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Lentan Letter of Our Archbishop Heiner Koch

Berlin, on the first Sunday of Lent 2019


Ever more frequently, differences of opinion clash with ever more harshness. I observe this phenomenon in our civil society and just as much in our Church. Views are put forward with extreme rigor and with an amazing self-assurance that holds its own vision for absolute truth. Disagreeing ideas and convictions are at once disqualified as being provocatively irresponsible. Such an attitude fails to perceive that every point of view has its limitations. Nothing is perfect; very little may pass as self-evident; and against nearly all positions one can raise justifiable objections and criticism. Hence, I plead for a readiness to endure ambivalences and contrary ideas whatever decision may be at stake. Someone who allows only his or her personal conviction and turns a deaf ear to arguments coming from elsewhere, in fact maintains only one thing: „I have no need to learn anything. I know everything, and I can do without the experiences, insights and views of other people. “ With this idea in mind one causes harm to oneself and blocks one's own flourishing and development. All of us are in need of help and require the supplement of others. We need the richness of variety; we always need the process of learning from one another, because in mutual exchange we grow. Only in this way can we properly meet the many challenges with which we as Church are confronted in these days. Only together shall we find good answers and appropriate ways, from the variety of our different convictions and experiences. In one of the prayers of the missal we say: „To nobody you gave everything nor did you give nothing to anyone. “ We must recognize that for our life an attitude of mutual esteem is indispensable. This is more than mere respect and tolerance. When I esteem another person, I do not merely give due respect to the person's experiences and convictions, but I truly regard this person as someone valuable. Notwithstanding all differences, the other person enriches my own being. I attend to the other person because this person is a precious gift, a unique value, and that is why I esteem the person. I am considerate, trying with utmost care to enter this new world of thought and feeling, keen on understanding another human being. Saint Edith Stein, the Carmelite nun who was executed in Auschwitz, has taught me to hold dear this attitude of personal esteem. She describes it with the German word „Einfühlung“, a very sensitive feeling one's way into the inside of another person. In no other manner can one be able to perceive the depth of a human being. In this way, however, I permit the other personality to enter my life. So, I can share in the person's joy and inner life. This attitude expresses my respect for the other, my esteem of the whole personality, even my reverence. How many quarrels and disputes would be carried out differently and yield better worthwhile results, if we talked and dealt with one another in that attitude which I tried to describe. It is a matter of sincerely attending to others whoever they are, especially when we have problems with them and do not share their opinions and convictions. Especially in these cases of dissension our entire society and, in particular, our Church face a great challenge. We must learn to live in community. For we are a Communio, a gathering, a union with God, and in him a union with one another. The attitude of due respect for every person corresponds to God's own attitude towards each one of us: He attends to us lovingly and attentively, he never ceases to regard us with a benevolent eye. Only by living with one another and for one another shall we find Christ, and with him and through him find God, and draw nearer to him. God will always be a mystery that we can never comprehend. We will never fully understand his ways and procedures. This will be granted to us only at the very end, when „we will see him as he is. “(1 Jn 3:2) Until then we shall advance in the discovery of God only by means of our different visions and experiences. For this variety helps us to perceive him and keep him steadily in view. Therefore, we may say that this attitude of personal esteem becomes an effective and convincing way of proclaiming our faith: „See, how they love one another. “With this phrase the ancient author Tertullian (2nd century) describes the cohesion of the early Christian community. A proclamation without many words, but coming from the heart, will be understood by many. Therefore, let us meet one another in this attitude of sincere appreciation, especially in contacts with those near and dear to us, in the family, with friends, neighbors and colleagues, and in our parishes. For God's and his tender creatures' sake, I ask you to keep a loving attentive eye on our children. Pay attention to possible improprieties; notice any signs of abuse, hurt and trespasses. Be vigilant regarding such cases, and do not hesitate to voice your observations! Let me add that this is equally relevant for dealing with past incidents. In the Church and everywhere all of us together are responsible for the well-being and development of our children. Prevention concerns all of us; it demands this attitude of loving attention and respect. God became a child, and whenever a child is harmed, God is insulted. Moreover, also our pastoral process of renewing our ecclesial presence („Wo glauben Raum Gewinnt“) depends on this basis of a respectful encounter. We are on this road together, we must heed one another with care and be regardful for one another. Every community, every institution, every congregation and parish, every place of ecclesial activity receives attention and care. Each individual, just as every community and group, is important and precious. Only in this way can we succeed in bringing, by a colorful variety of ways and means, the gospel to the people that God has entrusted to our care. Let us be considerate and attentive in our contacts with colleagues and co-workers, with classmates and fellow students, with the cashier in the supermarket and the newspaper boy, the one whoever delivers the mail and parcels, the ticket controller and people in similar functions. Too often it happens that we fail to perceive them as human persons. The same caring attention ought also to be practiced in dealing with our time. Everyone is granted only a limited period of time here on earth. Let us be mindful of this gift and careful in its use. Some fill their time with lots of useless things. Others divide it in nothing but profitable activities. The question is: Are we conscious of time being a gift, and do we give enough of our time to one another? Hence, please, attend carefully to your time. For time is not money, but our life. In the near future we shall be called to the ballot box, for the European Parliament and the Landtag in Brandenburg. Elections too call for vigilant attention. We must carefully appreciate the riches and chances that Europe as well as our federal state have to offer. Consider attentively what contributes to the well-being of all of us, not forgetting the poor and those at the margin of society. Cultivate an open eye for situations that possess the potential to split our society by marginalizing and rejecting certain groups. Finally, please, take care of yourselves as well. I am aware of the many and often bitter challenges that strain your strength, be they demands coming from the family, your profession, the friends, burdens of illness, suffering and misery, from set-backs inflicted on you or hurtful disregard from your surroundings. I instantly beg you, please, be kind to yourselves too, as far as possible, and allow yourselves something pleasant and wholesome that is good for your body, for your mind, and not least also for your spiritual life! Your life with God deserves special care and attention. As in every loving relationship so in our relation with God, lack of sensitivity and attentive presence does no good. Never stop in your life to care for God. He always takes good care of you! Personally, for my part, I wish to thank you from my heart for keeping a watchful eye on me. I can draw much strength from knowing that I may be your bishop. I sincerely thank you for the many occasions to meet with you, for your support, and also for your prayers. I hope that these reflections can motivate you during the time of Lent to further develop this attitude of respectful and caring attention to the people you encounter, to yourselves too, as well as to God. I invite you to use this Lenten season as a period of training in this matter. Take time to be aware of its importance. Pay attention to your inner health, to the persons at your side, and to God. In this sense I wish you all the blessings of Lent.

