Homily at the consecration of the new auxiliary bishops

The text of Archbishop Eijk’s homily at the consecration of auxiliary bishops Hoogenboom and Woorts was published today on the website of the Archdiocese of Utrecht. Here is my translation.    

Archbishop Eijk flanked by his new auxiliary bishops, Msgr. Theodorus Hoogenboom and Msgr. Herman Woorts

In today’s Gospel reading we witnessed the meeting of Jesus, the Risen Lord, with some of His disciples at the Sea of Galilee. At that occasion Jesus asked Peter three times: “Do you love me?” When Jesus asks the same question for the third time, it becomes painfully clear to Peter that he betrayed Jesus in the night of Gethsemane three times, before the cock’s crowing. That saddens him.    

The meeting with Jesus confronts Peter with his own weakness, insignificance and failure. That is always painful. But from Peter one thing must be mentioned: his love for Jesus is true and he is remorseful, as his sadness shows. And that is why Jesus fulfills the promise He made to Peter, when he changed His name from Simon to Peter: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matt. 16,18). Now Jesus truly appoints Peter as leader of the apostles and first pope, by saying: “Look after My sheep”.    

 And that is what Peter would do, until they bring him to the place where he does not want to be, as Jesus had predicted to him: the cross upon he too will die a martyr’s death under Emperor Nero in 64.    

Elsewhere in the New Testament, “look after my sheep” is also said to bishops and priests (1 Pet. 5, 2-4; Acts 20, 28), Looking after, shepherding means here that the pope, bishops and priests bring the people entrusted to their pastoral care to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, that they will feed them with God’s Word and the sacraments.    

Msgr. Hoogenboom and Msgr. Woorts: you too have been called by the Risen Lord to look after His sheep. When meeting candidates for confirmation, the bishop is always  asked, “How did you become a bishop, did you really want it?”    

There are no adverts on the Internet or in the newspapers for bishops. Not because advertising is expensive, but simply because you are not expected to apply for it. You are asked. Officially someone is bishop “through the mercy of God and the favour of the Holy See.” In the request from the Holy Father, the steward of Christ on Earth, to become auxiliary bishops of Utrecht, lies the voice of Christ for both of you. We are grateful to you both that you said ‘yes’ to the vocation of the priesthood and that you today say ‘yes’ to the vocation of the episcopate.    

What may you expect from the episcopate? I can assure you one thing, from my own experience: being a bishop is never boring! That may sound quite positive, but – to be honest – a bishop’s could sometimes be a bit more boring, as far as I am concerned. There have been very intense moments, not just for the apostle Peter and the other apostles, but for all their successors, the bishops all over the world.    

I am not telling you anything new. After all, you are both already part of the diocesan curia. You, Msgr. Hoogenboom, have been my vicar general since my appointment as Archbishop of Utrecht, now more than two years ago. And you, Msgr. Woorts, have been diocesan vicar of Utrecht and vicar for the policy sector liturgy since last February. You both have been working with merit in pastoral and official business in our diocese, and that in a period in which we have to make difficult decisions to make the archdiocese healthy again. You can only do that if you are not striving for the popularity prize. And neither of you is. That is why you both expressly chose the following text from the second letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians as today’s first reading: “It is not ourselves that we are proclaiming, but Christ Jesus as the Lord.” You do not work to improve your own image or popularity and falsify God’s Word, but you proclaim it openly.    

Like Peter, bishops can get into situation and be face with decisions that they had preferred to avoid. In that regard, you did not avoid your responsibility as vicar general and diocesan vicar in difficult circumstances. But what is necessary for God’s Church, for the shepherding of the flock, we should also do out of love for the Lord. Looking after the sheep, the pastoral care for the people entrusted to their care, also requires that the bishops make sure that there is enough wholesome and healthy grass in the field for the grazing; more so, they must make sure there even is a field for the grazing.    

Can a man take on such a difficult task? Like Peter all bishops are men with talents and weaknesses. It is often thought that the priesthood and the episcopate ask too much, especially considering celibacy and the limited access to modern society for Christ and His Gospel? As we saw, Peter gains next to forgiveness also a new spirit and a new life because of his encounter with Jesus, the Risen Lord. It is a St. Paul says: “But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own.”    

