God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Gone with the wind…

When I visit Berlin in these days, one can see school classes standing at points where in previous times a wall had been erected to forcefully separate those in the West from those in the East. A bloody frontier where people lost their lives just for the sake of politics. And if one looks into the faces of those youngsters coming today there you can see blanks as it is almost impossible to imagine the old times or grasp the meaning of separation. It does not make sense anymore at all.
The same way, I think, our church will look back in the future of times like ours, where e.g.communion was used as a tool of punishment or God abused as a policeman bound to human ways of justice. Heads will be shaken reading statements from Cardinals insisting that nothing has to be changed in our church and that the unconditional love of God has to be conditioned by those not believing that the church has changed over time. It seems for those eternal in yesterday living that they not only deny the present to discover God’s love but that they even deny history to be looked at in a truthful way. Slavery was once ok’ed by the church, democracy and human rights damned as the devils tools to bring people down. The idea of freedom of religion came from Satan himself – all those changes seemed to be none existing in the minds of those whose church has never changed. The deepening of discipline, the development of theology, the constant dialogue between other sciences – all gone with the wind and faded away into non-existence when listening to those high up in the hierarchy of the church now defending almost violently orally and in writings  a static church. And what strikes me most: There is no trust in God walking with his church into new green pastures, there is no trust in the Holy Spirit guiding his church as the people of God through times and there is no trust being called like Abraham into the unknown future of existence. And there is a static hierarchy where those above have all knowledge and those called the laity are only called to be observant members of the church.
One could almost feel hopeless but there is always a ray of light somewhere coming. For me it was yesterday the speech of the pope marking the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops. It was a liberating speech – showing that after years, perceived by many as a babylonic time, some important fruits of the II Vatican Council have been brought back into the light.
The Pope in his own words after words of greetings and I know, it is a longer text, but worth reading:
“From the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome I intended to enhance the Synod, which is one of the most precious legacies of the Second Vatican Council. For Blessed Paul VI, the Synod of Bishops was meant to keep alive the image of the Ecumenical Council and to reflect the conciliar spirit and method. The same Pontiff desired that the synodal organism “over time would be greatly improved.” Twenty years later, St. John Paul II would echo those sentiments when he stated that “perhaps this tool can be further improved. Perhaps the collegial pastoral responsibility can find even find a fuller expression in the Synod.” Finally, in 2006, Benedict XVI approved some changes to the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, especially in light of the provisions of the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, promulgated in meantime. We must continue on this path. The world in which we live and that we are called to love and serve even with its contradictions, demands from the Church the Church the strengthening of synergies in all areas of her mission. And it is precisely on this way of synodality where we find the pathway that God expects from the Church of the third millennium. In a certain sense, what the Lord asks of us is already contained in the word “synod.” Walking together – Laity, Pastors, the Bishop of Rome – is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice. After reiterating that People of God is comprised of all the baptized who are called to “be a spiritual edifice and a holy priesthood,” the Second Vatican Council proclaims that “the whole body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief and manifests this reality in the supernatural sense of faith of the whole people, when ‘from the bishops to the last of the lay faithful’ show their total agreement in matters of faith and morals.”
In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium I stressed that “the people of God is holy because this anointing makes [the people] infallible “in matters of belief”, adding that “each baptized person, no matter what their function is in the Church and whatever educational level of faith, is an active subject of evangelization and it would be inappropriate to think of a framework of evangelization carried out by qualified actors in which the rest of the faithful People were only recepients of their actions. The sensus fidei prevents rigid separation between “Ecclesia” (Church) and the Church teaching, and learing (Ecclesia docens discens), since even the Flock has an “instinct” to discern the new ways that the Lord is revealing to the Church.
It was this conviction that guided me when I desired that God’s people would be consulted in the preparation of the two-phased synod on the family. Certainly, a consultation like this would never be able to hear the entire sensus fidei (sense of the faith). But how would we ever be able to speak about the family without engaging families, listening to their joys and their hopes, their sorrows and their anguish? Through the answers to the two questionnaires sent to the particular Churches, we had the opportunity to at least hear some of the people on those issues that closely affect them and about which they have much to say.
A synodal church is a listening church, knowing that listening “is more than feeling.” It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. Faithful people, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: we are one in listening to others; and all are listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), to know what the Spirit “is saying to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).
The Synod of Bishops is the convergence point of this dynamic of listening conducted at all levels of church life. The synodal process starts by listening to the people, who “even participate in the prophetic office of Christ”, according to a principle dear to the Church of the first millennium: “Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari debet” [what concerns all needs to be debated by all]. The path of the Synod continues by listening to the pastors. Through the Synod Fathers, the bishops act as true stewards, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, who must be able to carefully distinguish from that which flows from frequently changing public opinion.
On the eve of the Synod of last year I stated: “First of all, let us ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of listeining for the Synod Fathers, so that with the Spirit, we might be able to hear the cry of the people and listen to the people until we breathe the will to which God calls us.”
