Vatican II

31 Bishop Michael; Malone Vatican II – Seen but not Heard

Seen but not Heard

Michael Malone

Seminary life back in 1958 was extraordinarily predictable! Little occurred to break the ordered routine, except perhaps an occasional Feast Day, or a rare visit from a passing bishop.

But when Pope Pius XII died on 9th October 1958, all hell broke loose (so to speak)! As students we had prayed during his illness: “may the Lord preserve him and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies”. Having prayed for his health and life, his death came as quite a shock!

Typical of the young, we had no sooner ‘buried’ one pope, than we began to speculate on a successor. Pius XII had been dubbed the ‘pope of peace’ and we hoped the new pope would work hard in the interests of world peace.

As 18-year-olds we didn’t really think the Church needed changing; even to suggest something so bold would have been tantamount to heresy! However, we did hope for a young, vigorous man – one who would make us even prouder to be Catholic.

How devastated we were, when on 20th October 1958, the cardinals, gathered in conclave, elected a 76-year-old as pope. Angelo Roncalli was an unknown quantity, and at 76, we thought he would be an embarrassment. He was ‘old’ and ‘fat’ and would accomplish nothing; the commentators labelled him the ‘caretaker pope’. But how wrong we were!

Very quickly into his pontificate we came to appreciate his warm, friendly personality and a capacity to win hearts with a broad smile. His statements were impressive and his activities decisive, as if he were determined to cram as much as possible into what he saw as a small window of opportunity to make his mark.

John XXIII seemed so free in his role as pope and so able to be himself – a warm and loving human being. He came across as a simple and genuinely holy priest. To a young man preparing for priesthood, his personality and style were music to my ears. He was an inspiring model for me. It was like a death in the family when he died in June 1963.

Less than three months after his election, Pope John XXIII announced that he would hold a Diocesan Synod for Rome; convoke a General Ecumenical Council for the universal Church; and revise the Code of Canon Law.

He set a bold and adventurous agenda for himself and the rest of the Church. The Synod was held in 1960, the Second Vatican Council began in 1962, and the Pontifical Commission for the revision of the Code was appointed in 1963, the year of his death.

John XXIII’s progressive encyclical Mater et Magistra was issued in 1961 to commemorate the anniversary of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. He made notable advances in ecumenism and introduced liturgical changes to the Missal and Breviary.

John XXIII will be remembered mostly as the pope who convened the Second Vatican Council. He admitted that the initiative for calling such a great event came out of the blue: “It was completely unexpected like a flash of heavenly light, shedding sweetness in eyes and hearts” (Opening Speech to the Council).

Meanwhile, back in the seminary, we heard little about the years of preparation. Like most people, we expected the Council to reiterate traditional Church teaching and be over in a matter of weeks.

Thus, when Council documents began to get through to us, we were unprepared for the remarkable shift of emphasis that they appeared to signal. More than that, we were staggered to learn of the audacity of some Council Fathers who challenged the status quo and even sent back documents for a rewrite.

Pope John XXIII had declared that God is “leading us to a new order of human relations, which by our own efforts and even beyond our very expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of God’s superior and inscrutable designs. Everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.” (Ibid.)

Wow! Electrifying stuff! And the ‘differences’ were flowing fast and furious! Vatican II documents were being churned out at a rate of knots. In 1963, two documents; in 1964, three documents; and in 1965, a staggering eleven documents.

In 1963 we were preparing to be ordained as deacons. While we knew the documents of Vatican II were important, we had more immediate matters on our minds – permanent commitment to celibacy and priesthood. This was decision time for us!

The following year we were ordained priests and again, we were caught up with a sense of our own importance and the awesome privilege of being able to celebrate Mass. After ordination we returned to the seminary to complete our final six months of study, venturing out a couple of times to assist with weekend Masses in some of the Sydney parishes.

These events preoccupied most of us to the point where Vatican II was put on hold somewhat for us. However, one of our colleagues remained focused on the exciting events in Rome, proving to be a mine of information for those prepared to listen.

James Tierney (of Catholic Family Catechism fame) would excitedly reveal the most recent teachings to come from the Council Fathers and encourage the rest of us to consider the implications of these for the Church and for our ministry as priests. I still think that if James had not been so infectious in his enthusiastic response to events in Rome, we would hardly have noticed what was happening over there. Sadly, the seminary staff seemed as ignorant as the rest of us. Thank you, James Tierney!

Our first appointments as assistant priests began on 1st January 1965. (I was appointed to Annandale Parish in Sydney). We had emerged from seven years of formation and study with a pre-Vatican II worldview into a Church that was beginning to reshape its relationship with the world. This was the year when eleven documents were to be produced and we young priests were in the unique position of being able to absorb and teach a Vatican II mindset.

How were we to do this? Our parish priests, by and large, were too old to care, and people in the pews hadn’t been told much. I later came to admire greatly those older priests who went along with the new liturgical changes, more out of obedience than conviction, but accepted the reality of a new Church nonetheless.

My first attempts to introduce guitar Masses proved an obstacle to peaceful presbytery life, but when enthusiastically accepted by the young people, begrudging permission was granted. An altar facing the people was definitely OUT!

Fortunately, we younger priests in the district (Peter Ingham at Newtown, Carmelo Scibberas at Forest Lodge, and myself at Annandale) were invited by the assistant priest at Rozelle, Tony Newman (of Living Parish Hymn Book fame) to form a study group.

We would gather at Rozelle Presbytery on a Friday afternoon to study and discuss the documents of Vatican II, thereby encouraging one another to become familiar with their theology and spirit.

This went on for several months until our elderly parish priests got wind of what we were doing and discouraged further meetings. It was not so much their frowning on our laudable efforts to study the documents, as suspicion that Tony Newman – regarded as a little controversial – was having an undue influence on our young minds.

We dutifully ceased our Friday gatherings but our appetites for Vatican II had well and truly been whetted. Each of us continued our reading privately, continuing our fascination with these groundbreaking ideas and concepts.

However, it was Tony Newman who influenced me greatly. His insights and his passion for Vatican II teaching had a deep effect on my own appreciation. Thank you, Tony Newman!

While all the documents of Vatican II impressed me greatly in those formative priestly years, the ones that impacted most were the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

Liturgy was the area of Church life that felt the reforms of Vatican II most immediately. Just before we were ordained priests in 1964, the first use of English in the Mass was permitted. Rapid liturgical changes followed.

Through all these rapid changes we still maintained that the words of consecration would remain in Latin – they were immutable and essential to the form of the Eucharistic sacrifice. How wrong we were!

For two or three years, each parish still celebrated a Latin Mass on every weekend, so that those finding it difficult to cope with the changes could adapt more easily. Some parishes shunted the Latin Mass on to a weekday time-slot and eventually, over a period of time, it ceased altogether.

While these rapid liturgical changes appealed to me as a young priest, I think now with the advantage of hindsight, that the changes were introduced haphazardly, without orchestration and without much formation of priests and people. I think that is why we are still trying to unpack the significance of these documents to this very day.

But because they were authorised by Vatican II and the bishops, we implemented them. They were seen as, mostly, a change in language only. There was little attempt to explain the concepts behind the changes, nor the relationship between the Eucharist and the worshipping community.

This is why Lumen Gentium – “The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” – had a great influence on me. The concept of the Church as the People of God on its pilgrim journey to the Father was a far cry from the immutable structure that the Body of Christ had become. To consider that the Church was always in a state of becoming, searching for authenticity and relevance in the context of the world, made so much sense to me.

Moreover, to declare that by Baptism, all members of the Church share in its life and mission, was to commit the entire People of God to an evangelising and celebratory role in collaboration and partnership.

The richness of Lumen Gentium permeated every aspect of my later pastoral ministry. Parish Councils and other consultative bodies became important to me. Liturgical celebrations, especially the Eucharist, became celebrations of the worshipping community gathered to express its life in Jesus Christ, and to strengthen its members to more actively engage the life and mission of the Church.

Lumen Gentium didn’t exactly teach any new doctrine, but it gave authority to a newer understanding of the Church that resonated better than a former rigidly hierarchical model.

How pleased I was, therefore, when appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle in 1995, to find a diocesan community that had formally adopted the teachings of Lumen Gentium in an earlier Synod.

As a diocese, we are the first to admit that we have a long way to go. But are we not a pilgrim people always in the process of becoming?

