front page 04

February 14th, 2016

Scout Sunday

Fr Sylvester's first Mass in Berlin at All Saints
January 3rd, 2016

“The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door’: baptism. 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. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone with all their burdened lives.”

Major Themes in Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel),
Pope Francis' First Apostolic Exhortation (Nov 24th 2013)

No 1. The Basic Proclamation of the Gospel (Kerygma)

For Pope Francis, evangelization begins by sharing the basic message of the Gospel.
“In catechesis too, we have rediscovered the fundamental role of the first announcement or the Proclamation of the Gospel, which needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal… On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (#164).
The Pope goes on to note the importance of the Proclamation of the Gospel throughout the life of a Christian:
“It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (#164).
In his letter, the Pope practices what he writes:
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‹‹no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord››” (#3). [Pope Francis quotes Pope Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino, 1975]

No 2. Two Sources of Evangelization

First, we can evangelize only because God first loved us.
“An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. (#24)
Second, our evangelization depends on theme number 1: Our ability to accept the Gospel into our lives.
“Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?” (#8)
“Jesus can also break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him and he constantly amazes us by his divine creativity. Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world. Every form of authentic evangelization is always ‹‹new››”. (#11)

No 3. Missionary Disciple

The term “missionary disciple” is used throughout the document. The two terms are used to hold in tension the need both for a relationship with our Lord and the need to go to the outskirts to preach the Gospel. One thing is very clear. Every Baptized member of the Christian faith is called to evangelize and is called to be a missionary disciple.
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization.” (#120)
“What I would like to propose is something much more in the line of an evangelical discernment. It is the approach of a missionary disciple, an approach ‹‹nourished by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit››” (#50). [Pope Francis quotes Pope John Paul II, Pastores dabo vobis, 1992]
“The Church is herself a missionary disciple” (#40).
“A Church which ‹‹goes forth››, which is ‹‹on the move››, is a Church whose doors are open… At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it. (#46)

No 4. The Parish

Pope Francis spends a considerable amount of time on the parish as he looks to see how a missionary impulse would change parish life.
“In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented” (#28)
“In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time” (#95).
Then in regards to sharing the message of the Gospel:
“Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed…the message has to concentrate on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary. The message is simplified, while losing none of its depth and truth, and thus becomes all the more forceful and convincing.” (#35).

No. 5 The Poor

We all know that Pope Francis wants “a Church which is poor and for the poor.” The poor take up a huge section in this Apostolic Exhortation and his words deserve to be closely examined. Here are some significant quotes to help sum up his thoughts:
We know that “evangelization would not be complete if it did not take account of the unceasing interplay of the Gospel and of man’s concrete life, both personal and social” (#181). [Here, Pope Francis quotes Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975]
“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society” (#187).
“Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a ‹‹special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness››” (#198). [Here, Pope Francis quotes Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987]
“God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that he himself 'became poor' (2 Cur 8:9). The entire history of our redemption is marked by the presence of the poor. Salvation came to us from the 'yes' uttered by a lowly maiden from a small town on the fringes of a great empire.” (#197)
“Without the preferential option for the poor, ‹‹the proclamation of the Gospel, which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us in today’s society of mass communications››” (#199) [John Paul II, Novo Millenio ineunte, 2001]

No. 6 De-centralization of the Papacy

This may strike as an odd theme in a document on evangelization, but it is clear that Francis wants to note that centralization of the Church can harm evangelization:
“The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal confer¬ences are in a position ‹‹to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit›› [Lumen Gentium 23]. Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach. (#32)
“Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound 'decentralization'” (#16).
Pope Francis also practices this principle throughout the document by quoting different groups of bishops.

to be read to the congregation on the First Sunday of Lent 2016

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Only a few weeks had passed after my arrival in Berlin as your Archbishop when the Holy Father opened the Year of Mercy, which will of course shape the Lenten season this year. The first six months as Archbishop on Berlin brought me great riches of contacts and experiences. Already I got to know many parishes and pastoral areas, while visiting kindergartens and schools, homes for asylum seekers, hospitals and consultation offices. We celebrated our faith in Eucharistic services, in solemn liturgies of baptism and confirmation, and in all sorts of meetings with you. So many lay people, priests, pastoral workers and religious gave me a wonderful welcome. I am also grateful for the opportunity to pay some short visits to our neighbouring dioceses, and for the good cooperation with the Apostolic Nuncio. In various groups and councils I could speak with you about the development and perspectives for the future of our diocese, and I had contact with many representatives of Government, the media, culture and the civil society in general.

I am happy to state that you all received me with a great openness, for which I am most grateful, and so you allowed a happy beginning to my start as bishop of Berlin. How much creativity, what wonderful strength and joy was I able to witness!

But I also met a great deal of suffering, worry and neediness, I met people who seem exhausted, who fail to see a direction where life may lead them, people filled with anxiety as they look back on their sad discovery that apparently no one and nothing is reliable, who suffer from the feeling of being completely let down.

There is one thing that these people miss in their lives, that is, they miss the experience of mercy. Mercy is the name for a profound sympathy, for having a heart for one another, the readiness to perceive the other with an eye of love and appreciation, and then offer support to make life full and worthwhile. Wherever we experience this kind of mercy, we revive, breathing fresh air. No one of us can do without this experience of finding mercy.

The German word for mercy, “Barmherzigkeit”, indicates the core of this disposition. We all hope to meet people who show us that they have a loving heart for us. Mercy, understood in this way, is never something patronizing, a gesture from high above; it simply reflects the fundamental attitude of a mature human togetherness.

