The world is in chaos. The Church faces discord and decline. Many look with concern, or even fear, in the future.
We are in the month of May. In this short interview, Bishop Emeritus Jozef Punt of Haarlem-Amsterdam reflects on this state of affairs, and the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our time and world.
Bishop, how do you interpret the current situation in the world and in the Church?
It can be depressing when you look at it only from a political or social perspective. As people of faith, however, we look at the current situation primarily from a biblical, spiritual point of view. Behind everything that happens in the external world, lies the internal spiritual battle between good and evil, light and darkness, in the hearts of humanity. It is only reflected in external events. The world, in large part, has turned away from God. Politicians will not find solutions for the big problems of our time. A false spirit gathers more and more strength, but also the Holy Spirit grows stronger.
The Church is going through a great apostasy, but we see signs of revival as well. The Lord himself spoke about it. When the end draws near, He explained to his disciples, both good and evil, wheat and chaff, will have grown, and the confrontation between both will reach its climax. I think we approach these times. It should, however, not make us despair. When we see all these end time signs increase— apostasy, degeneration, disasters, and wars— Christ encourages us, “then raise your heads, because your redemption draws near.”
What, then, do you think is the central mission of the Church in this our time and culture?
In a time with so much suffering, the Church has to stand with the poor and the broken, but should also, to my mind, be more prophetic. Like Jonah warning humanity that the dominant world culture has moved too far away from God and his truth, and cannot continue to stand. All traditional values are under attack, or even put upside down. We see it in the attempt to build a new world order without God, based on very liberal man-made norms on life, society, sexuality, gender etc., which is becoming increasingly intolerant to anyone who does not comply.
The Church cannot but counter this “false humanism,” as Benedict XVI called it, and preach urgent conversion. Not only the peoples of the world, however, should repent, but we also, as the Church ourselves, and each one of us individually, faithful and shepherds alike, and certainly I include myself. As people of God we should go on our knees, implore the Lord for mercy, and for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit over our wounded world.
The short and powerful prayer of the Lady of All Nations implores this. The sacraments, the rosary, and charity, of course, remain our basic spiritual armor. After all, we are in the midst of a fierce spiritual battle, and, above all, are in need of spiritual weapons. This is a time to present the great truths of our Faith again with new courage.
It seems that many faithful are not aware of the crucial spiritual battle we are in.
It is true, we must face the reality that also many faithful follow the ideologies of our time, and, especially in the western world, have forgotten the primary spiritual weapons. The excess of information, images and distractions brings down the prayer life of many. Few still go to Confession. According to credible surveys, a big part of our faithful have even lost the faith in the Real Presence of our Lord in Holy Eucharist. It makes no sense to talk about positions or changes in Church organization, if we do not first restore the foundation of our Church, the adoration of the living God in our midst. Only words will not do. We need concrete action.
We all know the vision of Don Bosco. He saw the ship of the Church in a wild storm, attacked from all sides. But then two pillars rose from the water: one with the Holy Eucharist on top: another smaller one, with a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on it. Only when the ship anchored herself to these two great pillars, did the storm die down. He indicated that it would be around the end of the 20th century. The Church has already been going through this crisis for many years now, with increasing violence. She is attacked by direct persecution in several countries, and undermined by false teachings, apostasy, and failures of shepherds and faithful themselves.
We need the help of Our Lady. In Fatima and other places, She has, time and again, called for conversion and prayer, offered her protection, and also made a hopeful promise: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph".
How then would you describe the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
From the early ages on, the Fathers of the Church honored Our Lady as “the New Eve.” She was conceived without sin, just as Eve. She gave the Word flesh, his full human nature. She went the entire way of Redemption with Him, from before his birth until after his death. The first humans sinned in the full freedom of their yet unfallen nature. Only the Blessed Virgin Mary, in virtue of her Immaculate Conception, and thus possessing the same freedom and purity, could correct the sin of Eve in the name of all of humanity, and therefore she is “the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race”, as St. Irenaeus teaches already in the second century. Where Eve said ‘No’, Mary said ‘Yes’ to God, not only to the Archangel Gabriel, but throughout her whole life until under the Cross, where a spiritual sword, prophesied by Simeon, pierced her heart and soul.
What a solitary spiritual battle this young woman will have had to fight all her life to maintain the great gifts the Lord had granted her as the Immaculate Conception. How She will have been tempted by Satan. How many times Jesus and Mary will have talked and meditated together about his divine mission to redeem humanity, and her essential human cooperation.
On Golgotha, Christ died in his Body, Mary died in her soul, voluntarily and consciously united in saving love. A dogma, that in a new and strong way proclaims the greatness and spiritual Motherhood of Mary, would also be a very powerful spiritual weapon against the evil power of Satan.
Can you explain that somewhat deeper. What is so special about a dogma?
That is exactly the question a good priest once asked me during a meeting in the Vatican. “Bishop, even if all this about Mary is true, why should it be a dogma. Isn’t it true anyway?” An understandable question, but it misses the point. When Christ asked his disciples: “Who do the people say, I am?”, Peter answered with all his heart: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. Of course, the Lord knew who He was, but He wanted to hear it from Peter. On his strong testimony of faith, He could build His Church.
Now, in these last times, it is the same in regards to Our Lady. Of course, the Lord knows who She is, the “great things He had done to Her,” but now He wants to hear it from us, from the Church. From such a testimony of faith will come great grace, and new spiritual power for the Church. Until now, in four dogmas the Church has recognized the great personal gifts and graces the Lord has granted Our Lady. They proclaim that She is the Mother of God; perpetual Virgin; conceived without original sin; and gloriously assumed into heaven, with body and soul. But never has the Church solemnly and dogmatically recognized the human, though essential role Our Lady has fulfilled with Jesus in the Redemption of the human race.
As St. Augustine writes: “God created us without us, but He did not will to save us without us.” Free human cooperation is not merely a devotional practice, but an integral and necessary part of God’s plan of Salvation. This is, unlike ‘sola gratia’ theology, authentic Catholic teaching, and should have a place in the dogmatic tradition of the Church.
What, then, should such a fifth Marian dogma contain and include?
At the Cross came the change. Now Mary, the young woman of Nazareth, becomes the Spiritual Mother of all humanity, of all peoples. Among his last words, words with the power of an everlasting testament, our dying Lord gave Mary this, her new mission and dignity: “Woman, behold your son…… behold your Mother". He expressed as his last will that all his disciples of all times would take Our Lady into their spiritual homes as their heavenly Mother. She is a creature, for sure, but totally enveloped by the Holy Spirit, made capable to fulfill this, her universal mission. This should be the heart of a new dogma.
At the same time, we must be aware that also the grace of her immaculate conception is based on the divine redemption by Christ, and leads to Him. “In Christ all things were created in heaven and upon earth, visible and invisible…”, the Bible teaches. He is the “New Adam,” our sole divine “Redeemer,” “Mediator” and “Advocate.” These three titles belong together, and constitute one concept. The Blessed Virgin Mary, as the New Eve, shares in these roles of Jesus Christ, although in a purely human manner. She, therefore, in no way takes anything away from her Son, as our only divine Redeemer.
Can you explain these three titles for Mary more specifically?
First, I understand that some hesitate at the title “Co-redemptrix.” It has to be properly explained, as all Marian titles, including Mother of God, Queen of heaven etc. From its unity with Christ, the Church believes that also human prayer and sacrifice become redemptive for others. In a unique manner, this is true for the Blessed Virgin Mary, who made redemption possible by her sinless ‘fiat’, and by her free human suffering, unified with the divine suffering of her Son. Only the title “Co-redemptrix” does this, her essential human role in Redemption, full justice.
Secondly, the Church has always believed that it is the wish of the Lord that the graces of His sacrifice on the Cross would flow into the world through the heart and the hands of Mary. On the day of his resignation, the late Pope Benedict XVI referred to Our lady as the “Mediatrix omnium gratiarum” (Mediatrix of all graces).
Thirdly, as the true Spiritual Mother of all humanity, of all Peoples, the Blessed Virgin Mary brings all the needs and prayers of her children to her divine Son, who loves her immensely and refuses her nothing. The Church ardently believes that Our Lady’s Advocacy still intercedes for wonders in our time, our world, and our lives. This makes Her the human ‘Advocate’ par excellence. The Tradition of the Church, by popes, bishops and saints, has time and again used these three titles for Mary in these senses. In1943, for example, in the middle of World War II, the Dutch bishops consecrated our nation and people to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by using and explaining these three titles.
Why do you think the proper time for such a dogmatic proclamation is now?
The movement for a new Marian dogma is not new. Already in 1915, more then a century ago, the Belgian Cardinal Mercier, supported by Maximilian Kolbe and many others, pleaded for it. Since then millions of faithful, and hundreds of bishops and cardinals have asked for it. They all were convinced that in these, our times, where darkness more and more covers the world, where great dangers loom, and Satan has risen to bring division, hatred and war, also “the Woman, clothed with the sun”, must rise. In this decisive spiritual battle we are in now, the Blessed Virgin Mary, in their and my opinion, is not only a mighty spiritual weapon, but even the remedy Herself.
A dogma is the ultimate way the Church can honor Our Lady, and proclaim Her as the perfect remedy for our time. She has great power over the heart of her Son, and can move Him to send us the Holy Spirit again and anew. At the same time, a dogma would officially clarify the often forgotten truth that in Mary, also a woman, has her own human, but crucial, role in God’s plan of Salvation, without detracting anything from the work of Christ, as our one divine Redeemer.
What about ecumenical sensitivity? How will our Protestant brothers and sisters react?
They will be surprised. That has always been the case. We should respect them in brotherly love, and act together where possible, but also continue to be ourselves. When in 1950, Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, there was a lot of criticism in the press at the time. It is interesting to read. Many saw it as a deathblow for the ecumenical movement. It, however, only made the Church stronger, as the truth always does.
It would not be different this time. Of course timing will always be controversial. Therefore, I and many of the people of God worldwide, continue to hope and pray that at this crucial moment in history, the Holy Father will solemnly declare that the Blessed Virgin Mary, by God’s will and design, is the true Spiritual Mother of all Humanity and of all Peoples, and honors her with these three titles which express her unique, sinless, human, female and unprecedented cooperation with Jesus Christ, our sole Divine Redeemer.
We trust that such a strong act of faith and profession of truth, similar to Peter’s testimony, in the same way will move the Lord to a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit over our wounded world, so that truth, justice and love may increase, and true peace may follow.