Writing this article has been a wonderful opportunity to muse over the past 40 years. Many memories have surfaced and I have come to appreciate just how much Vatican II has influenced me, first as a student, then priest, and now as a bishop. In my reflection, I have also become aware of the debt I owe to significant mentors along the way.

It goes without saying that Vatican II had a profound influence on all associated with the Church at the time. The following words from John’s gospel speak to me of the many challenges and opportunities that Vatican II presented:

“In all truth I tell you, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go.” (John 21:18)

It was an affirming and exciting time for some, but it also created fear and pessimism for others. There were those who embraced the teachings and experience with fervour and there were those who rejected them, who resisted going down this new path.

I consider myself fortunate to have lived at the right time: for I was young enough to have grown with Vatican II and its influence, yet old enough to acknowledge the importance of pre-Vatican II faith and practice. My foundations were firm but not so unbending as to dismiss a new reality. I guess I held on to the words of Jesus, “follow me”.

My prayer for now and beyond is that the wisdom of Vatican II will allow me to embrace with courage the new realities that face our Church.

It is hard to believe that it is forty years since Vatican II began. In many ways the ramifications of this defining period are yet to appear. When I was growing up we were taught that ‘children should be seen and not heard’. As a ‘child of Vatican II’, I resent the fact that too many people treat Vatican II in the same way – as something to be ‘seen but not heard’. 0

(Bishop Michael Malone is Bishop of Newcastle-Maitland Diocese, NSW.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

30 Cardinal Edward Clancy Some Thoughts on Church Dialogue

Some Thoughts on Church Dialogue

Edward B. Clancy

George Weigel, in his book Witness to Hope, speaks of the Second Vatican Council under the heading. The Gamble of Vatican II. He writes:

“He (Pope John XXIII) envisioned an open conversation in which the world’s bishops would relive the experience of Christ’s apostles at Pentecost. The Second Vatican Council, in the Pope’s mind, would renew Christian faith as a vibrant way of life; it would engage modernity in dialogue; it would issue no condemnations; it would try to give voice again to the pure message of the Gospel. It would, in the now-famous phrase, open the Church’s windows to the modern world”. (p.154).

The Pope certainly had the highest hopes for his Council, and given the forces at work in the world at the time, it is not unreasonable to refer to it as a gamble. But, be that as it may, the calling of the Council was in fact an act of great faith on the part of Pope John.

There were many in the Curia who were vehemently opposed to the idea. Engagement with the modern secularist world was probably the cause of greatest concern among the Council’ s opponents, and forty years on, it is a matter of debate as to whether the Church or the world holds the initiative. Many, I think, would put the world well ahead.

Whether it was recognised at the time or not, it was inevitable that to enter into dialogue with the world was to invite dialogue within the Church itself. Dialogue has been proceeding on both fronts throughout these forty years.

As a general assessment, one would have to say that the quality of much of the dialogue in both cases has been disappointing. I do not restrict my remarks to structured or organised dialogue. Such is the climate today that virtually anything that is said or written publicly about the Church is a contribution to a Church-wide dialogue.

Dialogue involves both speaking and listening – and with an open mind in both of these activities. At the very least it also requires of each party respect for the other.

Where the Church is concerned it requires more – it requires love – love of God, love for the Church, and love for one another.

Dialogue is perhaps easiest between equals, but dialogue does not always take place between equals. For example, dialogue between a father and son is authentic and potentially fruitful only if the son acknowledges – as the bottom line, so to speak – the father’s authority and greater experience. That does not mean that the father is necessarily, and a priori, right in any given issue, but the recognition of his status will have an important bearing on the tone and the prospects of the dialogue. It goes without saying that all dialogue should be conducted according to the conventions of elementary courtesy.

The Holy Father has led the way in the Church’s dialogue with the secular world, and in doing so has set the example for all who would participate in dialogue. One by one he has taken up every issue over which the Church and the world are in dispute, providing a calm and closely reasoned explanation of the Church’ s position, and inviting a response in kind from those who would speak for the world.

He has readily acknowledged the errors of the Church in the past, and apologised on behalf of those who in the Church’ s name have wronged others. The world, unfortunately, has been unwilling to take up the Pope’s challenge. A rock-hard secularist ideology has not been open to dialogue.

Pope John Paul has adopted the same approach towards dialogue within the Church. It is claimed, however, that at a certain point, he put the brakes on post-conciliar developments among the People of God, and inhibited the thinking of that time in favour of a more conservative and centralised stance. This was, and still is, interpreted as a retreat to a pre-conciliar outlook.

What is generally not mentioned in this context is that excesses of all kinds, both in theory and in practice, had been taking place throughout the Church. The excesses were claimed to be “in the spirit of the Council”, and some, feeling that we had moved on beyond Vatican II, were now calling for Vatican III!

I believe that the Pope did certainly put the brakes on, and with good reason, but nobody with any knowledge of his thinking could accuse him of being pre-conciliar.

The Pope, however, is not the only one to speak authoritatively from inside the walls of the Vatican. Indeed, the various Pontifical Congregations, Councils, etc., have provided the official voices on most occasions, and have from time to time entered into dialogue without prejudice to their authority.

Not without reason, these have frequently been criticised for their failure to meet the canons of true dialogue, and a great deal of frustration has resulted.

We need to recognise, however, the difficulties that these bodies face. Firstly, they cannot of themselves pronounce the last word – that always rests with the Holy Father.

Secondly, they have been issuing decrees and pronouncing judgments without fear of contradiction from the rank and file within the Church for 2000 years, and against that historical background true dialogue is a very difficult art to master.

Thirdly, they have to speak from the perspective of a universal Church with a billion members and countless different cultures

And fourthly, their dialogue partners frequently fail to recognise and appropriately respect their unique status and authority.

There has been fault on both sides. Rome has sometimes betrayed an apparent insensitivity to concerns within the wider Church. And of course entrenched mentalities foreign to the spirit of dialogue are to be found everywhere.

The freedom of all the people of God, even of the lowliest station in life, to voice their perceptions about the Church is one of the welcome features of the post-conciliar Church. However, there are pitfalls and much learning still to be done in order to facilitate fruitful dialogue.

There are many whose outspoken criticism of the Church is not motivated by love for the Church, but by resentment over some Church teaching that touches them personally, as, for example, the Church’ s teaching on the indissolubility of a valid marriage, or on contraception. Others are driven by particular ideologies such as the ordination of women, a married clergy, or inter-Communion.

Some such issues may well be legitimate subjects for dialogue, but they need to be set in a broader context that makes the good of the Church the focus of the discussion.

Then there are those who get carried away by one or other of the modern theologians – a Kung, a Gutierrez, or a Ruether – and propose visions of the Church that ignore the boundaries set by authentic ecclesiology and the Church’ s Tradition. If we venture into deep theological waters, we need to know how to swim. And – to change the metaphor – we should always keep our emotions on the short leash of reason.

I have been labouring the down-side of dialogue in and by the Church. I would not wish to deny, however, that a great deal of good dialogue has taken place at a variety of levels, and that much has been achieved.

The Church has certainly set up structures for dialogue. Notable among these is the Synod of Bishops, about which, however, there is much dissatisfaction. This is partly due to the immense complexity of a dialogue that involves so many people, from so many different parts of the world, to be conducted in a very limited time-frame. Most, however, would complain that there is excessive “management” of Synod discussions and resolutions.

It is also appropriate here to point out that dialogue is more than an exchange of ideas – it also involves a mutual analysis of those ideas.

There are other structures, too, at the local level, such as parish councils. Some such councils function very well, others not so well, and the reasons, in most cases, are readily identifiable.

Dialogue is a new experience for the Church, and it is going to take a long time to establish the right structures and to use them effectively.

Appropriate structures, however, are not the complete answer, and are no substitute for the inadequacies of the dialogue mentality.

I have already mentioned the need for a genuine love of the Church, and a caring that reaches beyond ones own personal problems and difficulties. An adequate knowledge of the Church’s teaching and claims about itself is also necessary. Knowledge can be expected to grow with the dialogue (if properly conducted), but an effort should be made to acquire sufficient knowledge at the very outset if one expects the dialogue to be fruitful and constructive. Dialogue conducted on the basis of avoidable misunderstanding or ignorance is, at best, a waste of time.