A good number of people regard this idea of a merciful life as an illusion. Their sentiment tells them that life irresistibly heads for the moment of death when each one is all alone, leaving everyone and everything behind, and ultimately sink into the cold darkness of nothing.

Yet we Christians profess and proclaim that human beings are created and carried by God, who has a heart for each one of us. He has called us into this life. He walks with us the whole course of this life, in joy and in sorrow. His love has no limit, and in the hour of death he welcomes us anew, just as the merciful father in the gospel receives his son who was lost. This message of a final homecoming, that Jesus Christ brought us, speaks of the very core of our Christian faith. Other religions too believe in the mercy of God. But only the Christian faith holds that God loves all human persons so radically that he really shares our neediness, our misery, our anxiety, our loneliness. He even shares our death, despised as a criminal on the cross. Our Christian faith tells us that God does not simply address a word of mercy to us, but he is always with us, in the years of life as well as in the hour of death.

We as Church have the task, especially during this Holy Year of Mercy, to awaken a fresh sense for this message of mercy in our communities, and to create occasions for people to experience this mercy in a personal way. Mercy is not simply one of the many properties of God that we might enumerate. Mercy is the core and essence of God. Therefore, as a manifestation of God, mercy must be given a concrete expression in our ecclesial community, as well as in our togetherness with other people, and even with the whole of creation. Whatever our work and endeavour, it must flow from, and has to be measured by, this spirit of mercy. To be clear, certain hard words of criticism or certain provocative actions may in fact also be expressions of mercy. For mercy must not be misunderstood as cheap softness, resulting from lack of character. Self-criticism too, the critical mind for one's own talk and behaviour, remains necessary for each one of us. As Church, we are constantly obliged to examine our words, deeds, rules and structures whether they are in line with mercy. Not only what we say or do is important, but also the manner how we say or do it. We have to develop and always improve a good culture of togetherness. That is the only way how an individual and our Christian community can become credible and convincing so as to have an impact on society at large.

Is the message of Jesus merely a dreamy desire or is it a concrete and effective reality in our lives? Moreover, is it possible already now in daily life to catch a glimpse of this merciful God who is said to carry us at all times? Recently, on 17th January in the church of St. Paulus, administered by the Dominicans in the Oldenburgstraße, we opened a Holy Door for the duration of this Holy Year of Mercy. The Holy Door is meant to be a symbol for what we intend with the celebration of this Year of Mercy. I wish to invite you all – especially now during Lent in preparation for Easter – to pass once through this door, keeping the following points in your mind:

* The Holy Door is not the main entrance of St. Paulus, but a little side door. Thus it reminds us of what Jesus said about the narrow gate leading to the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 7:12). That is certainly not to the liking of proud and self-important people. The narrow gate is for the poor, the little ones, for humble people. To encounter the mercy of God we have to place our life with all its poverty, weakness and imperfection before God, with the prayer: “O God, be merciful to me, a poor creature!” In this attitude our human poverty begins to shine in blessed light.

* The Gate to Heaven, to a life with God, was opened for us by Jesus Christ, by his death and resurrection. The door is open; now it is up to us to pass through the gate. Let us confidently risk taking this step towards the merciful God. Without this step no one can experience God's mercy. We have to cross the threshold and give our heart to God. We use the word “creed” for the faith, it comes from the Latin “credere” which is a contraction of the two words “cor dare”, that is, giving one's heart. That is the price of the faith, without any discount. Sermons, catechism, religious instruction are never a by-pass. For less than the heart we cannot meet the loving merciful God. Do I truly offer my heart to God, day after day? Do I really try to love God with all my heart and all my strength, day after day? Or do I remain standing outside in front of the open gate, letting God wait for me in vain?

* Innumerable doors stand open for us, thanks to our modern society. Yet there follows the temptation not to choose anyone of them once and for all, but instead to put a foot in everywhere, though merely for a try, remaining uncommitted, always ready to withdraw again. Hence we find less and less people willing to accept tasks that will tie them firmly in the long run. They shun lasting obligations and feel incapable of a permanent bond to another person. The logic is: “Perhaps something or someone better may appear one day, and then ...” However, without freely binding oneself for good, no one will ever experience a deep human relationship, let alone a deep relationship with God. The Holy Door is not like a revolving door, which can lead you inside and just as well transport you back from where you came. God is great, and we can approach him only by the magnanimous decision to pass over to his side, with all our strength, courage and determination, that is, to pass through the Holy Door.

* The Holy Door always guides us to human beings, inside in the church or, when we leave, outside in the world. There is no road to God that bypasses your human neighbour. When I refuse to show them mercy, I myself will never experience mercy.
Jesus says: “Blessed are the merciful, they shall obtain mercy.” (Mt 5:7) In the measure we dish God's mercy out to others and share with them, we ourselves will obtain mercy. Everything great and precious in human life springs not from clinging, but from sharing. The works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal, drive us poor Christians in a particular way to share our lives and livelihood with the poor and to be at their side. These traditional works can inspire us, particularly now during Lent, to examine our life style.

Nevertheless, mercy is never an achievement that we have to produce. It will always be a gift that God grants us and which we may receive in all our spiritual poverty. Confession is the sacrament of mercy. Christ gave us this means, and I feel depressed when I hear many Catholics say: “No, thanks, I don't need that.” The truth is, we live of God's mercy. Therefore I ardently invite you in this Year of Mercy to go to confession to experience and celebrate God's mercy. I urge all priests to let the sacrament of confession have all the attention this invitation of Christ deserves, in their personal lives as much as in their preaching.

I gladly look forward to making our way together through this Holy Year of Mercy.

Berlin, on the First Sunday of Lent 2016
+ Heiner Koch
Archbishop of Berlin