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Hans Burgman MHM on Missed Opportunities in the History of the Church

Hans Burgman MHM who died yesterday was a creative visionary. In an interview with the Dutch Missionary Agency ‘Mensen Met een Missie’ he reflected on what he saw as missed opportunities in the history of the Church.

He likes to come straight to the point. Thus he begins about all the missed opportunities in the history of the Catholic Church. He calls them “trump cards” that have ‘fallen under the table’ or been neglected in the course of Church history.

For the last 25 years I have been working on that, I have tried to find them again. I have now found three.

The first is this: Jesus protested against the temple service – for him that was over, it is no longer the time to seek God on the mountain of the Jews or on the mountain of the Samaritans. The time has come when the way to God is the way to your heart, there you will find God. Christianity started out as a kind of family religion, without a temple – but over the centuries, that temple has come back as a church. And so a lot of things have come back: clericalism, the idea that you mainly believe and pray in the church and not outside, the Holy of Holies etc. That was not the case at all for Jesus – that is the first trump card that has fallen under the table: the temple service has been resurrected.

The second trump card is hermeneutics. The previous Pope (Benedict) was a bit against renewal. He said, “We must read the Gospel according to the hermeneutics of continuity, and not follow the hermeneutics of evolutionary.” I don’t think that’s right at all, you won’t find that anywhere with Jesus. Jesus says: If you want to understand my message, you must read it with the eyes of a child. We have completely lost that hermeneutics of the children’s vision, that is the second asset that has disappeared under the table. We sold ourselves to science, and then you end up with atheism. I am also an atheist, as a scientist, but the child in me is a believer. For me, this children’s vision is characterized by three things: puppet theater, mother-of-pearl and gingernut candy.

Puppet show : that stands for doctrine in the form of parables. Jesus explained everything in parables, that’s charade of course. We think charade is something negative, but for a child it is the truth.

Mother of pearl : that has to do with the miracles. A pearl is created when a grain of sand ends up somewhere in an oyster shell. The oyster lays layers of mother-of-pearl around it and in the end you have a beautiful pearl. But the heart of the pearl is an ordinary grain of sand. Likewise, the miracles that are at the heart of the Gospel originally began as ordinary events. Through the retellings in the tradition, more and more layers of mother-of-pearl have been placed around them and so they have now become beautiful pearls, but at the heart of them are very ordinary events.

Gingerbread candy : they stand for the grace, the blessings you receive. They are like candy that comes flying through the air (a custom on the feast of Saint Nicholas in Holland), distributed with wasteful extravagance. You don’t know where they come from, it doesn’t matter. You have to get off your chair, get on your knees on the floor to pick up those gingerbread cookies.

Then there is a third trump card that has disappeared under the table. It concerns the liturgy. Jesus and his contemporaries all believed that the end of the world had come, that a new world order would come, and then the Kingdom of God would be established. So, he would come back, they were sure. That return then established itself in the Eucharist. In the Middle Ages, that return of Jesus was explained so scientifically that you get the teaching of transubstantiation. And that is why the chalice has completely disappeared, only a host remains on the altar. I think that’s dramatic – bread and wine are the symbols of our lives, referred to in mystical terms as the body and blood of Christ. But they are separated on the altar! Just imagine: when body and blood are separated, you are as dead as a doornail! And then you offer it to God! But God says, “Ho ho, here you have him back – he must rise again.” And where does that resurrection take place? Because you eat the bread and drink the wine, Christ rises in you. So, communion is the image of the resurrection, but for the resurrection you need the blood. We’ve completely lost that. I have only seen a tabernacle once in all my life where the chalice of wine is also kept. That was in Taizé. For the rest only hosts are kept in tabernacles.

The Church has lost those assets. She has become bloodless. She speaks a bloodless language that no longer appeals to people. And meanwhile, we’re all in a lifeboat, but we think we’re still on the Titanic.

Excerpt from an interview with Mensen Met een Missie (MMM)

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