Finally, the synodal process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called upon to pronounce as “pastor and teacher of all Christians,” not based on his personal convictions but as a supreme witness of “totius fides Ecclesiae” (the whole faith of the Church), of the guarantor of obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ and to the Tradition of the Church. The fact that the Synod always act, cum Petro et sub Petro – therefore not only cum Petro, but also sub Petro – this is not a restriction of freedom, but a guarantee of unity. In fact the Pope, by the will of the Lord, is “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops as much as of the multitude of the faithful.” To this is connected the concept of “ierarchica communio” (hierarchical communio) used by Vatican II: the Bishops being united with the Bishop of Rome by the bond of episcopal communion (cum Petro) and at the same time hierarchically subjected to him as head of the college (sub Petro). As a constitutive dimension of the Church, synodality gives us the more appropriate interpretive framework to understand the hierarchical ministry. If we understand as St. John Chrysostom did, that “church and synod are synonymous,” since the Church means nothing other than the common journey of the Flock of God along the paths of history towards the encounter of Christ Lord, then we understand that within the Church, no one can be raised up higher than the others. On the contrary, in the Church, it is necessary that each person be “lowered ” in order to serve his or her brothers and sisters along the way. Jesus founded the Church by placing at its head the Apostolic College, in which the apostle Peter is the “rock” (cfr. Mt 16:18), the one who will confirm his brothers in the faith (cfr. Lk 22: 32). But in this church, as in an inverted pyramid, the summit is located below the base. For those who exercise this authority are called “ministers” because, according to the original meaning of the word, they are the least of all. It is in serving the people of God that each Bishop becomes for that portion of the flock entrusted to him, vicarius Christi, (vicar of that Jesus who at the Last Supper stooped to wash the feet of the Apostles (cfr. Jn 13: 1-15 ). And in a similar manner, the Successor of Peter is none other than the servus servorum Dei (Servant of the servants of God). Let us never forget this! For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of the service, the only power is the power of the cross, in the words of the Master: “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their leaders oppress them. It shall not be so among you: but whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave” (Mt 20:25-27). “It shall not be so among you:” in this expression we touch the heart of the mystery of the Church and receive the necessary light to understand hierarchical service. In a Synodal Church, the Synod of Bishops is only the most obvious manifestation of a dynamism of communion that inspires all ecclesial decisions. The first level of exercize of synodality is realized in the particolar (local) Churches. After having recalled the noble institution of the diocesan Synod, in which priests and laity are called to collaborate with the Bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community, the Code of Canon Law devotes ample space to those that are usually called “bodies of communion” in the local Church: the Council of Priests, the College of Consultors, the Chapter of Canons and the Pastoral Council. Only to the extent that these organizations are connected with those on the ground, and begin with the people and their everyday problems, can a Synodal Church begin to take shape: even when they may proceed with fatigue, they must be understood as occasions of listening and sharing.
The second level is that of Ecclesiastical Provinces and Regions, of Particular (local Councils) and in a special way, Episcopal Conferences. We must reflect on realizing even more through these bodies – the intermediary aspects of collegiality – perhaps perhaps by integrating and updating some aspects of early church order. The hope of the Council that such bodies would help increase the spirit of episcopal collegiality has not yet been fully realized. As I have said, “In a Church Synod it is not appropriate for the Pope to replace the local Episcopates in the discernment of all the problems that lie ahead in their territories. In this sense, I feel the need to proceed in a healthy “decentralization.”
The last level is that of the universal Church. Here the Synod of Bishops, representing the Catholic episcopate, becomes an expression of episcopal collegiality inside a church that is synodal. It manifests the affective collegiality, which may well become in some circumstances “effective,” joining the Bishops among themselves and with the Pope in the solicitude for the People God.
The commitment to build a Synodal Church to which all are called – each with his or her role entrusted to them by the Lord is loaded with ecumenical impications. For this reason, talking recently to a delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, I reiterated the conviction that “careful consideration of how to articulate in the Church’s life the principle of collegiality and the service of the one who presides offers a significant contribution to the progress of relations between our Churches.”
I am convinced that in a synodal Church, the exercise of the Petrine primacy will receive greater light. The Pope is not, by himself, above the Church; but inside it as one baptized among the baptized, and within the College of Bishops as Bishop among Bishops; as one called at the same time as Successor of Peter – to lead the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches. While I reiterate the need and urgency to think of ” a conversion of the papacy,” I gladly repeat the words of my predecessor Pope John Paul II: “As Bishop of Rome I know well […] that the full and visible communion of all the communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells, is the ardent desire of Christ. I am convinced that you have in this regard a special responsibility, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a form of exercise of the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.” Our gaze extends also to humanity. A synodal church is like a banner lifted up among the nations (cfr. Is 11:12) in a world that even though invites participation, solidarity and transparency in public administration – often hands over the destiny of entire populations into the greedy hands of restricted groups of the powerful. As a Church that “walks together” with men and women, sharing the hardships of history, let us cultivate the dream that the rediscovery of the inviolable dignity of peoples and the exercize of authority, even now will be able to help civil society to be founded on justice and fraternity, generating a more beautiful and worthy world for mankind and for the generations that will come after us.”