Your

+ Heiner Koch

June 10, 2018

Many years ago, I got a phone call from a psychiatric hospital. The doctors were at a loss what to do with a young woman from Africa who was mentally disturbed. When I told the lady that I was a priest and had been working in Africa for many years her face lit up and she told me her problem. Her aunt was utterly opposed to her living with a young man and had first threatened Many years ago, I got a phone call from a psychiatric hospital. The doctors were at a loss what to do with a young woman from Africa who was mentally disturbed. When I told the lady that I was a priest and had been working in Africa for many years her face lit up and she told me her problem. Her aunt was utterly opposed to her living with a young man and had first threatened her, then mistreated her and finally cursed her. Now, many of us might not worry much about a curse. But in some cultures, this is taken very seriously, and that young woman was out of her mind with the fear that she would die. I gave her the Gospel text of today to read which speaks of a rich and strong man who owns a house and another man who comes, ties him up and takes away everything he has. I explained to her that the strong man, the evil spirit, who scared her so much, could be defeated by the stronger man, who is Jesus. She had only to trust Jesus and no evil spirit could have any power over her. When I visited her two days later she was completely normal In some passages of the Gospel Jesus casts out evil spirits. He saw evil powers at work in the life of people and sometimes taking possession of them. He called Satan “the ruler of this world”. But he was also convinced that he was stronger than all powers of evil and had come to liberate people from these destructive powers and establish the rule of God instead. The bible sees history as a struggle of the light against the powers of darkness, of truth against the “father of lies”, of love against hatred. It is also a struggle in the heart of every person. If you are inclined to think that these are ideas of long ago which do not fit into modern times, just be aware that this struggle of evil against good is the stuff all great literature and every Sunday evening crime story is made of. It follows usually the same pattern: There are people living peacefully their everyday life till something terrible happens, e.g. a murder or some evil agent threatening to destroy the world. Then confusion tears people apart. Some are suspected of the murder, there are rumours and accusations. Finally, a saviour turns up in the form of James Bond or commissar X who uncovers the evil people and ties them up and restores the old order and security. Although we believe ourselves to be enlightened and to think scientifically the basic patterns of thinking are still the same. Only the way we image evil is culturally conditioned. Sometimes we are inclined to personify the power of evil and give it names like Satan or Bezebul. Modern people reject such ideas as a myth forgetting that myths do not describe facts, and yet contain basic truths. The truth is that evil is real and it has power over people and can possess them. Destructive ideas, thoughts and desires can become an obsession. People can have an obsession with personal power, e.g. dictators like in Syria who are ready to destroy their country and their own people. Others are obsessed by greed for money. Without any scruple they accumulate fortunes at the expense of those who have nothing. We might be obsessed by sexual compulsions, by feelings of jealousy and hatred ready to destroy our enemy. The power of evil that can enslave us takes many forms. The Good News is that there is someone stronger who can break the chains of false ideas and ideologies, of destructive feelings and compulsions and open our mental prisons. Jesus is stronger than all powers of evil. The closer we are to him the less evil can touch us, the freer we become. Jesus has already overcome the world. On Good Friday the powers of evil seemed to have won the battle. On Easter morning Jesus proved to be stronger. This victory we celebrate at every Eucharist when we profess: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again..

