Vicar Apostolic of Istanbul, had some important words to say about the use of the Internet by the Church, words which are equally valuable for other parts of the world. The bishops said:

“The young generation learns about the faith through the internet. Having practically no access to public radios or televisions, we can however use these private networks used more by the evangelical Protestants than by the Catholics. From this the need for well-prepared and qualified workers for the harvest that awaits us. This specific apostolate cannot be satisfied by good will and improvisation alone.”

The most noted contribution, at least in social media, to this day’s session came from the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, pictured at left during his intervention. His theological address focussed on contemplation, and how that needs to be a first step before we present our faithful face to the world:

“To be contemplative as Christ is contemplative is to be open to all the fullness that the Father wishes to pour into our hearts. With our minds made still and ready to receive, with our self-generated fantasies about God and ourselves reduced to silence, we are at last at the point where we may begin to grow. And the face we need to show to our world is the face of a humanity in endless growth towards love, a humanity so delighted and engaged by the glory of what we look towards that we are prepared to embark on a journey without end to find our way more deeply into it, into the heart of the trinitarian life. St Paul speaks (in II Cor 3.18) of how ‘with our unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord’, we are transfigured with a greater and greater radiance. That is the face we seek to show to our fellow-human beings.”

And this, Dr. Williams said, is the goal of that contemplative attitude:

“[I]t is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

In that contemplation, we allow ourselves to be transformed by God, to be more and more conformed to His Trinitarian identity. This means that we can’t be bound any longer by our own selfish desires.

“To learn to look to God without regard to my own instant satisfaction, to learn to scrutinise and to relativise the cravings and fantasies that arise in me – this is to allow God to be God, and thus to allow the prayer of Christ, God’s own relation to God, to come alive in me. Invoking the Holy Spirit is a matter of asking the third person of the Trinity to enter my spirit and bring the clarity I need to see where I am in slavery to cravings and fantasies and to give me patience and stillness as God’s light and love penetrate my inner life. Only as this begins to happen will I be delivered from treating the gifts of God as yet another set of things I may acquire to make me happy, or to dominate other people.”

There is more, and I coud just post the entire text here. But that will just make this blog post far too longer, so check the day’s Bulletin for the texts, both of Dr. Williams’ address and the summaries of the other interventions.

Credo – our faith confessed, part 4

The Creed is the faith that we confess at every Mass, and it is therefore a summary of what we believe, the truths we hold as such – truths. These truths not only identify what we believe in, but also who we are. They form our Catholic identity.

On the road towards the Year Of Faith, I want to take a look at the Nicene Creed, line by line, to see what it tells us about the truth of being Catholic Christians.

born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light,true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.

We continue to profess the identity of Christ, and more specifically, His relationship with God the Father. The first line in this section once again repeats that the Son came forth from the Father alone, as we found out in the last post in this series. The following lines seem to want to emphasise that, and in doing so they also underline that the Son is God, just like the Father. Both are divine persons of one being. There are no levels of Godhood, the one is not more or less God than the other. God from God, even true God from true God.

The Creed also presents us with a handy simile: The reflection of the sun on water is no less light than the sunlight directly hitting our eye. Christ is no less God than the Father. They are both God, just as the reflected light and the direct sunlight are both light. The comparison doesn’t completely fly, but it’s a handy enough introductory one.

Christ came forth, was begotten, from the Father. He is pertinently not part of Creation, although He did dwell fully in it. God the Father did not create His Son like He created Adam. This indicates a difference, a hierarchy. By His entire being, Christ is of another level than us men. It’s hard to imagine otherwise, since we already know that God exists outside of Creation, and since Christ is God…

Considered a difficult word by some, ‘consubstantial’ offers a glimpse of the Father-Son relationship within the Trinity (of which we’ll encounter the third person later). A literal translation of this word, which is derived from Latin consubstantialis, would be ‘of the same substance’. In this case ‘substance’ indicates matter but also being, and that is the important element here. God the Father and God the Son are distinct beings, but they are of one being, one substance.

