When I was a younger priest I frequently gave retreats to high school students. I thoroughly enjoyed that work and they would be marvelously attentive. I always tried to get and keep their attention by using examples that they had in some sense experienced or had knowledge of. When I was talking to them about the Church, our community of faith, I would remind them of the old Westerns that still play on Turner Classic Movies so all of them had seen the old movies about wagon trains struggling to get across the Indian territory trying to make it to California.
I would tell them that Pope John XXIII was the wagon master in the Church back in 1958 and that, despite his weight, he climbed up on the lead wagon and cried out in a voice heard around the world, “WAGONS WEST!” With that the Church began to give up the defensive posture as circled wagons that it had maintained since the Protestant Reformation. The Church began to move in a new and exciting chapter in its journey through history.
I must admit that it was not a perfect example because the wagon master in the movie is leading them towards California and that is certainly no heavenly paradise. The Church had circled its wagons after it had suffered terrible losses in the 16th century. One-third of Europe abandoned the Catholic faith in only two lifetimes and thus the Church was very defensive.
Pope John XXIII had great confidence in the Holy Spirit and was ready to take the risk of uncircling the wagons. That would lead into a new period of exciting religious openness, which we now call the Ecumenical Movement. I will fill you in on that soon…