(Translation by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, English language media attaché, Holy See Press Office)

Filed under: Catholic Church, Networking, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

Mercy is needed – acknowledgement of realities also

Continuing to watch and follow the synod I must admit that the synod meeting unfolding in its second week brings some interesting insides: Cardinal Dolan forgets that he has signed a letter, Cardinal Sarah brings the Gender theory and ISIS together on the same level, talking about two “apocalyptic beasts” and what stroke me most is that seemingly the highest rank in our church does not understand the continuation of a synod as an institution rather than a single event. Vatican II and its consequences seems far away judging from the published content of the mysterious letter signed by Cardinals Dolan, Mueller, Pell and some more.
I also notice that the word “mercy” could become a bit of a trap, if used to cover up for a change of realities. To elaborate: In this moment in time the Synod is considering not the doctrine but the pastoral care. To have an appropriate answer of care towards people living in today’s situation one has to acknowledge this situation, but also realize the advances in academic reflection. Otherwise the trap is to remain unchanged but just use different language – which seems to be on top of the list for most synod fathers. So I am just merciful if you can’t live up to my expectations but all the expectations are exactly as they have been 100 years ago as well as the general situation and nothing has changed.
I admit, this is not an easy task:
We have to see that the teaching of the church and the pastoral care in terms of marriage has been developed over centuries and it was not fixed from the beginning and the times of Jesus. We also have to acknowledge that the orthodox sister church developed an alternative way of dealing with failure which was never condemned or even really questioned by the Western church. We have the fact of longer lives, a complete different understanding of sexuality and gender. And we have certainly a different and more developed understanding of God’s commitment and unconditional love than e.g. those people living in the middle ages.  The earth is not flat anymore and our planet is not the center of the universe. Human development is accelerated and when previously it took a hundred years for changes to be noticed or even implemented, it takes now only a couple of years.
We are the people of God on pilgrimage through times and we have to ask ourselves what all this means in relationship to God and each other now in this point in time. Human life, human situations, human knowledge changes, the factor not being changed in all this is the mystery of God’s love speaking of marriage as a grace, a blessing, and a lifelong covenant of love.

