Posts tagged: Second Vatican Council

Fiftieth Anniversaries Surround Us

By , April 16, 2014 5:48 am

Have you noticed that we are surrounded by a very plethora of anniversaries marking the 50th anniversary of this or the 50th anniversary of that. If it tells us anything at all, it should be that the 1960’s were an extraordinarily important period. It is fifty years since the riots in Watts, fifty years since the death of Jack Kennedy, fifty years since Lyndon Johnson led the change in America by the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is also fifty years since the first session of the Second Vatican Council.

These American events are being rather well marked but for some reason the Catholic bishops of the United States have done little or nothing to remind the 60 million of us that the Council was an extraordinary event widening horizons, creating hope and helping to lead us into the future. Maybe one of the reasons why it has not been spotlighted so much in this country is that many of the younger bishops would just as soon forget it! That is a tragedy but it is not an enduring tragedy. The Council is being brought back to life by our magnificent leader Pope Francis.

A few days ago I started a series of blogs on the documents of the Council. Since I find it so refreshing to go back and study them, you may appreciate or enjoy at least a brief mention to various segments of them as I plod through the next few weeks.

The other day I stressed that the first and most exciting of the Council documents was the one on the sacred liturgy and how it got started. Now I would like to go very briefly through certain segments of this document that has touched each and every one of us in this country and actually every Roman Catholic across the world. I break Roman Catholics into two groups about the Council. Older men and women who remember it taking place fifty years ago connect it with a time of change and tension and the most visible thing they remember is that Latin ceased to be imposed on the Universal Church and all the countries of the world were able to use vernacular language. Imagine – the Church decided to put worship into a language that the worshipers understood. What a breakthrough!

To discuss the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy would require volumes and believe me many volumes have been written about it. With the constraints of this space, I want to simply break it into two key components. Many subdivisions are possible.

The first thrust of the document centers on the fact that the Eucharist is the absolute center of the Church’s prayer life. Certainly, the other sacraments are important and they draw us closer to Jesus and private devotions and prayers of individuals are very valuable. However, it is in the Eucharistic liturgy that the entire Church prays and we pray in unison and with one faith and one heart. The Eucharist is the center of the Church and it unites each and every one of us together. We are believers.

Secondly, the liturgical document calls forcefully and urgently for a resurgence in the study of sacred scripture and more effectively integrating scripture into the Eucharist liturgy and all the other sacraments as well. I am happy to report that this early Council directive has been rather well implemented. While there is much work to be done, it is a very measurable accomplishment.

In the meantime, what we need is millions of small groups across the world taking time out of their lives, day by day and week by week, to study God’s word, to see their own lives in relationship to it and to be guided by that word. We are a long way from there but I think we are moving in the right direction. For that I thank God.

  • Share/Bookmark

It Started With the Liturgy

By , April 15, 2014 5:47 am

Back in the 1940’s and 50’s, bishops, priests and theologians were for the most part very relaxed about the Church. Most of them thought that everything was just fine and they never dreamed that an explosive development was coming down the pike that would be known in history as the Second Vatican Council.

However, there had been certain glimmers of approaching change and they first began to appear in the liturgical life of the Church. In the Western Church, everything was in Latin, not just the Mass and the Sacraments, but it was the working language of the Church. It was really a good thing for people who traveled a great deal. If you were a Frenchman attending Mass in the Congo, you were right at home with the Latin, but for most of the faithful the Latin language served as background music. They understood nothing but found it comforting.

Pope Pius XII had worked hard to encourage theologians to go back to the scriptures and he unleashed a very strong surge of dramatically improved scripture studies. Scripture would soon be overlapping in the world of liturgy and question began to be asked about certain things that might be accented too much or not enough.

Liturgists began to organize, liturgical and scripture scholars began to communicate more effectively, and suddenly there came to be a sense that not all was well in the inner-life of the Church.

In 1958 a wonderful, fulsome, Italian bishop from the Alps was elected to the Chair of Peter and he took the delightful name of Pope John XXIII.