Fr. Wolfgang Schonecke, MAfr

March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday - all of a sudden, Jesus was a star. The cheering crowd, the Hosanna, the exultation and the expectations – Jesus was expected to be a political leader. A leader against the Romans. Vorschusslorbeeren – praise in advance, premature praise that was, because Jesus deceived them all. Or rather: they were mistaken in Jesus. And their deception changed into anger and despair – Jesus was not up to their expectations. The “Hosanna” becomes “crucify him”. Is this only an event 2000 years ago? I think we also expect a lot from others, we put our hope in others, we praise their merits – and then comes deception. This is how we react towards others. But others also react towards us: they expect a lot from us, they praise us in advance, and then this praise becomes derision, ultimately, this leads to abusive remarks if something goes wrong, if something goes a different way than expected by the others. Praise and acclamation are near to dispraise, frustration, deception and anger. These are experiences we make, just like Jesus made them during the week we call the Holy Week. The Stations of the Cross are images of our life, they reflect our experiences. The way to Golgotha is our way. But one thing is certain: after all the suffering and defeat and deception, after death itself, we are sure to celebrate the resurrection, we are sure to celebrate life.

Fr Wolfgang Felber, SJ

April 1, 2018

The Church’s liturgy is decorated with variety of feasts and solemnities. The Easter celebration is one of them but it has a central position among the other celebrations. At the Easter vigil Christians all over the globe gathered at their churches to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord invoking all powers and ends of the earth to rejoice in these words: Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven, exult, let Angel ministers of God exult, let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph! Be glad and let earth be glad, as glory floods her…… On this Easter morning we have gathered to declare with joy, Christ is risen! Alleluia. The catechism of the catholic church says: The resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community: handed on as fundamental by tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament and preached as essential part of the paschal mystery along with the cross: Christ is risen from the dead! Dying, he conquered death; To the dead, he has given life. (CCC. 489). The mystery of Christ’s resurrection is a real event, with manifestations that were historically verified. One of those manifestations is the Empty tomb. This was one of the astonishing discoveries made by the women at the early morning of the third day as they went out of love to anoint his body. They met his grave empty. The absence of Christ’s body from the tomb may not be a direct proof of resurrection nonetheless it is an essential sign for all. Its discovery by the disciples was the first step toward recognizing the very fact of the resurrection. There are many other manifestations which we would be hearing in readings within the Eastertide. To understand the full meaning of the resurrection we need to look back to the Old Testament. In fact everything in the old covenant was but a pictorial prefiguring of what God was going to do in the resurrection of His son, Jesus. The resurrection is a re-cast of the Genesis account of creation- “coming into being”. In the word’s of St. Paul it is the resurrection of the last Adam (1 cor. 15:45). Here God breathed his life giving Spirit into man again (cf. Gen.2:7). Mankind is re-created in spiritual regeneration, becoming a new creature (2Cor.5:11; Gal.6:15) Resurrection recaptures the Exodus story- bringing mankind out of the land of slavery into the Promised Land. Mankind held in the bondage of Sin and death is brought back to life of freedom in Holiness. Christ’s coming out of the grave corresponds to Moses and his people coming out of Egypt, wherein the resurrection becomes the liberating exodus of salvation history. The reading of Exodus story is one of the principal readings at Easter vigil’s liturgy. The resurrection restructures the Torah. With the resurrection the external codification of the Law becomes an internal dynamic of life- the law written in the heart. This is foreshadowed in the prophesy of Jeremiah (Jer.31:31-34) In the New Testament, it is the central story and the climax of all the gospel narratives. Jesus kept talking about this event in his life. He declared to Martha I AM the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). To the Jews in the temple he foretold that the temple of His body would be destroyed, but raised in three days (John 6:19-22), indicating that by His resurrection the new center of worship would be in Him. He becomes the New Temple of Humanity whose worshipers must do so in Spirit and truth. Christianity is not a message of merely what has been (past) and will be (future), it is the message of what is,- the vital dynamic of the risen Lord in our midst. It is the restoration of humanity whereby God functions once again in human history. It is the focal point of all human history. It is the transforming reality in light of which everything else must be interpreted. All meaningful human existence must be interpreted by this earth-shattering, death-defeating reality of Jesus’ resurrection. He has risen as he promised and he lives in our midst. His presence symbolized with the paschal candle radiates in the world. We look us to his light to guide us. With his resurrection you are made a new creation, because we died with him we have resurrected with him. This very fact is based on our baptism. That means you and I are “re-created beings” in Christ. We are the new creation. The old has passed away. In his homily on Easter Vigil in 2006 Pope (emeritus) Benedict XVI says “The resurrection is not a thing of the past, the resurrection has reached us, and seized us. We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord and we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands grow weak. We grasp hold of his hand thus we hold on to one another’s hands. And we become one single subject not just one thing. I; but no longer I, this is the formula of Christian life rooted in baptism, the formula of the resurrection within time: I but no longer I. If we live in this way, we transform the world. It is a formula contrary to all ideologies of violence, it is a program opposed to corruption and to the desire for power and corruption. With the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord we declare that death has not the last word over us, we declare that wars and destruction of human resources have not the last word, suffering, hunger and sickness have not the last word, quarrels and disunity have not the last word, darkness has not the last word. The end story of lives is Glory. With faith we hold on to this truth. Alleluia!