So lets talk about mercy within the acknowledgement of a changed framework of people’s living and if we do so, we will be close to God in whose image we are made and who’s unconditional love keeps us going day after day. Doing so, we will life a dynamic faith as it is indeed needed to keep a relationship between God and human mankind going. Relationships are always dynamic, otherwise they are dead. At least the lively debates of the synod fathers we can only imagine when listening to the daily briefing via the Vatican Press Office show that all is not lost in our church and that alone gives hope. And for those who are so anxious about doctrine: Nobody wants to rock the boat and sink the ship, we just trying to come closer to the mystery of God’s plan with human mankind.

Filed under: Catholic Church, Networking, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12.09.2009 Saturday in Durban

Flying to Durban was and is always a pleasure for me as it gives me the opportunity to break my normal life circles and experience a totally different crowd of people. After the flight and check in I went to Mariannhill to deliver a talk on lay piety versus theology. A good discussion followed, centered around the question whether the definition of laity as the opposite to clergy is a) the right definition if we follow the biblical witness and the first Christian communities and b) whether there is a possibility to define laity in a positive way.

Lets face it: In the beginning it was the highest position in our church to be part of “the people of God”. Belonging to Jesus versus being a non Christian.  All were belonging to laity. Gratian and his collection of laws starts the trouble, creating the impression that laity is the opposite of clergy. Since today, there seems to be no real appreciation of the laity and a positive definition. The “sensus fidelium” of all people of God is so important, without this sensus, even the pope cannot speak “ex cathedra” or infallible as the I. Vatican Council degrees.

So I try to make clear to the people attending the talk how important they are, even if we cannot sense this appreciation in the daily dealing of the clergy with the laity. I encourage them to take their role positive and active – at the end we have to admit: Not the clergy, not the words of a pope, no word of a bishop but the daily religious routine of a mother or a father or a teacher brings a child to experience faith, to learn about faith. And seeing how people struggle to do that besides their work, how mothers do that besides all their tasks is much more praiseworthy than those, who are comfortably be paid to do it professionally. I really believe that we as the clergy, including bishops and popes, have more to learn to be of service to the “people of God” instead of trying to rule them.  Not power play but humility is what is missing in a lot of ranks within our church. We are used to rule and manage and decide, the higher we climb the latter of the hierarchy, the more we get used that we have it all. As adviser to church VIP’s also tend to say only what they think their “boss” will hear, it is sometimes getting virulent.

Thinking of the pope, the only title I really like is servant of the servants of God. this is indeed his major role and he can only perform when he also listens to the “sensus fidelium” as a very important criteria of finding the church’s way through the times.

Well, it was a great eve with deep thoughts and meaningful contributions.

This morning another touching ceremony: The baptism of a child and an adult and two confirmations: mother and son. My sermon is rather spontaneous as I meet the people the first time and I have first to touch ground with them to be able to connect well. But they are good prepared and the ceremony is one of joy and participation – one can feel the spirit of God present…

The afternoon is on a lighter note, I will go for a braai to meet members of the community bidding farewell to me, later I will meet with a friend from Kwazulu Natal to spend the eve out and relax a bit before Sunday duties are calling.

To encourage people to live their faith in their own way, to follow their intimate relationship with god, which indeed is a unique relationship seems me so important. People often forget that they are called to the freedom of the children of God and not being a sheep just running behind the pastor. We all have part in God’s good spirit – let us it together to bring the church forward in these difficult times.

Filed under: Reflection, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,

14th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenNovember 16th, 2019
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Ball of HOPE 2020

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