He had been listening to that questioning and wondering himself about the need for updating the inner-life of the Church and then finally he did it. He called for a meeting of all the bishops of the world to come together under the dome of St. Peter’s and to pray, study, test, debate and decide on how the Church could more effectively move forward. In calling the Council, it generated an explosion of excitement and hope. The bishops answered his summons and met for several months a year for four years. Needless to say, the first issue that they took up was the sacred liturgy and they published an extraordinary document that would have awesome repercussions around the world.

Let’s take a look at that subject tomorrow.

  • Share/Bookmark

The Pilgrim Church

By , April 10, 2014 8:58 am

Several times in the last week or so, I have gone back to re-read and meditate on one of the great documents of the Second Vatican Council, the one on the Church which Latin title is Lumen Gentium, Light of the Nations. The document spent a great deal of time on major components of this mystical organization; for example, dealing separately with bishops, clergy and the laity, but it pulls them all together with a wonderful title that had not been used too much in recent years. The Council Fathers reminded us that ours is a pilgrim church. We are wounded and, to some extent, lost people traveling across the desert.

When I was in the seminary in the ‘50’s, the theology textbooks did not stress that idea. Actually, they went in the other direction and theologians claimed that the Church is a perfect society. Don’t have a heart attack! Those writers knew that there was much sin and weakness inside the Church, but it held that the Church is perfect in that it had everything needed to attain its goal, namely to present God’s message to the human family; that message coming from God the Father through the Son and guided by the Holy Spirit. We wouldn’t dare use language like that today, but it is wonderful to put our arms around the idea that we are a pilgrim Church. That means that we travel lightly and not with too much baggage.

What an example we are receiving from this marvelous new shepherd, Francis. Look at those two little rooms in the Vatican Hotel. I wonder who is staying in that lavish apartment up on the sixth floor of the palace. Let me stop myself for a minute. Over the last 25 years, I have been in the papal apartments several times and I agree with Pope Francis. They are cold and bleak and I wouldn’t want to stay there either. The pope is giving the bishops of the world a good example of how to be a pilgrim but not everybody gets it. We saw a rather thick-headed German bishop removed from his diocese because he wasted vast amounts of money on his residence and just last week we saw the sharp criticism of two American bishops, not from the Vatican but from the American media. Both were guilty of inordinate spending on their residences. One, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, immediately apologized for his foolishness and plans to leave to a more proper residence. The other bishop, Archbishop Myers of Newark, felt that he was being unjustly criticized. All he did was put a $500,000 addition on his 4,500 square foot house.

Let’s hear it for the pilgrim Church. Onward through the fog and over the sand.

  • Share/Bookmark

The Laity – Freedom and Responsibility

By , April 9, 2014 5:07 am

Oh, how blessed is this holy Catholic Church. Just think – we have at least one billion, two hundred million members and for all practical purposes they are all laity. Just think of the reservoir of talent and energy that resides in this enormous mass of faith-filled human beings. They could accomplish wonders if not miracles, but in point of fact they don’t because they are really not able to.

I am proud of the faithful. They do a great job in backing their pastors and bishops in developing the material sides of parishes, schools, hospitals, etc. But ultimately, our system does not give them real freedom and responsibility. Their role is to follow their shepherds and that is not all bad, but the fact is that many of the shepherds among us do not really trust their fellow Catholics who have not been ordained. Father knows best and the old joke about the laity was that they were to “pray, pay and obey.”

Happily, following the Second Vatican Council lay involvement, especially in the liturgy, has increased tremendously but we have a long way to go. Let me tell you about a happy story in my first assignment as a pastor. We had established a first-class St. Vincent de Paul Society and it was doing wonderful work on behalf of the poor in that section of the city. One day the president of the Society came to me and told me that we had a serious storage problem, but not to worry – he had signed a two year lease on an inexpensive warehouse about four blocks from the church. I was thrilled. He saw the problem, he knew we could afford it and he acted. I am not saying that pastors and bishops ought not to provide close supervision but they must avoid being control freaks.