For that power we pray during the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration: the consecrating bishops pray that God may pour the Spirit of authority that He gave to His Son Jesus Christ and the apostles, also over you. We pray for the intercession of Saint Willibrord, the founder and patron saint of our archdiocese, that the Holy Spirit may abundantly bless and make fruitful your pastoral duties as auxiliary bishops. Amen.

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Priests and seminary – words about the future

On the occasion of its twelve-and-a-half year jubilee, two days ago, a whole truckload of guests (if not more) attended the celebration at the Tiltenberg seminary. Msgr. François Bacqué, nuncio to the Netherlands, was main celebrant at the Mass and delivered the homily. In it, he speaks specifically to the seminarians about their future, the importance of Christ’s promise of friendship as well as His commandment to remain in His love. He also speaks about the fact that the Tiltenberg houses student from four dioceses and what that can mean for future priests.

Msgr. Jan Hendriks, the rector of the seminary als refers to that in his address, an excerpt of which is below Msgr. Bacqué’s homily.

The full texts in Dutch may be found here.

Msgr. François Bacqué, Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands

Your excellencies, lord mayor, honourable gentlemen, brothers and sisters in Christ,

With joy and gratitude we celebrate this anniversary, the copper jubilee, of this seminary in the year of the priest.

We wish to thank God for His blessing, for the vocations to the priesthood and the diaconate that have found their way to the seminary, and for the priests and deacons who are already working in the parishes.

We also wish to pray today for the future, for the students of the diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, including the seminarians of Redemptoris Mater -, of the archdiocese of Utrecht, the dioceses of Rotterdam and Groningen-Leeuwarden and the abbey in Egmond, who follow their education here.

Today we pray that the Holy Spirit may continue to touch your heart and give all of you the strength to heed God’s call, every day anew, and that your heart may be moved by God’s love, inviting you to give your life for Christ and His Church.

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks to His apostles in the Cenacle about their vocation and election:  “I have loved you just as the Father has loved me,” the Lord says. “You are my friends…”. And: “You did not choose me, no, I chose you”. In this way Jesus speaks about the apostles’ calling. But those words are valid for each of you! Your vocation is an election and a sign of God’s love for you. When we keep these words of Jesus in our hearts, we can be nothing but grateful. Through God’s mercy do we, weak people, carry this vocation and election as a valuable treasure in our hearts.

It is certainly good for each of us to regularly consider the ways by which God has led us in His goodness. Every vocation is unique, we have all reached our calling via different ways. But every vocation story is, in the end, a history of God’s personal attention and love for us. He has chosen us to be His friends in a special way, and as a priest to be an ‘alter Christus’, ‘another Christ’.

“Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. […]  I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you…”. Jesus speaks these words on the final evening of His life. They are a spiritual testament. With this, the Lord wishes that His disciples will leave in joy, keep His commandments and remain in love.

May the joy that the Lord gives by your strength! Of course you see difficulties around you in an yourself. I may know priests who are having a difficult time in their parish, a lot of work, duties in many different places. And a man must fight the weaknesses of his own nature. Certainly, there will also be difficulties for you. There is no priesthood without the cross. But stay focussed on the great mercy that you are connected to Christ as His friend and that, as a priest, you will be ‘another Christ’. Stay in the love of the Father.

Keeping the commandments is of course also an important point. Jesus asks it of us and it is part of priestly life. The priest is an example to others. At the ordination, the candidate lies prostrate and he kneels before the bishop to whom he promises obedience. He vocalises his wish and desire to become small and a loyal servant of the Church of Christ. With all this the candidate indicates that he will not follow his own guidance, but that of God, and that he will recognise God’s will in the guidance of his bishop, of the Church. Every priest must be willing to let go of his own will to be able to follow Christ.

But the central calling of the Lord in the gospel that we have heard, must be the insistent and repeated commandment to maintain the love: “Remain in my love. […] This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you”. That is especially valid for the priests among one another.