This is not the place to delve in the doctrine of the Trinity, so let’s leave it at this. We confess that Jesus is God, in no way less so than God the Father, and He is forever (“before all ages”) begotten of the Father.

Photo credit: Kitty Goeman

Nothing new under the sun – old heresies resurface

They may conjure up images of medieval witch trials and whatnot, but heresies are really nothing to get into a fuzz about. Well, the specific heresies may be, but the fact that the Church calls certain beliefs and opinion heretical should not. A heresy is nothing more complicated than a teaching that undermines the faith in a grave enough manner that supporting, promoting or following it has a serious penalty as a consequence. And that because such a heresy endangers the souls of the faithful.

One such heresy that I came across today* has several names, but most people who know it, will know it as modalism or Sabellianism. A short definition would be that modalism holds that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are merely three ways, or modes, in which God has revealed Himself to people.

Why is this a heresy? Why can’t the Father, Son and Holy Spirit not be three forms in which God interacts with us? Well, for starters, it would make His own existence, as we have come to know it, a fake. Countless times do we read in the Gospels how Jesus prays to His Father. If both were just roles played by the one God, why would He do that? In the Prologue of the Gospel of John we read that the Word was God and was with God. The Word of God is Jesus, the Son, but why, if the Son and the Father are the same, would John tell us that the one was with the other? In Genesis, we read about the spirit of God hovering over the deep. Not God, but His Spirit. Why would God play a role before an empty deep?

There is one God in three Persons. These three Persons are not the same. They are separate and unique, but they are all equally God. This is a mystery of our faith, which means that it is something that goes beyond our understanding. It is good that some things are beyond our ken, because God is not limited to the understanding of his creatures. If He were, He would be limited. A two-dimensional creature has no way of understanding three or even four dimensions. We have no way of understanding or even imagining the five, six or more dimension that scientists say exist. And we have no way of grasping the Trinity, but that has no bearing on its reality.

Is the Trinity unlikely? Perhaps. But it is what God has taught us, through Jesus’ prayers, and through the work of the Holy Spirit.

In articles 253 to 255, the Catechism of the Catholic Church delves into the Trinity. It has this to say [emphasis mine, notes removed for ease of reading]:

253 The Trinity is One. We do not confess three Gods, but one God in three persons, the “consubstantial Trinity”. The divine persons do not share the one divinity among themselves but each of them is God whole and entire: “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God.” In the words of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), “Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature.”

254 The divine persons are really distinct from one another. “God is one but not solitary.” “Father”, “Son”, “Holy Spirit” are not simply names designating modalities of the divine being, for they are really distinct from one another: “He is not the Father who is the Son, nor is the Son he who is the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit he who is the Father or the Son.” They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: “It is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds.” The divine Unity is Triune.

255 The divine persons are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: “In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance.” Indeed “everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship.” “Because of that unity the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son.”

But who’s to say that what the Church teaches through the Catechism is right? That belief, that trust in the dogmatic teachings of the Church flows directly from th words of Jesus and the belief in the Holy Spirit who guides us. If we express faith in His words to St. Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19), and in the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, we must als have faith in the Church that Christ established upon Peter, and the faith that she safeguards and communicates.

God is Triune: one Being in three Persons. This we know through Scripture, the Word of God, and the teachings of the Church of Christ. To say otherwise is a denial of God as He is. God does not pretend. He is who He says He is.  He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who are all true Persons, not phantasms or roles He plays before us. Because He takes us seriously, He reveals Himself to us as He is.

*The source linked to above is a Dutch text, a reflection given by lay Dominican Leo de Jong on Trinity Sunday, at the nominally Catholic church ‘Het Steiger’ in Rotterdam. In this reflection, Mr. de Jong denounces our understanding of the Trinity as three separate divine Persons as nonsense. Instead, he says, these persons are three forms in which Gods allows Himself to be known. This misleading teaching, presented as profound knowledge, is in reality a centuries-old heresy.

For a further Biblical explanation of the Trinity, go here.

Art credit: [1] Pope St. Clement Adoring the Trinity, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 1737-1738.