Fr Sylvester Ajunwa

January 21, 2018

The word that struck me in the Gospel of today is the little word “at once”, unfortunately replaced by the rather vague word “then” in our liturgical books. Jesus calls the fishermen Simon and Andreas and “at once they left their nets and followed him”. There is a sense of urgency in this scene. The Kingdom God Jesus had preached about is something so important that it can’t wait. Everything else is secondary. It requires an immediate answer. Usually we don’t take such an important decision that changes life completely in a hurry. Supposing Peter would have answered Jesus: “Thanks for the invitation. Let me go home and discuss it with my wife.” She would probably have said: “Are you crazy? Who is going to provide the food for our children? And what about me?” And had Peter consulted the village Rabbi, he probably would have said something like this: “We don’t know this fellow Jesus. His statements are sometimes a bit unbalanced. Wait till we have more information about him.” Had Peter followed his reason and not the intuition of his heart, his story would not have been told this Sunday morning. The first reading of today tells a very different story. It is about a prophet by the name Jonas who also gets a call and also seems to answer immediately. But the reading leaves out the most important part of the story, namely that Jonas goes indeed to the harbour, but then he takes a ship sailing in the opposite direction. He simply runs away from God’s call. Don’t we often react like Jonas when God sends us a gentle invitation? We tend to push it aside and do something else. Last Sunday we heard about another reaction to God’s call. In John’s Gospel Andrew asks Jesus: “Where do you live?” He wants to find out first who Jesus is before committing himself. Usually that is a wise thing to do before taking an important decision. Get more information, consult other people about it, take time to think and pray about it, go through a process of discernment. While this is prudent in most cases, there are situations, which call for an immediate reaction. And if we do not grasp the chance there and then, it passes never to come again. Here is an example. On his flight from Chile to Peru last week, Pope Francis was served by two stewards, a man and a lady. Looking at the man the Pope pointed to the lady and asked: “Is this your wife?” When the steward said yes, the Pope continued the conservation. “Are you married?” “Yes, but only in the registrar’s office.” “Why did you not marry in Church?” “Well, the church we wanted to marry in was destroyed by an earthquake.” In his spontaneous way the Pope surprised them with the invitation to get married then and there on the plane.” And so, it happened. If they had hesitated and insisted to consult first their families, this opportunity to be married by the Pope would have never happened again. In some situations, it is now or never. If Peter and Andrew had not responded at that moment, Jesus may simply have passed on. Such occasions, where we have to decide at once or miss our chance, happen rarely. But there are little invitations and inspirations through which God calls us almost on a daily basis. We see someone in need and have the feeling: I should go and help that poor person. If you do not do it on the spot, you may never meet that person again. Or something says in you: I should write that difficult letter now, but then you procrastinate and escape into other occupations and forget all about it. Or you may go to your work in the morning and you feel a subtle urge to lift up your heart in prayer to God for a moment. If you do not respond at once, that chance may never come back during the rest of your busy day. Maybe we could try to become more aware of these little invitations we receive and like Peter and Andrew respond at once.

Fr Wolfgang Schonecke, MAfr