Seminary is a school for mutual love; because you live together every day, you learn to support each other, to stand and value each other and so a bond for life may be created. The fact that here there are students from multiple dioceses studying, praying and living together, can strengthen the ‘communio’ and the mutual bond among the priest in the Church in the Netherlands.

The priest is in a special way a man of ‘communio’; he is called to promote unity and community everywhere, among people and with the Lord, also the ‘communio’ with the bishop and the heartfelt bond with the pope and the universal Church.

God has given us everything. In a spirit of gratitude we have gathered here. A thankful person can do nothing but experience joy and love. I wish that spirit of joy and love, that the Lord presented to His disciples, to you all. Amen.

Msgr. Jan Hendriks, Rector of the Tiltenberg seminary

In a way we are entering a new phase. As you know our archbishop, Msgr Wim Eijk – whom I thank once again for the trust in us – has decided to entrust the education of the deacons and priests of the Archdiocese of Utrecht to the Tiltenberg. That has been  a major and difficult step. But the decision means that, in effect, the students of all northern dioceses (Utrecht, Groningen-Leeuwarden, Haarlem-Amsterdam and Rotterdam) and candidates of the abbey of Egmond are studying here. This has important positive sides and I trust it will turn out well. Means and money are used better, also considering the number of candidates. Seminarians of different dioceses get to know and hopefully value each other better and later as priests, they will be able to working together in the Church. From my own experience I know the positive effects of such a mutual background. This seems especially important to me in light of the future of the Church in our country, which will have to go to a period of restructuring, purification and renewal, but which will always be there, as she has been there for the past 2,000 years, in all the changes of times. Ultimately the Church will have to communicate to message of the gospel and Christ’s merciful salvation with a new drive and as one body.

For that reason we will search and find ways. People now are often searching, the struggle with themselves and with life’s great questions: where do I come from, where do I go, why is everything, why do I exist? Are there set values and is there Someone who has wanted me and loves me? When a person allows himself time for reflection, these question arrive inevitably. As St. Augustine already said: “Our heart is restless until it rests in You”, and – speaking to God – : “You have created us towards You”, “Creasti nos ad Te”. There is an innate desire for God, who is Love, in every person, and that is an opening and starting point for us. Let us pray that we may be able to develop our gifts and talents to answer this innate desire of people. Students experience this especially during their internships, which can therefore be so inspiring and motivational.

A surprise to no one

Today at noon, Cardinal Danneels officially announced that Msgr. André-Mutien Léonard will succeed him as archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels. Clearly that was widely expected or feared, depending on who you talk to.

Whatever the position you take on Msgr. Léonard, a program broadcast last night on Belgian TV, which followed him in his daily affairs, engendered much sympathy for the man. It was proof that he is a pastoral caring priest, as well as a philosophical and intelligent bishop.

During the announcement Cardinal danneels referred to the fact that he won’t be succeeded by a carbon copy. “We don’t have the same temperament, but we share the same faith. The menu is served by a different waiter, but the menu stays the same.”

In the five years he has in his new archdiocese, Msgr. Léonard will focus on the liturgy, vocations and the social program implemented by his predecessor. He’ll be visiting the three vicariates that make up the archdiocese and may also request a third auxiliary bishop. Two of vicariates are led by auxiliaries, but Flemish Brabant and Mechlin is not, since its auxiliary, Msgr. Jan De Bie, retired a year ago.

All in all terrific news for Belgium, although the new archbishop will undoubtedly face some determined opposition in the coming years.

Super priority: a bishop on vocations

Contuining the theme of the previous post, vocations, a piece from Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-Saint Joseph. A few key phrases in bold.

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In my first months as bishop of the diocese I said Vocations were a “Super Priority.” While we have had a meaningful increase in vocations to priesthood, the diaconate, and some new vocations to consecrated life, I still offer this intention for more vocations to priesthood and Consecrated Life with fervor in my daily prayer. I hope you do also.