The other day when I visited with you in this space, I talked about the value system that was dominant in the world of my childhood. I then went on to admit that many of the cultural strengths of 75 years ago are now gone, generating the need for yet a greater response from the Church to encourage its members to embrace and live by the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today’s lay people are far better formed or educated than were the adults of my childhood. The Church has still not found a way through clericalism and antique ecclesiology to vest the laity, either in the parishes or in the dioceses, with a real sharing in power and authority. The Second Vatican Council had that as one of its principal agendas – convincing all of the baptized and confirmed on the planet that they had a vested interest and a very real responsibility to teach that “each individual layman must be a witness before the world of the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus and a sign of the living God.” How is that for a job description?

The Council Fathers then went on to say give the laity freedom and opportunities to breathe and act and be responsible. In paragraph 37 of Lumen Gentium, the Council stated that, “

“The pastors indeed should recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice and confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church LEAVING THEM FREEDOM AND SCOPE FOR ACTING (emphasis added). Indeed they should give them the courage to undertake works on their own initiative. They should attentively in Christ initial moves, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity. Moreover, the pastor must respect and recognize the liberty which belongs to all in the terrestrial city.”

Vatican II called for parish councils in every parish in the world but regretfully only a small percentage have functioned effectively. Why? Because they are deadly dull and do not usually come to grips with what that particular parish should be undertaking. Go check on the agendas of a dozen parish councils and you will see that much more time is allocated to painting the school auditorium than to how we should be advancing the message of Jesus in this neighborhood in this month. The challenge is awesome but sometimes not really heard.

  • Share/Bookmark

The Church is a Mystery

By , April 2, 2014 5:43 am

The Second Vatican Council is now a little more than fifty years behind us. What an awesome event it was, and how it challenged the Universal Church to endeavor to review its ministerial effectiveness and make needed adaptations so that its ministry to the human family could be more effective. For about half of those fifty years, there was real progress and then a reaction set in. While most of the work of the Council was still on the drawing boards, determined efforts to slow it down were strong and destructively effective.

Then comes Pope Francis! All over the world, there is renewed hope that we will begin to move forward forcefully, not only to revivify the work of the Council, but to move with faith and confidence into a yet unknown future.

I have often encouraged people to go back and restudy the more powerful documents that emanated from the Council between 1962 and 1965. While we are in this recovery period, I am going to make sure that I do the same thing myself. The first document that I have gone back to is the awesomely important one called the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) . It was promulgated in November of 1964. It is a rather lengthy document and, given my always limited space here on this blog, I will have to practice verbal discipline, which is always difficult for an Irishman, especially since we are still quite close to St. Patrick’s Day.

The first important position point is the fact that the Council Fathers reminded Catholics across the world that the Church, begun by Jesus of Nazareth, guided by the Holy Spirit and inviting the whole human family into it, is in fact an awesome MYSTERY while at the same time, the Church, in terms of its membership, is all too human and there is nothing mysterious about that.

The Church is a mystery in that it originates in God’s plan. It is set up by Jesus of Nazareth. He begins it himself by teaching tens of thousands of people for three years and calling them, and all of us as well, to walk in his footsteps. The Church is a mystery because its prime director is not this bishop or that pope or the local pastor, but nothing other than the Holy Spirit who sanctifies it by its presence and guidance. The church is mysterious in that its inner life is formed, not by organizations, structures, leaders or plans, but by the saving grace of Jesus of Nazareth.
In our day by day life, going to Mass on Sunday, seeing our grandchildren baptized, receiving the Eucharist or the other Sacraments, we need to be conscious that we are living and acting and being affected by this mysterious reality, the Church itself.

As we move forward towards Easter, let us try to concentrate more clearly on the awesomeness of this mystery.

  • Share/Bookmark

Yet More Good News

By , February 12, 2014 5:17 am

The Second Vatican Council is now a half century behind us. Pope John XXIII’s calling of the leaders of the Universal Church into session was an extraordinary historical event and opened not only windows for fresh air, but doors for improved communication and solidarity with the larger world. As is so often the case when sudden changes occur, there has been resistance and opposition. Today, we are seeing under the leadership of Pope Francis that we are going to reach back to the Second Vatican Council and hopefully move it towards achieving its original purpose.