The artificial opposition of faith and dogma

With a sign proclaiming 'We remain San Salvator', protesters continue being stubborn

Over the past week or so, I have come across a number of instances in which the faith of the average churchgoing people is put in opposition to the rules or dogmas which are handed down from Rome. Some examples:

  • The ongoing dispute between the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch and the parish of San Salvator (they have now claimed to be expecting a break with the diocese, looking for alternative locations to continue their ‘services’, and they will bar Auxiliary Bishop Mutsaerts from entering the church through passive resistance (although he is invited to attend one of their priestless Masses – what Masses?!)).
  • An announcement of the Mariënburg-old-codgers’-club-of-‘critical’-Catholics’ upcoming annual symposium centered around the question of what they still believe (judging from the words of chairman Erik Jurgens, who said he doesn’t need to believe in the Trinity or take the Creed seriously to be a good Catholic, they don’t believe in anything much).
  • Retweets by the Dutch Dominicans of an article by a one of their own warning us against believing that Christ is, in fact, God.
  • And, lastly, an assurance from theological publishers’ Berne Heeswijk that one of their new publication “will not be going the way of dogma, but the way of the faithful”.

Just some examples, but indicative of a trend that, although often not very visible, is still well alive. To me, the division between the faithful on the one hand and dogma on the other is an artificial separation, which is potentially very dangerous. It’s not as if these are not related or connected in any way.They are, and we need both.

Faith is our answer to God. As the Catechism tells us: “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life” [26]. God takes the first step, we respond. The faith is our response to God’s active revelation and gift. Since it comes from God, this gift is perfect, but our faith is not automatically perfect: it is, after all, our response, and we are merely human. Were our response perfect, the relation between God and us may have been something like that between a programmer and a computer: the programmer inputs something and the outcome of his input is perfect and predictable. We’d be mindless automatons when it came to faith. But we are not. God created us with free will, we are free to act and to choose in all we do, including our quest for God or our denial of Him.

A consequence of that free will is that we have to be active partners in our relationship with God, in our faith. God helps us, but we need to do some of the work ourselves as well. Otherwise, again, we’d be left without choice and freedom. God offers his assistance in that through the Church he founded (Matthew 16:18-19). In the Church we find the means to develop our faith, to allow it to grow.

In the Gospel of John we read the Parable of the Vine (15-1-11). Jesus tells us there: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch — and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt” And later: “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.”

Jesus asks us to remain in Him, to keep His commandments and His teachings, lest we be thrown away and come to nothing. Now, Jesus’ teaching includes some very clear dogmas, so to speak: He is God, there are various things we need to do and understand to be able to follow Him. In other words, there are certain rules we need to follow.  Just like the sabbath was made for us, and not we for the sabbath (Mark 2:27), the rules are there for us, not we for the rules. They allow us to grow in faith, to reach our full potential. The rules are also educational: they teach us about God and His identity, and likewise about ourselves, through the things we say do and believe.

What’s the consequence of we do not follow the rules that Christ gave us, and which were later given to us by the Church with the authority given to her by Christ? We need only to look at San Salvator, Mariënburg, the Dutch Dominicans, Berne Heeswijk… and so many others.  Places were faith is a matter of mere feelings and nice thoughts. We will wither and come to nothing.

There is no opposition between the dogmas and the faith of the common man, so to speak. The former helps the latter achieve his full potential, which does require a conscious effort and desire to achieve in us.

An interesting related question to this whole matter is what comes first: our conscience or the teachings of the Church? Father Juan R. Vélez offers an interesting article about that very question, offering answers based on the teaching of Blessed John Henry Newman. The article is also available in Dutch.

Papal soundbytes: San Marino-Montefeltro

Almost one month ago, Pope Benedict XVI undertook a one-day papal visit that was both national (ie. within Italy) and international. I haven’t been able to devote much attention to it until now, but for the sake of completeness I want to do so now.