We are reaching the midpoint of the Year for Priests, inaugurated by Pope Benedict XVI last June. How proud I am of our priests who do so much for you, God’s people. Still, they need more help, particularly as the pastoral needs seem always to increase. This year, please God, we will ordain four new priests; and it remains possible that in 2012 we could celebrate the ordination of eight or nine new priests at once. I haven’t figured out how we will get everyone in the Cathedral; a pleasing dilemma!

Am I greedy to suggest that we need more priests? I believe that God is calling more men to this wonderful vocation, and we have to listen carefully and prepare well so that your sons can hear and answer that call.

What kind of life awaits the priest? To be sure, there are many joys, and also challenges. The priest is helped by God to give himself to many people. He shares in the greatest joys of people’s lives and is with them in times of hardship and sorrow. He is a pastor, a shepherd, a teacher, and spiritual father. He stands in the place of Jesus Christ, particularly in the Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.


How does a man discern a possible vocation to priesthood? The healthy man (healthy in body, mind and soul), as he matures, wants to give himself in an honest and generous way. It is important and normal that he sees the beauty of marriage, and its central meaning and purpose in society. At the same time, he realizes he has a spiritual dimension to his life and he wants to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and follow God’s call wherever it may take him. He works hard at every task before him, and finds joy in generously reaching out to others. He studies with zeal. He prays. He establishes caring friendships, and determines to live a moral life, growing in the frequent reception of the sacraments, particularly of Confession and Holy Eucharist.

As a man experiences this spiritual depth to his life, he does not seek a vocation that makes him materially rich or famous. Instead, having realized something of the cost and demands of authentic human love, he is ready to trust God and give himself to others out of love for God. He realizes that the Father in heaven has loved him a lot, and the awareness of this love and mercy makes him want to follow God’s plan in his life. Our seminarians are responding to this vocation to the priesthood. Our priests are living this out with dedication. Keep praying for them to persevere.

The role and support of parents is very important to those who are discerning God’s call. Your sons (and daughters) look up to you for approval. They should. Your love for them is unconditional and unselfish. I do not suggest that you should urge your sons to go to seminary, but pray for them, that they do whatever God wants for them. Support them in their search. I pledge once again to our parents that if we receive their sons as our seminarians we will do all in our power to see they get good formation.

Over the course of my priesthood, I have also had occasion to meet many outstanding men and women Religious. I was taught by and have worked closely with several Orders of Religious Women. There is a real renewal taking place in these vocations today. I have established an office for Consecrated Life, and we stand ready to direct young women and men who may be drawn to Religious life as priests, sisters or brothers.

Our Vocation Director, Fr. Richard Rocha, and the Director of our Office of Consecrated Life, Sr. Connie Boulch, will be pleased to receive your call (816-756-1850) or go to our diocesan website http://www.diocese-kcsj.org and look for the Vocations tab. Let us never cease to do as Jesus urged us: “Beg the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers for His harvest.” (Lk 10:2)

Don’t forget the Support Our Seminarians (S.O.S.) Dinner Auction coming up Friday, January 29, 2010. Your participation and/or donations are greatly appreciated. For information, call the vocation office at 816-756-1850.

Late answer to early vocation

A vocation story from Steven de Koning, deacon in the diocese of Breda, who will be ordained later this month. To quote Fr. Dwight: Chust for nice. 

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Steven de Koning's ordination to the diaconate

On 23 January 2010 Bishop van den Hende will ordain Steven de Koning to the priesthood. Steven de Koning looks back at his vocation as a late answer to an early vocation. 

As priest he wants to be a mediator of faith and faith experiences and be near to people with questions on their path through life. He clarifies: “In our time many people have lost their awe for Holiness. Throughs, through sacraments, conversation and also silence I want to give room to the Holy in their life, let it speak. In silence we can experience that questions are not always answered and that can hurt. The pain and the unanswered questions invite us to be part of life.” Steven de Koning also experienced that pain and those questions in his own life. “My youngest brother has become a widower twice. Both his first and second wife died young. That makes you ask why.” 

Vocation 

My work as a lawyer for the government assumed a makeable world, but in moments like that you find that we don’t know so much, that life is a mystery. I see life more as a gift from God. Life is filled with God’s presence and He invites us to enter into a relationship with Him. That awreness has become more profound throughout my life and has led to my late answer. I have long wondered if I had a vocation. Wasn’t it just a psychological urge? At a certain point I dared to trust that presence of God and His calling.” 

Postponed choice 

Steven comes from a Catholic family from Breda. He ws born in 1953. At twelve years of age he had his first experience of a vocation. “My father’s family included several religious, among them a Marist father. At twelve I had a certain interest for the priesthood. An ‘ambassador’ from the Marists came to visit, and it turned out I was to go to the seminary in Lievelde. That scared me away.” In that time too, society had many questions about mandatory celibacy and the future of the priesthood. That made the choice for priesthood more difficult. He postponed the decision and postponement turned into cancellation. Steven de Koning went to studt law and had a good career as a lawyer with the Departments of Culture, Recreation and Social Work, as well as Justice. 

Dormant desire 

Steven de Koning always felt close to the Church. He freely admits that, as a student, he didn’t go to Church weekly. In The Hague, the self-evidence of the Catholic faith was broken. “I came in contact with Protestants and andere religions. The urge for development in my own faith grew because of that. I became a volunteer in my own parish, took part in catechetical groups, first as participant, later as group leader. In the mid-1990s my employer gave me a chance to reorient myself, because of internal reorganisations. That awake the dormant desire to be a priest. Around 2000 I had various indications that God really did call me. 

God still calls 

A Protestant friend gave me a novena candle. I lit it at Ascension. In my parish at Pentecost that year, I picked up a copy of the diocesan magazine of Rotterdam, which had an article entitled God still calls. It was about men who were called to be priests at a later age. That deeply touched me. I went to find out the origins of the novena candle and ended up in the Vredeskerk in Amsterdam. The priest of that parish invited me to take part in a discussion group about vocations, which he had just created. That was for me a safe place, far away from The Hague, to think about my answer,” Steven smiles. “After a year I decided to study theology at the Catholic Theological University in Utrecht. I had a great time studying there and still have many friends from there.” 

Coming to Breda 

In 2002 Steven de Koning left The Hague and moved to Nijmegen. His youngest brother had become a widower and Steven would be taking care for his three young children. Steven continued his studies and became actief in the Heilig Landstichting parish. The priest there heard of his vocation and encouraged him to get in touch with Bishop Muskens. A meeting with the bishop led to a “heartfelt welcome as seminarian for the diocese”.  Steven contacts then-recot Ham. He was admitted to the seminary Bovendonk where he continued his studies in 2005. 

Bovendonk 

Steven felt at home at Bovendonk and speaks with much appreciation about Rector Ham and the other teachers. “They and Rector Ham especially made it clear to me that studying theology is not the some as becoming a priest. A re-experienced my vocation and strengthened my answer. I increasignyl experience it as a surrender and want to witness more to my faith.” 

Steven de Koning works in the region of Oost-Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. After his ordination he’ll continue to the first responsible for Clinge, Graauw and Nieuw-Namen. On 24 January 2010, at 10:30, he will celebrate his first Holy Mass in the basilica of St. Willibrord in Hulst.

On the appointment of Archbishop Eijk

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed our bishop, Mgr Willem Eijk, as the new archbishop of Utrecht and head of the Dutch church province. He will be installed as such on the 26th of January.

I am not sure what to think of it. I have full confidence that this is very good news for the Church in this country, but I wonder what this means for our diocese… Mgr. Eijk has worked wonders since his appointed in 1999. His policies have increased the number of vocations, turned the various parishes back on the same path, and back to Rome, and he´s done sterling work with the youth and for the return of religious communities to the diocese.

But still, only eight years in which he has been able to do the kind of work that takes time to develop. That´s a very short time. I hope whoever succeeds him will continue his work, and is able to do so.

He, and his work here, will be missed by many people. He may be a bishop, but if one cleric was eminently approachable by anyone, it was him.

Mixed feelings.