When people think of the Council they think of changing from Latin to the vernacular, the celebrant facing the people at Mass, the restoration of the diaconate and the use of lay lectors in the liturgy. These were all good things but they are really minor issues around the edge of the life of the Church. The true purpose of the Council was to achieve a vision of collegiality. It was the central ecclesial theme to emerge from Vatican II, namely that everyone who is baptized and confirmed shares in some sense with the spreading of the Gospel.

Happily, the geography of the pope’s new cardinalatial appointments tells us a great deal not only about our Holy Father, but changes in the Church itself. You don’t hear much about it in the United States, but the Church in Asia has done extraordinary things in attempting to fulfill that dream and vision and the appointment of Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato in the Philippines is a wonderful example of that.

As I mentioned the other day that Haiti, little Haiti, now has a dynamic young cardinal and we see in the person of Quevedo a new leader in the Church who will bring the Asian experience to the fore. All of this reflects that the domination of the Church by Europe, which has been so overwhelming for centuries, is beginning to recede. Given the fact that the European Church has grown so weak over the last fifty years, it is a good thing to see vision and leadership shifting to other parts of the planet.

When these 19 archbishops or bishops were appointed Pope Francis wrote each of them a personal letter the next day telling them very clearly, “The cardinalship does not imply a promotion. It is neither an honor nor a decoration.” He then asked the new appointees to not hold lavish celebrations before they officially become cardinals in a Vatican ceremony on February 22nd. Being a cardinal, Francis said, “is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts.” Of the 19 new cardinals only four come from the Vatican and only one is an Italian. The majority of the rest are from the Southern Hemisphere. It is startling, exciting and encouraging.

  • Share/Bookmark

Tension In The Priesthood Today

By , October 31, 2013 5:05 am

Last week, I attended a Day of Recollection for retired priests of the Diocese. It was conducted by one of the outstanding speakers and counselors in the State of Texas, Monsignor Michael Jamail of the Diocese of Beaumont. It was a wonderful presentation and he was dealing with the rather complex reality that priests who were ordained before the Second Vatican Council, and immediately afterwards, sometimes find themselves to have very different frames of reference regarding pastoral care at the parish level with priests ordained in the last 20 years or so. Older priests are sometimes described with disdain by the younger men as “Vatican II priests.” The older men take it as a great compliment. In return, the younger priests are often seen as being extraordinarily conservative having been formed and ordained during the long pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

Monsignor Jamail has pointed out that today providence has placed us in a difficult situation, namely the dialectic of a monarchical Church and a democratic society that each of us brings both enculturations into all that we do, and at times understandably we fail to distinguish the proper norms that we should use. Monsignor Jamail holds that we are polarized over a ministry of the prophetic office or a ministry of the pastoral office. These two offices, prophetic and pastoral, are inseparable and complimentary, and containing nevertheless the potential for mutual opposition. We need to bring both into ecclesial life with more balanced deacons, priests and bishops moving fluidly between the two ministries – prophetic and pastoral – without polarizing at either extreme.

Monsignor Jamail goes on to say that:
“In selecting ministers, that selection is going to be of maximum effectiveness only when wisdom is prized above prophetic rhetoric and pastoral triumph.”

Let me ask my lay friends to be patient but I feel so strongly that Monsignor Jamail is right that I wanted to get this idea out to the many priests who follow this blog.
Thanks for your patience.

  • Share/Bookmark

Reconciliation – We All Need It

By , September 27, 2013 5:33 am

All of the sacraments are about life. They are about our own individual spiritual life and the life of Christ himself. It is through the instrumentality of the sacraments that we are joined to Jesus – first in Baptism where we become his brothers and sisters, and then in the Eucharist where his life becomes one with ours. This is an awesome and beautiful reality and we must always endeavor to keep the reality of it clearly in our mind. But we are frail and weak human beings and we are also free!

In moments of powerful temptation or evil decisions we can willfully separate ourselves from sharing in the life of Jesus. I am referring to the destructiveness of sin. That fact would be extraordinarily sad but for the exhilarating reality that our conscience recognizes our failures and motivates us to repair the damage and destructiveness of sin. It is for that purpose that the Church was given the gift of Reconciliation. The proper name through the centuries was the Sacrament of Penance and the popular title was usually simply “confession.”

Following the Second Vatican Council we all began to use the word Reconciliation as the best name or title for this sacrament because it tells the reality that is present here. If we find ourselves separated from our Lord because of deliberate, grave evil, we are not to be discouraged or slide into depression. Our Lord loves us; he loves us even in our sinfulness and invites us to be reconciled with him. The great truth is that we are forgiven for our sins the instant that we are truly sorry for them. God’s love is unconditional. But no grave sin is completely an individual act. Sin offends not only our Divine Lord but the Christian community itself, and so from the first years of the Church those who failed in the practice of the faith came to the community and “confessed” their failures recognizing that the faith community was weakened because of their failures. The Church would then impose a penance, sort of a spiritual fine, on the penitent and they would be absolved in the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Home again, home with the Lord, home with my brothers and sisters in faith. Home as together we journey to our eternal home.

  • Share/Bookmark

A Deacon’s Deacon

By , September 11, 2013 4:02 am

I buried a good friend and co-worker last week. He was Deacon Richard Orton. Richard was an extraordinary man, an exemplary deacon and a totally committed follower of Jesus. Dick Orton held very effective and high government positions under five presidents but I knew him best as deacon of the Diocese of Austin and a personal friend.

With the government, he helped establish and then direct Project Head Start, one of President Johnson’s programs to help poor kids be better prepared for elementary school.

He left government service to come to Austin and teach at St. Edward’s University but his work was never limited to the classroom. Dick got involved in virtually everything that involved pain or suffering. Twice he was called on to be acting director of Hospice Austin and finally he just took that position over on a permanent basis. He was a strong supporter of the Catholic worker movement and very generous with his time in jail ministry. But it was as a deacon that he went out constantly to help people, and he went out to them because he felt that it was his calling as a deacon. He was a much loved and respected presence on the St. Edward’s campus and he will be sorely missed.

The diaconate has been one of the really great blessings coming out of the Second Vatican Council. But there is a problem. When the ministry was first reopened 30 years ago large numbers of dedicated faithful Catholic men lined up, studied, prepared and received ordination to the diaconate. Many of them, like Richard Orton, are going on to God. I think that the dioceses Vocation Office should develop a vigorous educational program to interest more men to follow in the footsteps of Richard Orton. In so doing, such a man will also be following in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth.

  • Share/Bookmark

The Biggest Problem Confronting Pope Francis

By , August 20, 2013 4:49 am

Our buoyant and joyful new pope is a great example of a faith-filled man confident that with God’s help serious problems can be overcome. The fact is that the Church does have monumental problems. We need to be aware that many are beyond the confines of the Church. They are there and always will be. Dictatorial governments, secularism, atheism, uncontrolled sensuality, opposition from this evil force or that evil force. There are plenty of them out there. Internal problems, of course, are also terribly serious and Pope Francis at least can attempt to use the resources that are at his disposal to deal with those problems.

One of the obvious ones is the tragic shortage of priests but the pope and his successors have it within his power to partially alleviate that shortage over a certain period of time. There is also tremendous dissatisfaction over the Catholic world about the process of the selection of bishops.

In the first thousand years, bishops were selected in a very different manner than is the case today. During that millennium the faithful of the area and neighboring bishops were involved in such selections. Today, it is the policy of the Church that the power to appoint bishops is held by the bishop of Rome and him alone.

“The only way that Pope Francis can help save the Church from its ongoing implosion is by making structural changes that will foster this doctrine of shared governance between him and all of the bishops as well as to heighten the awareness of the Church as communion of all the baptized and ensure their full participation in the liturgy and the Christian mission.”
-Robert Mickens; The Tablet

I agree with that statement. The present system has been entrenched now for most of the second millennium and I think that it would be very difficult for our wonderful pope to move to do that without convening a Second Council. I pray every day that Pope Francis will convene Vatican Council III. Can you add your prayers to mine?

  • Share/Bookmark

Panorama Theme by Themocracy