The Diocese of San Marino-Mentefeltro encompasses parts of two countries in the area southwest of Italy’s Po valley. Firstly, of course, Italy (parts of the region Emilia-Romagna) and secondly, the tiny and ancient Republic of San Marino. The latter nation being small enough and economically tied into the culture and economy of surrounding Italy to such an extent that it warrants being part of one ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The 61,000 Catholics of the diocese, led by Bishop Luigi Negri, hosted the papal entourage on 19 June, in San Marino and at the episcopal residence in Pennabilli.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke on four occasions, the texts of which may be read in full here. Below follow my usual papal soundbytes.

On the Trinity and love:

The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one because God is love and love is an absolute life-giving force; the unity created by love is a unity greater than a purely physical unity. The Father gives everything to the Son; the Son receives everything from the Father with gratitude; and the Holy Spirit is the fruit of this mutual love of the Father and the Son. The texts of today’s Mass speak of God and thus speak of love; they do not dwell so much on the three Persons, but rather on love which is the substance and, at the same time, the unity and trinity (Eucharistic Concelebration, Olympic stadium of Serravalle, San Marino).

The Face of God

Moses […] asked God to reveal himself, to allow him to see his face. However, God did not show his face, but rather revealed his being, full of goodness, with these words: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). This is the Face of God. This self-definition of God expresses his merciful love: a love that triumphs over sin, covers it, eliminates it. We can always be sure of this goodness which does not abandon us. There can be no clearer revelation. We have a God who refuses to destroy sinners and wants to show his love in an even more profound and surprising way to sinners themselves, in order to always offer them the possibility of conversion and forgiveness (idem).

The Trinity present on the Cross

[I]n the mystery of the cross, the three divine Persons are present: the Father, who gives his Only-Begotten Son for the salvation of the world; the Son, who totally fulfils the Father’s plan; the Holy Spirit — poured out by Jesus at the moment of his death — who comes to make us participants in divine life, to transform our existence so that it may be enlivened by divine love (idem).

Family

[W]e know well that in the present context the family institution is being called into question, as if in the attempt to ignore its inalienable value. Those that suffer the consequences are the weakest social categories, especially the young generations that are more vulnerable and so more easily exposed to disorientation, situations of self-marginalization and the slavery of dependence. It is sometimes difficult for educational institutes to provide youth with adequate responses and when family support is lacking they often find natural insertion into the social fabric difficult. For this reason too it is important to recognize that the family, as God made it, is the milieu that best encourages harmonious growth and helps free and responsible individuals to develop, trained in the deep and enduring values (Meeting with members of Government, Congress and the Diplomatic Corps, Hall of the Great and General Council of the Public Palace, San Marino).

The important questions

The important questions we bear within us remain, they always resurface. Who are we? Where do we come from? Who do we live for? These questions are the highest sign of the transcendence of the human being and of our innate capacity not to stop at appearances. And it is precisely by looking at ourselves with truth, sincerity and courage that we understand the beauty, and also the precariousness of life and feel a dissatisfaction, a restlessness, that nothing material can assuage. In the end all promises often prove inadequate (Meeting with the young people of San Marino-Montefeltro, Pennabili).

The human experience

Dear young people, the human experience is a reality that we share, but it may be given various degrees of meaning. And it is here that is decided the way to direct one’s life, and here that one chooses to whom to entrust it, to whom to entrust oneself. The risk is always that of remaining confined to the world of things, of the immediate, the relative, the useful, of losing sensitivity to all that refers to our spiritual dimension. It is by no means a question of contempt for the use of reason or of rejecting scientific progress, far from it. Rather, it is a matter of understanding that each one of us is not only made in a “horizontal” dimension but also has a “vertical” dimension. Scientific data and technological instruments cannot replace the world of life, the horizons of meaning and freedom, of the richness of relations of friendship and love (idem).

The Lord goes with you!

Do not be afraid to face difficult situations, moments of crisis, the trials of life, for the Lord goes with you, he is with you! I encourage you to grow in friendship with him through frequent reading of the Bible and of the whole of Sacred Scripture, through faithful participation in the Eucharist as a personal encounter with Christ, through commitment within the ecclesial community, journeying on with a good spiritual director (idem).

Photo credit:
[1] VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images
[2] ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images
[3] REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito