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Passau Bishop Stefan Oster Wikimedia Commons
Maike Hickson

Opinion, , ,

Germany’s youngest bishop takes bold stand for marriage

Maike Hickson

April 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- In preparation of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome, more voices can be gathered that bring up very valuable arguments in defense of the Catholic Church's moral teaching.

The youngest Catholic bishop in Germany at 49, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, who came into his current office only in May 2014, chose as his motto: "Victoria Veritatis Caritas" ("The victory of truth is love"). Fittingly, he has soon after his consecration as bishop taken up the task of speaking the truth in charity. In the context of the last Synod of Bishops of October 2014, and since then, he has come out with some very differentiated and calm, as well as refreshingly original, argumentations against the professedly progressive forces within the Church.

Bishop Oster uses his own Facebook site for his public reflections. In one of them, called “We all need merciful empathy!”, he defended the indissolubility of the Sacrament of Marriage, arguing that it is “analogous to the covenant of God with His people,” something that goes beyond human agreements. The quality of the Sacrament of Marriage is, in his words, founded and vouched for by God Himself. “And even if man at some point thinks that he himself has torn that bond, or broke it, it is still remaining, and present.” People who have remarried civilly after a divorce, he says, live in the state of adultery. He insists that the first marriage is “the true 'living and breathing realm' of the Christians.”

Bishop Oster also insists with regard to the recent and forthcoming Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family in Rome that one should not have much expectation of change, since the Church “has no maneuver room over the Commandment of the Lord.”

In another text, Bishop Oster explicitly refutes the plea of a Belgian bishop, Bishop Johan Bonny, to admit “remarried” divorcees to Holy Communion. The Belgian prelate has even referred to passages in the New Testament that purport to show that even Christ Himself sometimes puts in doubt some of the moral Laws of the Old Testament. Bishop Oster sees in such an argument a weakening of the importance of the abiding moral law and a movement toward subjectivism and situation ethics. He sums up this relativizing attitude as follows:

Conscience is then finally, and especially, that which I myself consider to be right, and natural law is that which now shows itself to me or us in my or our specific situation in life as right and good. […] To this kind of argumentation is then added a reading of the New Testament in which Jesus in every single case stands on the side of the subjective, the individual, while also letting Him seem to be an advocate against a law that is too abstract.

However, Bishop Oster reminds us of the “inner sense and the program” of Christ's coming to earth, as explained in His first recorded words in the Gospel of St. Mark: “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand, convert and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk: 1, 15) Oster says about these words: “In His proximity, everything becomes new, everything healed.” Jesus Christ invites us into His nearness, also with His miracles, healings, and His manifest care for men. But, says Oster, from this proximity also flows a demand: “One finally cannot let oneself be touched by Him and healed, and then remain afterwards in His proximity without also following His call to conversion. One cannot stay near Him in His unmeasurable love and under His eyes without letting oneself be challenged by His truthfulness, majesty, holiness, strictness, and bottomless depth.”

Oster importantly describes how exactly this call to conversion made many followers of Christ turn their backs to Him finally, who were originally drawn to Him by His mercy and by His miracles:

Yes, it is so: as long as He tells beautiful tales of the Kingdom and distributes bread for all, they follow Him in masses. But, the more explicit He becomes as to Who He is and that it is truly about making a decision to follow Him; and, even moreso, to find the readiness to give one's own life for Him, the more, one after another, they then run away from Him again – unto His unbearable end at the cross, where He was nearly alone.

The German bishop beautifully points to the connection of love and truth: “One cannot separate the greatness of this love from its depth of truth, one cannot stay with Him without entering into a process of transformation and without letting oneself being transformed by Him – into persons who want to, and are able to, correspond to the Commandment of God.”

Bishop Oster describes here in a touching way the process of conversion that every person will and must undergo once he has been touched by Grace and willingly then responds to it.

In this context, it might be worthwhile also to mention that Bishop Oster himself has publicly spoken of his own personal conversion, which he describes as a life-changing and sustained event. He is a late vocation to the priesthood, after first working as a journalist and after his extended higher academic studies at different universities.

Converts with their different backgrounds – whether fallen-away Catholics who find their way back to Christ or those who for the first time find Christ in the Catholic Church – are perhaps among the strongest and most convincing witnesses to the modern world that, only through the process of changing one's heart and life and by adapting to God's laws and wisdom, can one become truly happy and free – free from the bonds of perpetuated and worsening sin. These converts can witness to the fact that only a sincere and deep conversion works, and the remaining in a sinful life does not.

Here we can fittingly quote Bishop Oster again: “All evil, all separation from God, came through the disobedience against God. The way back to the Father goes only by way of an obedience out of love to and with and through Christ.”

Here is clearly expressed the loving closeness to God in obeying Him. Very importantly, Bishop Oster warns against depicting Jesus Christ merely as an undemanding and merciful God who is “always nice”:

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It is also in vain again and again to select and list only those passages in the Gospels with the help of which the Church with a weakened Faith bends and twists for herself a nice Lord Jesus into a mold until He finally does not hurt [or prod our consciences] any more in all the situations which, according to the witness of Holy Scripture, are still obstinately called sin. And, yes, Jesus loves the sinner, but He and His Father hate the sin!

Therefore, drawing closer to God means being changed by Him. “Yes,” says Bishop Oster,  “Jesus picks us up where were are, but He does not want that we remain where we are.”

While our baptism makes us enter His Church, the Sacrament of the Eucharist will give us strength to remain in Her and with Him. Oster says: “To put it a little bit simply: Baptism is the Sacrament of initiation into the belonging to Him, and to His Church. The Eucharist, however, gives testimony that we are willing to stand with Him under the cross, and it strengthens us again and again in our ability to do it.”

Bishop Oster calls us to a movement away from a subjectivist attitude toward more objectivism: “... the way of sanctification is the way exactly away from this [subjectivism] back into the 'objectivity', or better: into the proximity of the Father.” Jesus Christ, in the words of Bishop Oster, showed that there is the Father behind the Divine Laws Who loves us so much: “And Who challenges us with a certain amount of strictness of the law exactly so that we learn to respond to this love in a fitting way; like a good father who has to be strict at times with his children. Again and again it stands: God wants to save us, all of us! But salvation is not an automatic event, and according to the overwhelming account of Holy Scripture, it does not take place without conversion. And, as far as I can see, there is no talk about conversion in the intensive text by Bishop Bonny, not one single reference.” Nor is there any sign of our risk – that we might not even attain the salvation, after all.

With this polite, but strong rebuke – for not even talking about sin and the need for true conversion when dealing with the matter of adultery! – and after our taking the above-quoted passages together, Bishop Stefan Oster has made his own stand in the difficult and very vital discussion within the Church which will be further deepened at the upcoming October 2015 Synod of Bishops about marriage and the family. May his words be listened to and acted upon: with an attentive poise and a deeply pondering heart.

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