Monday, July 23, 2012

not to conquer but to serve

The joys and the hopes,
the griefs and the anxieties of people of this age,
especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,
these are the joys and hopes,
the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.
            Gaudium et Spes

I’ve been doing so much reading about the Second Vatican Council these days, partly because there is so much interest around it this year as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of its convening. I just finished a wonderful book called “What Happened at Vatican II” by John O’Malley, that my confrere Fr Bruno recommended, that for me read like a action novel! I know that a lot of things have been excused, and sometimes wrongly, in a stretching of this nebulous “spirit of Vatican II,” and yet I came away from that book thinking that there really was a spirit to it.

The Roman Catholic church doesn’t like to think of itself as ever changing, especially when it comes to dogma and doctrine, so instead three different words were used––aggiornamento, development, and resourcement. That first word in Italian means “updating.” This is what the saintly Pope John XXIII wanted for the church, and updating, to open the windows and let the Sprit blow some fresh air in, especially after 500 years of a very solid post-Reformation counter-Reformation stance, protecting against all enemies, especially theological ones. Where the “development” came in was, for example, not 100 years earlier popes were condemning ecumenical dialogue, religious freedom and what they called under the large banner of “modernism,” which included things like new academic disciplines directed at Scripture as well as any talk of evolution. All of those by 1965 were embraced and encouraged, and many of the theologians who were silenced in the years before––Yves Congar, John Courtney Murray, Teilhard de Chardin––wound up having great influence on the final documents of the council. That was quite a development, and it left a small but vocal minority very unhappy, leading some even to go into schism, as in the case of Archbishop Marcel Lefevre. The resourcement, on the other hand, is a French word that basically meant skipping back, sometimes up 1,500 years, and returning to the sources, back to the apostolic times and the Patristic era, the earliest era of church teachings, and for religions orders and congregations it meant going back to the original inspiration of their founders and recovering their original charism, intent and hopefully fervor as well. That was all part of the spirit of Vatican II––updating, developing, and going back to the sources.

But there was something more, of which these three were just manifestations. Whereas the stance of the church at least for 500 years had been to circle the wagons and condemn anything that we didn’t agree with, there were no condemnations issued out of the Second Vatican Council. Instead, an unheard of theme got brought up over and over again––“dialogue with the world.” So much so that the Council fathers issued a document that was addressed not just to the church, but to the world! Gaudium et Spes––and it begins with those marvelous words:

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of people of this age,
especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,
these are the joys and hopes,
the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.
Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.
For theirs is a community composed of human beings.
United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father
and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for everyone.
That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with humankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.
Hence this Council, now addresses itself without hesitation,
not only to the children of the Church
but to the whole of humanity!

This was the spirit of Vatican II: dialogue with the world––not antagonism against the world––not circling the wagons and protecting ourselves against the world––dialogue with the world. As a matter of fact in his opening address to the second session of the Vatican Council Pope Paul VI called on the church to change its attitude toward the modern world, in these words I have reflected on countless times:


O’Malley adds this list, that the vision of Catholicism was moving

…from laws to ideals, from definition to mystery, from threats to persuasion, from coercion to conscience, from monologue to dialogue, from ruling to serving, from withdrawn to integrated, from vertical to horizontal, from exclusion to inclusion, from hostility to friendship, from rivalry to partnership, from suspicion to trust, from static to ongoing, from passive acceptance to active engagement, from fault-finding to appreciation, from prescriptive to principled, from behavior modification to inner appropriation.

We heard these wonderful words about Jesus in the gospel today, that he was move with pity for the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd. One might think that they are only addressed to those who officially minister in the church. But that’s not how I understand it. By our Baptism we all share in this triple vocation of Christ who was prophet, priest and king––and king as Vatican II was at pains to define it––king as servant. It is notable that the documents of Vatican II never refer to the papacy as a monarchy; the pope too is simply the “servant of the servants of God.” We are supposed to “rule” the world by being its servant. Why? Because they are like sheep without a shepherd, Christ wants to be their shepherd, and we are the body of Christ.

We have no idea what will face us in the future––but the signs of the times show, and some great thinkers among us believe that, us that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could be heading toward some great ecological disaster, of worldwide financial collapse, or some horrible nuclear disaster––not to mention random acts of terrorism or horrendous senseless violence like we had this past week in Colorado. We are going to need each other, to be shepherds to each other. But even more, the world––which God loves so much––is going to need us as its shepherds: not to conquer it but to serve it; not to despise it, but to appreciate it; not to condemn it but, especially, to comfort it, in the name of Jesus who had compassion on the crowds; Jesus, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, who is our peace, who has broken down the dividing wall of enmity, who proclaimed peace to those who are far off and those who are near, through whom we have access in the Spirit to the Father.(cf. Eph 2:14-18)

21 july 2012