Some exercises in dialogue treat the Church as if it were a (commercial) company, and the dialogue participants its shareholders – a far cry from the concept of the Mystical Body. We are all called to be perfect, to be Christ-like, and it is remarkable just how many paragraphs of the New Testament writings are devoted explicitly to driving that message home.

Christ founded his Church to assist us in the work of personal salvation and in promoting the salvation of the world. This thought should be uppermost in our minds whenever we engage in dialogue, whether within the Church, or with our separated brothers and sisters of other faiths or traditions. All our dialogue should be clearly characterised by those three great theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and should be accompanied by fervent prayer.

At the time of the Council it was freely said that it takes one hundred years for an ecumenical council to bear its ultimate fruit. I do not think that any of us really believed it at the time. Looking about us forty years later, it seems much more credible.

Much has been achieved – and we should not underestimate it – but we still have a long way to go before we realise Pope John’s hopes for the Gospel to become a vibrant way of life for all the world, and for all to hear the pure message of the Gospel in the teaching of the Council.

Towards that end, however, we must continue to work and pray, entrusting ourselves to the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit.

(Cardinal Edward Clancy is the former Archbishop of Sydney)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

29 Bishop Geoffrey Robinson The Unfinished Business of Vatican II

The Unfinished Business of Vatican II

Geoffrey Robinson

When numbers of bishops come together, they are at ease with discussion of pastoral issues, but much less comfortable with discussion of profound theological issues. This is true whether we are speaking of a meeting of the Australian bishops in Conference or of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, and I believe it was true also of the Second Vatican Council.

The Council opened up perspectives, raised questions, indicated directions and made many beautiful and inspiring pastoral statements, but it frequently did not give the clear theological foundation on which to plan confidently for the Church of the future. All too often a tension between very different theological positions was part of the Council’s treatment of a topic. This was certainly true of the Council’s treatment of collegiality, conscience and marriage, among others. It is one of the major reasons why we must entitle this forum “Vatican II: Unfinished Business”.

It is important to understand that these tensions were present in the Council itself and in the documents it produced. Opposing groups within the Church can quote different statements to support their own positions. It is not surprising, therefore, that these tensions are still with us.

Despite this, I am an optimist about the final outcome of the Council. In large part my optimism comes from the least likely source imaginable, the crisis concerning sexual abuse of minors that has engulfed the Church.

It is my hope that, somewhere around the year 2100, an historian will be able to look back and say that serious change took place in the Catholic Church in the hundred years between 1960 and 2060. At first it was the Second Vatican Council that caused changes in most aspects of the Church’s life and had a quite profound effect on the way Catholic people lived their lives. Eventually, however, the changes of the Council seemed to come to a stop and go no further. It was then, in the twenty-first century, the historian will say, that the issue of sexual abuse forced further change. Serious change in an organisation as large and ancient as the Catholic Church requires an immense energy and it was the issue of sexual abuse alone that had that level of energy, for it was this issue that finally caused vast numbers of Catholic people around the world to rise up and say, “This is not good enough. There must be change.”

And so, our future historian might report, a further series of profound changes came over the Church in the first half of the twenty-first century. They were mainly in the two areas of sex and power. They did not come without fierce opposition, but the energy for change arising from sexual abuse was so great that eventually they did come.

Human development came to be put beside spiritual development and the two began to walk hand in hand. What was spiritually healthy and what was psychologically healthy began to shed light on each other. Sexuality was distinguished from sex, spirit and matter were reunited and joy in every aspect of God’s creation began to spread. The gifts of women came to be better appreciated. Power came to be seen as service, as Jesus had intended, and collaboration and empowerment became daily more common.

It is extremely unlikely that our historian will be able to report that everything became as perfect as this, but I hope that she will be able to report serious progress.

In bringing about these changes, I am not calling for a revolution or battles in the street in front of cathedrals. The issue of abuse is complex and sensitive, and it does not allow of instant and sweeping solutions. (Will you allow me to repeat that sentence: The issue of abuse is complex and sensitive, and it does not allow of instant and sweeping solutions.) The whole Church must work together. But the immense energy for change that sexual abuse has aroused must not be lost. It must grow stronger, and it must be harnessed and used effectively.

Permit me to give a few examples. I would like to see a massive request from the Catholic people of the whole world to the Pope, asking him to put in motion a serious study of any and all factors within the Church that might foster a climate of abuse or contribute to the covering up of abuse. I would like to see an insistence that obligatory celibacy, attitudes to sex and sexuality and all the ways in which power is understood and exercised within the Church at every level be part of this study. I would, however, want a truly serious and scientific study, far deeper than anything I have so far seen in newspapers or heard around a table.

As a second example, I would like to see a massive request/demand that the collegiality the Vatican Council spoke of be used to the full in responding to this crisis. If collegiality is not fully used in an issue so important, so down-to-earth and so crucial to the effectiveness of the Church, then the Vatican Council is truly unfinished business. It does not involve any dogmas of faith, so there is no reason not to respect the needs and values of each culture. This surely means the Vatican listening to the needs of each country and not imposing the “foreign” solutions they have imposed, e.g. establishing a statute of limitations of ten years for bringing forward an accusation of abuse or insisting that all cases must be heard by a tribunal consisting solely of priests and referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

As a third example, I would like to see the 32 diocesan bishops and 150 leaders of religious institutes in Australia give up some of their independence for the sake of all of us acting as one on this issue. However, I realise that in the Catholic Church people treasure any independence they do have and are slow to surrender it. I also know that before the Council bishops rode roughshod over the rights of religious, especially women religious, so some religious can today be resistant to any suggestion that comes from a bishop. As I said, the issues can be complex and sensitive.

Nevertheless, my thesis is simple. The Second Vatican Council was the greatest event in the Church in my lifetime. It has inspired my life over the last forty years. But because its theology was frequently far from clear, it is unfinished business, and two of the areas that absolutely demand further work are sex and power. For these two issues the crisis of sexual abuse alone gives the enormous energy that is needed for further change to occur. We should respond to the crisis of abuse for its own sake and the sake of the victims, but we should also seek to use its energy creatively, sensitively and intelligently in order to take further the unfinished business of the Council.

In everything he did and in everything he said, Jesus Christ sang a song. Sometimes, when he cured a sick person, he sang softly and gently, a song full of love. Sometimes, when he told one of his beautiful stories, he sang a haunting panpipe melody that, once heard, is never forgotten. Sometimes, when he defended the rights of the poor, his voice grew strong and powerful, until finally, from the cross, he sang so powerfully that his voice filled the universe.

The disciples who heard him thought that this was the most beautiful song they had ever heard, and they began to sing it to others. They did not sing as well as Jesus had – their voices went flat, they forgot some of the words – but they sang to the best of their ability, and the people who heard them thought in their turn that this was the most beautiful song they had ever heard.

And so the song of Jesus gradually spread out from Jerusalem into other lands. Parents began to sing it to their children, and the song passed down through the generations and the centuries.

Sometimes, in the life of a great saint, the song was sung with exquisite beauty. Sometimes, however, it was sung very badly, for the song was so beautiful that there was power in possessing it, and people used the power of the song to march to war and to oppress and dominate others. Always, however, the song was greater than the singers and never lost its ancient beauty.

Among the last places on earth that the song reached was a far-off land that would later be called Australia. At first the song was sung there very badly indeed, for the beauty of the song was drowned by the sound of the lash on the backs of the convicts and the cries of fear of the aboriginal people. But even in that world the song was greater than the singers and gradually, in little wooden homes and churches throughout a vast and dry land, the song was sung with love and affection.

At last the song came down to me, sung gently and lovingly by my parents. Like so many millions of people before me, I too was so captured by the song that I wanted to sing and dance it with my whole life.

A eat Council of the Church came, and I was inspired by the beauty of the song that seemed to be at the very heart of that Council. The overwhelming message I received was that here were two thousand bishops, divided by many issues but united in the song. We met with other churches and found, perhaps to our surprise, that they loved the song as much as we did. In the Scriptures and in the council I found the firm foundations on which I could live my life.

There was always a tension between the beauty of the song and the weakness and the pettiness that I found within myself and in so many others who shared this song with me, but the song sustained me throughout the years.

But then the darkness of evil within the Church gathered around me, and at times it was so deep that it seemed that the very song itself had been conquered. But in the depths of that darkness, when my clinging to the song was based on blind faith rather than on any warm feeling within me, I realised that the song is quite simply part of who I am and it is in the darkness that it is most important to me.

The song must not stop with us and we in our turn must sing it to others. In doing this we must remember that this song has two special characteristics.

The first is that we, too, will never sing the song as well as Jesus did – our voices lack strength and go flat, we misunderstand the words – but, if we sing this song to the best of our ability, people do not hear only our voices. Behind us and through us they hear a stronger and a surer voice, the voice of Jesus.

The second is that we always sing the song better if we can learn to sing it together – not one voice here, another there, each singing different words to different melodies, but all singing the one song in harmony. Then people will truly know that it is still the most beautiful song the world has ever known.

In the early Church, it was customary to take up a collection of money at the celebration of the Eucharist. That money was passed on to the poor and needy. The custom endures to the present day. At the celebration of the Eucharist at the National Forum, a collection was taken up and the proceeds were given to the Sisters of St Joseph for the work with the East Timorese. Representatives of the East Timorese community in Sydney were present to accept the gift. Sr Sue Connolly RSJ, of the Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies, wrote the following letter of thanks.

“The mass was great last night and we were very happy to be there. Thanks so much for the opportunity of presenting Timor’s great need to these good people. The amount given was $3,976.50 plus 40 American dollars! Truly, a perfect indication of the state of the heart of the people present at the Forum. I do hope that the whole experience was full of challenge, ideas and a commitment to the hard yards. Love from all of us here, especially Josephine and me.”

(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

28 Sandie Cornish True and False Prophets

True and False Prophets

Sandie Cornish

The Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution – Gaudium et Spes – reflected on the Church in the Modern World. Although we find ourselves in a post-modern world, many of the insights of that document have enduring relevance.

For a start, the descriptive title, ‘The Church in the Modern World’, tells us something important. The Church is in the world – whatever kind of world it is – not floating above it. An other-worldly, excessively transcendent spirituality is of little use to us, and renders us no use at all to the poor and marginalised, who carry the spark of the divine presence.

If our spirituality doesn’t lead us to honour God in those around us, and to work for their dignity and rights, is it a Christian spirituality? A spirituality that fails to promote human dignity and human rights fails to take seriously the incarnation, the very Christ-event.

Secondly, the methodology of Gaudium et Spes is inductive. We look to history as the locus of revelation. In other words, we look to the ‘signs of the times’ to discern the movement of God’s spirit in the world. We aren’t likely to receive email from God. We have to be attentive to what God is communicating to us in and through our world.

Thirdly, Gaudium et Spes reflected on the role of the Church in the modern world – not just how the Church had behaved in the world, but what its proper role is in our changing world. The mission of the Church is essentially religious rather than economic, social or political, but that does not mean standing apart from daily life and making no judgment of how economic, social and political systems affect people (GS n 42).

Not only our fate but our salvation is tied up with the people among whom we live, with the whole of humanity. Our salvation is linked to that of all the sons and daughters of humanity.

The prophets didn’t foretell the future – they read the present. They were the ones who called on the people of Israel to remember their own story and be faithful to the God who freed them from slavery. They criticised the injustices in their own societies – and it got them hated, excluded, reviled and defamed – so this is one of the ways in which we will know that we are living prophetically and being true followers of the Son of Man.

The prophet Jeremiah criticised those who would heal the wounds of the people lightly, crying peace, peace, when there is no peace. These false prophets told the leaders what they wanted to hear, rather than the truth.

There are plenty of people who spend their lives ingratiating themselves with the rich or powerful by telling them what they want to hear. Many advisers are well liked who shelter leaders from the truth.

There’s an old joke about a new Bishop being installed. One of the old priests at the reception says to another, “Poor man, he’ll never hear the truth again!” I actually know a couple of Bishops who appreciate being told the truth; being given frank and honest advice, no matter how unpleasant – and that is a mark of real leadership.

Good news for the poor is likely to be bad news for powerful interests who benefit from their oppression. How do you confront injustice without upsetting those who benefit from oppressing others?

I’m not suggesting setting out to deliberately offend and upset people, or rejoicing in such disturbance as a positive outcome in itself, but rather acknowledging the reality of power. Social justice activists are often accused of being naïve for daring to imagine a new heaven and a new earth, but I think those who assume that work for social justice can be undertaken in a nice, polite, middle-class way without ruffling any feathers are the ones who are naïve.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that you might also be hated, excluded, reviled and defamed for being a self-righteous jerk who is on about building a kingdom – but not that of God! If it isn’t really for the sake of the Son of Man that we are being persecuted, then that suffering is not likely to be a blessing.

We can get a bit carried away with ourselves and think that we have to save the world, but if we are Christians, we actually believe that God already did that. All we have to do is play our part in the on-going realisation of the Reign of God, which will only be complete at the end of time.

So, the prophets are the ones who read the signs of the times and call us to faithfulness – we are being challenged to share their mission and its consequences.

I think the other big challenge in all this is rejoicing. Social justice activists don’t exactly have a reputation for being a joyful mob, although some of us have more than a passing acquaintance with the wine of joy.

Liturgists and management consultants would both tell us that it is important to celebrate our efforts and mark even the smallest of achievements – but we don’t often do it.

So what keeps us going and where do we find joy and hope?

The social activists and community organisers that I have talked to about this draw great strength and hope from the people, and from their faith (whether Christian or otherwise).

The courage and resilience of people in the face of terrible oppression is awe-inspiring, and the capacity of people to love and nurture is truly humbling.

It isn’t difficult to see the divine in this, but we can lose track of it when witnessing people’s capacity for evil and inhumanity.

When we serve people and resist that which diminishes them, then we inevitably have joy in our lives. Love is stronger and more creative than hate. If we freeze-frame human history rather than watching the whole film, it may not seem that way.

Think of your own lives. I bet that the things that have given you abiding joy are not those things that are selfish or motivated by hate or that come easily. I’ll bet they are also things for which you have sacrificed or suffered.

Often they are quite “ordinary” things. Marriage, children, the pursuit of knowledge – they aren’t very different to working for justice and the common good for your community, country or the human family.

(Sandie Cornish is the National Executive Officer of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

27 Michael Costigan Vatican II – Memories and Reflections

Memories and Reflections

Michael Costigan

“In the Advocate Michael Costigan gave a more thorough day-by-day account of the Council than any other English-language diocesan weekly”

– Edmund Campion, Australian Catholics, Viking 1987, p.204

Father Campion’s generous view of what was accomplished by the Melbourne Catholic Advocate under my editorship during Vatican II could be challenged, but not by me.

Whatever about that, the fact remains that experiencing and reporting the Council, at a large cost in terms of expended time and energy, was the personal highlight of my life.

Reflecting on this in 1982 for a special National Council of Priests publication marking the twentieth anniversary of the Council’s opening, I wrote: “The Second Vatican Council dominated ten of the fourteen years (1955-69) I spent in the priesthood. Reporting the Council for Melbourne’s Catholic weekly newspaper, the Advocate, and at times for other sections of the Australian Catholic press, was the biggest professional challenge I faced during a twelve-year career in journalism. And experiencing the Council during its second session in 1963 was the turning point of my life”.

The same article concluded with a judgement and a not wholly successful attempt at prophecy: “No public event in my lifetime has meant more to me personally than the Second Vatican Council. For the Church as a whole, I believe it will continue to be regarded as the most significant happening of this century. And I predict that, when the year 2000 arrives and journalists are speculating on who should be named the Man (or Person) of the Century, there will be a strong case for Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, Pope John XXIII, the Pope of the Council.”

While living in Rome as a seminarian and student priest from 1952 to 1961 I had witnessed the final six years of Pope Pius XII’s pontificate, the election of John XXIII in 1958 (I was there in St Peter’s Square that night – and later met him three times) and the preparations being made for the Council following Pope John’s surprise announcement at St Paul’s Basilica in January 1959.

During those years I came to know and be influenced by a number of Roman teachers who were to emerge as significant figures in the course of the Council and the post-conciliar period. Three who stand out in my memory were the future Cardinals Pietro Parente and Pietro Pavan and the future Archbishop Annibale Bugnini.

In spite of his theological conservatism, Parente, who was the deputy in the Holy Office to the formidable Cardinal Ottaviani, played a key role in winning majority acceptance for the idea of episcopal collegiality. He defended it, to the astonishment of many liberals, in one of the most important speeches delivered at the Council, during the third session in 1964.

Pavan, my doctoral supervisor at the Pontifical Lateran University, had been a principal drafter of Pope John’s encyclicals Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris. He was a major ally of the likes of Father John Courtney Murray SJ and Bishop Emile-Josef De Smedt in successfully promoting the Council’s epoch-making teachings on Religious Liberty and the Church in the Modern World.

And Bugnini, who taught liturgy to a generation of Propaganda College students at the Pontifical Urban University, was probably the main architect of the Church’s still controversial liturgical reforms. Some of us had a foretaste of what was to come at the First International Congress of Pastoral Liturgy in Assisi in September 1956. There we young clerics listened with rapt attention to such speakers as Cardinal Lercaro, Father Jungmann SJ, Cardinal Gerlier, Bishop von Bekkum, Father Antonelli OFM, Bishop Spuelbeck and Father Clifford Howell SJ. We also heard a cautious final address in Rome from Pius XII, who warned against a number of liturgical innovations, some of which were to be adopted less than a decade later at Vatican II.

I record these memories (and there are many others) as a corrective to the view that Romans were totally unprepared for what emerged at the Council. Certainly some of the transalpine theologians were harshly treated by the Vatican in the 1950s and were often pilloried in our classrooms by theologians of the Roman School. But we students in the Pontifical Universities were not unaware of the views of the future stars of the Council, some of whom were later to be highly honoured by the Church (Congar, de Lubac, Danielou, von Balthasar, Rahner etc.).

One of my classmates and best friends, the late Adrian Hastings, English theologian, historian and Africanist, was already anticipating the great conciliar developments in ecclesiology, ecumenism and the Church’s turnaround on human rights.

Was our excitement and enthusiasm during the Council years misplaced?

Even at that time it was recognised that some of the Council’s documents were flawed. As a journalist, for example, I found the statement on mass communications innocuous and unhelpful, while many clergy and religious were unimpressed by what the Council Fathers had to say about their calling. And, viewed retrospectively, even the most important and historic documents – those on the Church, the Unity of Christians, Revelation, the Liturgy, the Church in the Modern World and Religious Liberty – are also not beyond criticism, as commentators as eminent as Cardinal Ratzinger have found. But their teachings did set the Church on a new course – and their acceptance and full implementation will continue to be a major priority of Popes, Bishops, Clergy, Religious and Laity for many more years.

While certain other developments in the post-conciliar period are a source of worry and disappointment to all who truly love the Church, it seems to me that virtually every matter of concern is offset by hopeful signs. Here are some random thoughts on just a few of the key challenges that will continue to face the Church.

  • Collegiality. This central theme of the Council needs to be further explored before its global expressions (as in the Synod of Bishops) and more localised manifestations (as in national and regional Conferences of Bishops) satisfactorily reflect the aspirations awakened at the Council. Nevertheless, ours is more truly a World Church today than at any time in history. While the Popes have done much to internationalise the Roman Curia, critics sometimes find that the Curia’s exercise of authority in relation to local Churches raises unresolved questions. The retirement of Bishops at 75 has also led to a more rapid hierarchical turnover since Vatican II. The fact that Popes are not bound by this requirement appears to be strengthening the Holy See’s power in relation to dioceses around the world. Undoubtedly this issue will receive more attention in the future, especially as the Pope himself has invited comment on his role.
  • The Church in Society. One of the highlights of the past forty years has been the involvement of the Church at every level in the pursuit of social justice and the defence of human rights. Somewhat belatedly, the Church’s leaders are now giving environmental justice a more prominent place on their agenda. Pope John Paul II has been an outstanding social justice advocate and defender of the poor and oppressed. During his pontificate, there has been a doubling of the papal diplomatic service, with the result that the Church is more than ever before an influential, well informed and unique international institution, with an unprecedented capacity to play a healing role when conflicts between or within nations erupt. I sometimes wonder, however, if lay Catholics could not be given more of a role in this area. (Do Papal Nuncios all need to be Archbishops?)
  • Ecumenism. Optimists in the 1960s might have expected that more would have been achieved ecumenically by now, in fulfillment of Pope John’s greatest dream. But many significant steps have been taken, sometimes in the face of huge difficulties. We have been blessed in the leadership given in Rome to the Church’s unity movement by successive Cardinals of the calibre of Bea, Willebrands, our own Cassidy and now Kasper. The Encyclical Ut Unum Sint was especially welcome. In Australia, old suspicions and hostilities have mostly vanished. The Catholic Church’s membership in the National Council of Churches in Australia was a very desirable development.
  • Ministry. The so-called “vocations crisis” in some affluent countries is one of the more worrying post-conciliar phenomena. It is also a challenge and is partly offset by the increasing number of recruits to the priesthood and religious life in other places and by the growing lay interest in the sacred sciences. Theological reflection on the nature and evolution of the various kinds of ministry continues, as does the (officially discouraged) debate on such related issues as compulsory celibacy and the exclusion of women from ordination.
  • Women in the Church. Inspiring as it was to be an eye-witness of numerous sessions of Vatican II from one of tribunes, I remember observing at the time (1963) that this was a very male event, with most of the participants celibates aged over fifty or sixty. In 1964, women “auditrices”, including Australia’s Rosemary Goldie, were admitted, but the involvement of the female majority of active Catholics remained marginal throughout the whole of the Council. In Australia, my more recent role in helping to administer the research study on women’s participation in the Church for our Bishops has reinforced my belief that much has yet to be done before true equity is achieved and justice is done.
  • The People of God. The Council’s adoption of the concept of the Church as God’s People on pilgrimage was enthusiastically received by the faithful. The image might have temporarily lost something of its force and currency but it is still helpful in conveying an understanding of the Council’s vision of the true nature of the Church. Without minimising the importance of the Church’s hierarchical structure, we need to reinforce and if necessary revive our understanding of the positive role of all of the faithful.
  • Reception of the Council’s teaching. While the Church recognises twenty-one “Ecumenical Councils”, they do not all have equal force and authority. Without denying the need for Catholics to adhere faithfully to papal and conciliar magisterial teachings, informed Catholics can legitimately make adverse judgements about aspects of either a pontificate or an ecumenical council, including the Second Vatican Council itself. Justice, charity, prudence and a high regard for truth must of course inform such a venture into criticism
  • The idea that teaching from above should be accepted or “received” by believers may be seen as a dangerous one which needs to be carefully qualified, but it certainly applies, with those qualifications, to all that has been handed on to us Catholics of the 21st century by the Fathers of Vatican II. I cling to the hope that the reception of the teaching of the Council and of its spirit will bring rich blessings to the Church.
  • (Dr Michael Costigan is the Executive Secretary to the Bishops Committee for Justice, Development and Peace. He was an accredited correspondent at the Second Vatican Council.)
Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

26 Francis Moloney Vatican II – The Word in the Church Tradition

The Word in the Church Tradition

Francis J Moloney

Those of us, now into our 60s, who had lived contented Roman Catholic lives in Australia across the 40s and 50s of last century, had no idea of what is nowadays meant by “the Word of God”. We lived by the words of the Church: the rare but important Encyclicals that came from the Holy Father, the instructions of our Australian Bishops, and especially of our local Bishop. This was particularly the case if, like me, you lived in Melbourne, and the local Bishop was the much-revered Daniel Mannix. However, our day-to-day Catholic lives were ultimately determined by local authorities: our teachers, almost always Religious women and men, and our local Priest. We learnt our Catechism by heart, and I do not think there was a serious citation from the Scriptures anywhere in the so-called “Penny Catechism”. The Mass was in Latin, all the readings were in Latin, and the same cycle of readings was read year in and year out.

There were some major difficulties in our time, of course, most importantly the split in the Australian Labour Party, which divided the Australian Church, especially along lines which either supported Dr Mannix and B. A. Santamaria, or the softer position taken by other Australian Bishops, especially Cardinal Gilroy in Sydney. But living in the Catholic enclave of Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, Victoria, there were no doubts about where we stood!

Just these few references to that not-too-distant past begin to make us aware of how our Catholic life, and that which nourishes this life, have changed. The agent of such change was the Second Vatican Council. This Council did not “creep up” on us gradually. It fell upon us like a thunderbolt, called by a charismatic Pope, John XXIII, in a moment of extraordinary insight. As the sessions unfolded from 1962-65, it gathered energy of its own. It was a heady experience to live in Rome as the Council concluded, listening to all the famous theologians, gathered there as experts. Vatican II left all concerned from Paul VI and the Fathers of the Council itself, down to the simplest practising Catholic, somewhat breathless in its aftermath. In my experience and understanding, we are still struggling with that breathlessness. But more of that below!

This is not the place to examine all the good and bad results of the experience of being a Catholic in the 60s and 70s. But allow me to reflect briefly on the remarkable rebirth of interest in the Bible as a Word of God, directed to the whole Church at Vatican II. One of the most subversive documents to come out of the Council was the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). The pre-conciliar Church was a deeply eucharistic Church, but an Ecumenical Council, the supreme teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church, now told us that there was a new player on the block:

“Just as from constant attendance at the eucharistic mystery the life of the Church draws increase, so a new impulse of spiritual life may be expected from increased veneration of the word of God, which “stands forever (Isa 40:8; 1 Peter 1:23-25”) (Dei Verbum 26).

Like most major achievements of Vatican II, this rebirth of interest in the biblical Word did not miraculously emerge at the Council itself. Its long pre-history goes back to the renewal of critical study of the Bible that began in Germany in the 19th century.

The new age of post-Enlightenment reason rejected a religion based upon a book full of so many non-sequiturs and contradictions. Committed Christian scholars began to work hard to show that the Bible was the presence of the Word of God, transmitted in the fragile and limited words of men and women.

As some of the Christian scholars accepted the rationalist critique too easily, the Roman Catholic Church initially rejected critical biblical scholarship. However, its agenda was finally and unconditionally accepted by the remarkable and surprising appearance, toward the end of World War II, of Pope Pius XII’s Encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943). Pius XII asked Catholics to prepare themselves for a fuller understanding of the true meaning of the original texts, so that the treasures of the Bible, in all their richness, could be communicated to the Church.

Nowhere have the principles guiding critical biblical scholarship been better stated than in Dei Verbum 13:

“Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men.”

Catholic biblical scholarship had been working quietly up to that time, especially in the great European Catholic centres of biblical learning: Louvain, Paris, the Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. This had been accompanied by an intense interest in the renewal of the liturgical life, also going on in Europe for several decades before the Council, especially in Germany, Belgium and France.

Inevitably, the emerging Catholic interest in the restoration of the Liturgy joined hands with an emerging Catholic biblical movement, commissioned by Pius XII, to restore the Word of God to its rightful place at the heart of the life of the Church. The very life-blood of the Catholic Tradition, the Eucharist, was seen to be inextricably associated with the living presence of the Word of God in the community. These sentiments were succinctly articulated in Dei Verbum 21:

“The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ.”

Bishops and Major Superiors of Religious Orders sent men and woman to study the Bible. Holiday courses in the Bible, visiting lecturers, especially from the USA, and even our local experts, drew large crowds. The Mass was celebrated in English, and we found that so much of our eucharistic celebration was “biblical”. The new Lectionary appeared. We were exposed to a rich cross-section of biblical passages, with special focus on the reading of Matthew, Mark and Luke across a three-year cycle, and the allocation of the Gospel of John to the great feasts of Christmas, and especially Easter. Priests were told that the proclamation of the Word, and preaching the Word, was an integral part of the liturgical life of the Church. Everyone was excited to find how life-giving an understanding of the Word of God, as a living presence of the voice of God, could be (see Dei Verbum 8).

Of course, it was not all “plain-sailing” Shock descended on some circles when the original intentions of the various authors of Genesis 1-11 were uncovered. Even more serious was the problem of the historicity of the events reported in the infancy narratives of Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. The shock moved into action as some of these conclusions began to surface in post-conciliar catechetical texts. Bishops and their Religious Education personnel were placed under great pressure by small, but vocal groups who “united for the faith”. But, in the light of Vatican II, one had to ask: which faith?

No doubt there was a great deal of naivety in those early decades after the Council, and many mistakes were made. We knew what we no longer wished to say and do within our believing community, but we were unsure of how to articulate what we did want to say and do! There was a moment of “stumbling in the dark”, often not recognised as we were so buoyed up by the excitement of those days. Thus, of course, there was the occasional abuse of the new freedom that we had been given, and these exceptional cases stood in the limelight, and added fuel to a growing “slowing down” of the original enthusiasm.

As a professional biblical scholar of more than 30 years’ experience, I have had the mixed blessing of living through the pre-conciliar experience to our present moment in the life of the Church when, in my experience, the “slowing down” mentioned above has almost become a full stop.

I suspect there are several reasons for this situation. In the first place, we must admit to a period after the Council when the communication of the faith to a newer generation lost its way. A generation of young people emerged from that period – now the parents of a newer generation – who “fell between the cracks”.

My experience as the Professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University (1994-1998) taught me a great deal about the profundity of content and the pedagogical skills that are nowadays used in the process of communicating the faith. However, we have lost a generation, and they are not to be found working at their Bibles, or attending the seminars and sessions that are now increasingly difficult to run successfully. The task of recapturing the interest and enthusiasm of the present generation of young people demands extraordinary dedication and considerable skill.

Secondly, there is an increasing lack of confidence in a critical reading of the Bible. Many, including important Church leaders and Catholic lay leaders, see biblical scholarship as a danger to the simple faith of the ordinary people. These people can be exposed to every subtlety of their particular profession or trade, but they are not to be challenged to look seriously at the very source that nourishes their faith. We are facing a moment when the Word of God is once more seen as expressed only in the word of the teaching Church.

In 1943 Pius XII asked that the Catholic Church rediscover the fullness of its biblical heritage by returning to original sources, rather than simply accepting St Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. These sentiments were repeated at Vatican II (Dei Verbum 12). In 2001 the Roman document, Liturgiam Authenticam, insists – for the sake of uniformity – that all liturgical readings of the Bible must use a recent Latin translation (the Neo Vulgate) as their basic point of reference.

In 1973, the outstanding biblical scholar, Raymond Brown, could write a caricature of a phenomenon that he regarded as a thing of the past:

If the biblical scholar was going to insist on the freedom to play with his new-fangled toys of language and literary form, he was to be kept in a playpen and not let out to disturb the good order of the theological household (R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus [London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1973], 6).

It is my sense that this desire to curb the role of the Catholic exegete is not a thing of the past. Indeed, there is every indication that the golden era of biblical enthusiasm in the Catholic Church is on the wane.

The esteem for Catholic biblical scholarship among non-Catholics remains high, but its function within the life of the Church no longer occupies the place it had in the decades following the Council. Here at the Catholic University of America, where we run internationally significant Department of Biblical Studies, non-Catholic students outnumber the Catholics.

This is not the time to be discouraged, but to develop our sense of history, and a proper understanding of the significance of an Ecumenical Council. Most major events in world history are followed by a desire to restore the security of a time prior to those events. Only a few brief years after the French Revolution (1789), the Bourbon family was back on the royal throne of France. But they did not last long. The principles of the Revolution had been let loose, and could not be stopped by restoration. After fighting a long and drawn-out revolutionary war, there were many in the new United States of America who wished to make George Washington their King in 1812. This also had no future, as it idealised the past.

A similar historical experience is evident in our post-conciliar period. This can be painful and confusing, especially for those of us who have been part of the authentic Catholic tradition before, during and after the experience of the Council, and who have given our lives to its agenda.

However, in a moment of its supreme teaching authority, the Church has stated:

“But the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Christ. Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it “(Dei Verbum 10. Stress mine)

The restoration of the biblical Word of God, authentically interpreted by a teaching authority, under the word and exercising its ministry in the name of Christ, forms part of the teaching of an Ecumenical Council.

I have mentioned only a few major places and themes from Vatican II where the Word in the Catholic Tradition appears, but it permeates almost every document that came from that remarkable ecclesial moment. It is understandable that many would prefer to “restore” the situation that I described in my earlier paragraphs, but one cannot write history backward, no matter how hard one may try.

These are not easy times for the Catholic Church – neither its leadership nor its faithful. Indeed, we have come a long way from my days in Moonee Ponds. But I believe it is a time of painful growth that cannot be denied by the “restoration” of an idealised past. The growth unleashed by Vatican II let loose a hunger for things unseen, and this hope will not be thwarted. “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom 8:24-25).

(Fr Francis J. Moloney, SDB is an internationally renowned scripture scholar, author of many books and articles, currently Professor of New Testament Studies at Catholic University of America, Washington DC, USA. Fr Moloney is also a Patron of Catalyst for Renewal)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

25 Edmund Campion Vatican II – Historical Reflections

Historical Reflections

Edmund Campion

One day in 1975 Mary Hoban, a Melbourne housewife, was in her garden picking daisies at Eastertime. As she picked, the honey smell of the flowers sent her mind back fifty years and she remembered how her mother used to pick Easter Daisy to take to their parish church, where she and the other ladies of the Altar Society would weave it with asparagus fern, geraniums and Cecil Brunner rosebuds. Then they would wind their garland round the Easter Candle, as a floral expression of resurrection joy growing out of the crucifixion. Mrs Hoban mused, ‘How long is it since I’ve seen that done?’ She thought of other little practices that had washed away from Catholic life, such as crowning Our Lady’s statue as Queen in May or singing ‘Faith of Our Fathers’.

So she sat down and wrote an article for a new magazine, Footprints, asking people to record for posterity their memories of the customs and usages of the Australian church before Vatican II in the 1960s. This was not mere nostalgia, for Mary Hoban was a serious historian: her Life of Caroline Chisholm had filled out with many interesting details the standard work by Margaret Kiddle of Melbourne University. Her article had some shrewd hits at enthusiasts for novelty, but she insisted that she was not interested in nostalgia. ‘I love the Latin mass’, she wrote, ‘but I love the English more’. Collecting and recording the customs of the past were things worth doing: ‘They were part of an Australian-Catholic subculture which was discarded rather too quickly, leaving a devotional vacuum in some hearts’.

Mary Hoban was surely right about the ‘devotional vacuum’. For one of the unintended consequences of Vatican II was the evaporation of much of the popular religious culture which had sustained ordinary Catholics and given their lives a spirituality. You cannot think about the century of consolidation in Australian Catholicism, from the death of Father Therry, in 1864, to the Vatican II era, without seeing everywhere that lush overgrowth of a people’s religion: holy water, guardian angels, miraculous medals, the nine First Fridays, feast days, stories of the saints … Then the picture begins to fade.

No one ordered its closure; it just began to evaporate. Those engaged in pastoral work noticed that people had begun to feel a hole in their hearts, a gap in their sense of Catholic selfhood.

The reason, as Mary Hoban saw, stemmed from the demise of the Latin mass. In those years of consolidation people went to mass in great numbers and, while there, they said private prayers from books such as The Garden of the Soul or they recited the rosary — they attended mass rather than celebrated it: their prayer life was elsewhere.

Catholics took some pride in the seemingly unchanging form of the mass; but such immobilism could breed curious reactions. Among the laity, the frozen remoteness of the Latin mass brought on the efflorescences of popular piety. (Among priests it bred rubricism, the disabling psychology which fixated them on the rules of performance.)

This was a serious matter because at its deepest level the Christian community is a eucharistic people. Its most profound story is written when it is at mass. Indeed, you can say that the history of the Catholic Church is the history of the mass. So changes in the mass must reflect changes already observable in the community at large. This is particularly true of major changes, such as changing the language in which you celebrate. A vernacular mass means a seismic shift deep inside the community. Which is why the English mass became the emblem of all that is meant by ‘Vatican II’.

How did it happen? The twentieth century can fairly be called the century of the laity, with the lay apostolate one of its most significant movements. The lay apostolate tried to form a new Catholic laity, who would make its own impact on the world. It was Catholicism coming out of the ghetto after the Middle Ages and trying to find a place for itself in modern history. The lay apostolate put the Bible, especially the Gospels, into the hands of lay men and women, encouraging them to know the biblical Jesus; it developed their social conscience through discussion and reading of topical Catholic writers and papal encyclicals; it made them self-reliant and loosened clerical controls; it opened their minds to new ideas, not all of them with a church provenance; and it brought them closer to the mass and made the liturgy the wellspring of people’s spirituality.

The universities were testbeds of the lay apostolate. From 1950, Commonwealth scholarships, a Menzies government initiative, had opened up our universities to more and more young Catholics. The Menzies scholarships are a key element in the Australian Catholic story. They enabled great numbers of Catholics to move into the professions, thus changing the demographics of Australian Catholicism (and, in time, its politics).

As well, university experience would introduce Catholics to unfamiliar ideas and principles, such as the liberal principle of free speech. Not only that – the Catholic culture they experienced at university was somewhat different from the culture of the parishes. Clergy and laity were closer together, so that there was a ready acceptance of lay leadership.

Ecumenism, biblical spirituality, congregational liturgy, openness to Australian culture – such were the waves of the future already being experienced in lay apostolate groups at the universities and elsewhere. You cannot help noticing here many of the central themes of Vatican II, already up and running in Australia years before the bishops caught the ship for Italy, in 1962. That is to say, what the bishops did at the council was to stand on a high peak and discern what the Holy Spirit had been doing in the worldwide church. They then put their seal of authorisation on these initiatives. Vatican II did not start in 1962; it had been going on for many years before that date.

You can see what I mean by returning to the emblematic story of the liturgy. The year 1955 is something of an annus mirabilis in this story. That was the year of the national liturgical week, when 750 enthusiasts came to Melbourne during the January holidays, to swap experiences, hear about successes and failures, listen to lectures and, in general, renew their energies for what lay ahead. Binding them together was their commitment to making the mass central to Catholics’ prayer life once again and giving lay people a place in the mass again, as if they too were responsible for Christ’s work. Later that year – another straw in the wind? – The Sydney Marist magazine Harvest would publish an article by the Chicago parish priest, H A Reinhold, arguing for the mass in English.

The same year, 1955, saw the beginnings of a remarkable artistic collaboration that transformed the Australian church at prayer. The link man was a young priest, a year out of the Manly seminary, who had been appointed to the parish of Ryde, Ted Kennedy. In the parish he found a gifted musician, Richard Connolly, who had pursued theological studies in Rome almost up to ordination to the priesthood. In 1956 he would join the ABC’s religion department and by the time he retired he would be head of radio features and drama at the ABC. One Saturday afternoon at Ryde, Father Kennedy brought him round a page of verses and asked him to set them to music. Connolly had done very little composing, but he tried his hand, producing music, which complemented the muscular, even martial, imagery of the hymn, he had been given:

Help of Christians, guard this land,

From assault or inward stain;

Let it be what Christ has planned,

His new Eden where you reign.

The writer of the verses was another Ryde parishioner, James McAuley. When Kennedy learned that the McAuley family lived in the parish, he remembered how in 1953, as newly ordained priests, he and his classmates had heard Cardinal Gilroy enthusing about the recent convert and his long didactic Letter to John Dryden. By 1955, however, the cardinal and the convert poet had fallen out: they were on opposing sides of the Catholic political split – indeed, Help of Christians would become the battle hymn of the Catholic Right and it is not hard still to detect McAuley’s political preoccupations in its words.

No matter: a new, decidedly Australian, hymn existed. Kennedy took it to a group of priests committed to realising the vision of the Melbourne liturgical week and they asked Connolly to compose some hymns to sing at various parts of the mass. Thus began one of the most successful hymn-making teams of the twentieth century, McAuley and Connolly.

In 1960 their work would anchor the Living Parish hymnbook, edited by Tony Newman and published by a group round Roger Pryke, which would sell one million copies over the next decade, enabling congregations to sing worthy hymns in an Australian voice.

In the annus mirabilis of 1955, Guilford Clyde Young became archbishop of Hobart. Aged thirty-one when he became a bishop, he relied on his commanding presence and the clergy’s ingrained respect for authority to see him through. When he needed it, he could exert a powerful, self-conscious magnetism. In Hobart he used this ability, allied to his imperial intellect, to gentle the whole diocese into the tracks of the liturgical movement.

He began with the priests, whom he convinced about the validity of the new thinking. Putting his own mind to work, he went beyond the Roman theology he had taught as a young lecturer in the Brisbane seminary. He saw that the German Jesuit Karl Rahner was at the core of this new theology, so he set himself to master Rahner’s complex thought. He saw too that history had practical use; so he re-read the history of the church, especially concentrating on those creative centuries which saw the crossover from Greco-Roman culture to the new Western nations. His findings he presented in lectures and seminars to priests, nuns and other diocesan leaders.

Here was a fine example of episcopal leadership confronting pastoral challenges in the world of ideas. The priests on side, he got them to preach systematically on the major themes of the new thinking. Thus over several years Tasmanian Catholics worked their way through a corpus of theology. Only then did the parishes attempt to move liturgically.

Again, it was gently done … slowly, slowly, a few minutes each Sunday. The bishop liked to mix with his people and gauge their reactions. Over time, he noticed that fewer people were complaining about novelties and more were expressing their joy at the spiritual depthing his liturgical campaign had achieved.

By 1960, Young would report later, every mass in Tasmania featured full lay participation; and Tasmanians who traveled to the mainland expressed surprise at the silent, gloomy masses there. His campaign had succeeded because he had appealed to the people’s intelligence; not, as would be done elsewhere, to their obedience.

Guilford Young was the only Australian bishop to leave his mark on Vatican II. When the American Jesuit Walter M Abbott was compiling the first standard English translation of Vatican II documents – the book which would energise and inspire thousands of parish discussion groups – he turned to Young to write the introduction to the decree on the ministry and life of priests. When Derek Worlock, archbishop of Liverpool in England, died, in 1996, they found among his papers an unpublished essay on his personal spiritual journey. In this essay he recalled a dinner in Rome the night Patrick Keegan of the Young Christian Workers addressed the council (the first time, some said, that a layman had addressed an ecumenical council since the Emperor Constantine spoke at Nicaea, in 325). At the dinner, Worlock remembered, ‘Archbishop Gillie Young of Hobart made an inspired speech about the caravan of God, trundling forward, some pulling ahead, some pulling back, some hanging on like grim death to the sides’. He was a bishop for a grown-up, Vatican II church.

(Father Edmund Campion teaches history at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

24 Bishop John Heaps – Vatican II – Unfinished Business

Unfinished Business

John Heaps

In 1951, my second year at St Columba’s Seminary, Springwood, a Passionist priest, Father Placid, conducted our retreat. The thought of joining a Religious Order kept coming to my mind. The desire came from the spiritual theology of the day and from my naivety. I wanted to do what God wanted. I was told that obeying my superiors was doing the will of God. All I had to do, then, was to join a Religious Order, keep the rule, go where I was sent and do as I was told and I would be on a direct track to God. My own fallibility would not be a danger in leading me astray.

I shared my thoughts with Father Placid. The wise man said, “You are here now. There must be a good reason for that. Until there is an obvious reason that you should be elsewhere, stay where you are.” I was 23 years old, hardly a child, but like many Catholics of the time, I accepted what my authorised teachers taught.

This personal incident is an example of where we came from in our journey through, with and from the 2nd Vatican Council. The big change was in the approach to responsibility.

In so many ways we depended on authority. In matters of Church law we didn’t attempt to discern the best way or the most charitable way to respond to embarrassing or difficult situations. We asked an authorised person for a dispensation or permission. In a vital matter, the education of children, parents were required to obtain the permission of the parish priest to send their children to a State School. His judgement took precedence over theirs. Permission was required to attend a wedding of a family member or friend if it was not celebrated in the Catholic Church. People embarrassed their hosts by rejecting a carefully prepared meal because it contained meat and it was a Friday. The priest was presumed to know better than I whether the lenten fast was appropriate in my circumstance. He could dispense me from my obligation. I could shift my responsibility on to another person and be alleviated from guilt. People far away decided what was dangerous for me to read.

“It is finally through the gift of the Holy Spirit that we come by faith to the contemplation and appreciation of the divine plan” (Gaudium et Spes No 15).

What a contrast! What a worry!

The 2nd Vatican Council gave supreme authority to conscience:

“In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of humanity in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the lives of individuals from social relationships. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity” (Gaudium et Spes No 16).

The same paragraph stresses the importance of right conscience and integrity.

Unfortunately, we did little to prepare people to come from a state of dependence on authority for answers and direction even in small matters. For many, not having a specific law meant having no obligation at all.

One time I was asked why the Church was becoming weak in its demand for penitential acts. Abstinence on Fridays, lenten fast, eucharistic fast as we knew them were all gone. It seemed to make little impression when I suggested that it required deeper spiritual qualities to discern when, where, how we could best respond to life in an unselfish and serving way that would inevitably call us to self-sacrifice and almsgiving. It was a contrast between obedience to outside laws and obedience to conscience and the voice of the Spirit in daily life.

It wasn’t easy to help people take responsibility for their moral choices. I remember pointing out options based on different reliable opinions and the consequences and implications of each choice. After some time and effort I was asked, “What will I do?” “I have tried to point out as clearly as I can the options open to you, the choice is yours”, I replied. This evoked resentment and anger. Obviously I was meant to give the desired answer and dispense the person from personal responsibility and guilt.

The Church gave conscience its rightful place, but through lack of sound teaching on the one hand and little desire to learn on the other, freedom of conscience was much misunderstood. For some it was doing what had the most appeal, for others it was obeying the law because it is the law.

“Our human dignity demands that we act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure” (Gaudium et Spes No 17).

The Council’s teaching on responsibility was not confined to individual responsibility, because Christianity is not merely about my personal relationship, as an individual, with God. Authentic Christianity calls us to a relationship with God and therefore with God’s other children. Thus the teaching on co-responsibility was developed.

The classical definition of the Church had begun with the words, “The Catholic Church is that monarchical and hierarchical institution”. The Council stated that the Church was more than that. The Church is the People of God, worshipping in spirit and truth, living in communion and service. It is the sacrament of God’s presence in the world. Each member has dignity, each has gifts to contribute, and each has responsibility. These things are not by courtesy of another human being, but flow from baptism into the Body of Christ.

From the development of this doctrine came the changes in the liturgy in posture, language and participation. All of these changes reflected a people in communion, sharing gifts and exercising responsibility.

The sign of the priest facing the altar, back to the congregation, was that of the leader with his people behind him following where he led. It expressed the theology of “that hierarchical institution”. The priest and congregation gathered around the altar, sharing common language, participating actively and sharing ministries, expressed the theology of Church as communion, as people of God.

The Council reminded us of our role in the teaching and believing Church. It affirmed our responsibility and our dignity as the teaching Body of Christ. The expression of authentic Christian doctrine is not the prerogative of a few. Authentic doctrine is expressed by the sense of faith of the People of God.

“The People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office … the entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole people’s supernatural discernment in matters of faith when, from the bishops down to the last of the faithful, they share universal agreement in matters of faith and morals” (Lumen Gentium No 12).

If we want to discern true doctrine, here is the Church’s own reference point.

This teaching of the Church on authentic doctrine seems to have been ignored. The spirit of search, journey and discernment released in the Church by the Council has been stifled by central control. The 2nd Vatican Council reminded us that there are gifts both hierarchical and charismatic. When an exclusive few claim to be the full voice of the Church, the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit is stifled. (Jesus warned us that the sin against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. It seems to me that this is so simply because it is not seen as sin. If no sin is recognised, no repentance is necessary and no change seems necessary).

We should not forget that it is not only through the sacraments and Church ministries that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the People of God, enriching them with virtues.

“Allotting his gifts to everyone according as he wills, he distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank” (Lumen Gentium No 12).

To come from this sublime concept to a point in Church life where theologians are forbidden to discuss unresolved matters is surely stifling the Holy Spirit.

The Council called us to a fuller life as members of the Body of Christ, as People of God: a fuller life with responsibility for our actions, participation in the liturgical worship of the Church and its life of prayer, in the teaching role of the Church and in Church administration and governance. We are called to be responsible in a mature way. We clergy, religious and laity are called to be co-responsible in decision-making and in the implementation of decisions. We have a responsibility for the distribution and administration of the Church’s spiritual and temporal gifts.

The style of the liturgy before its reform, as priest teaching a people who followed behind, was the style of leadership mostly exercised in the Church prior to the Council. It was the responsibility of the clergy to make decisions and the responsibility of the laity to obey. The Council gave a different model of leadership. We were to be co-responsible on all levels.

“It is highly desirable that in each diocese a pastoral council be established over which the diocesan Bishop himself will preside and in which specially chosen clergy, religious and lay people will participate. The function of this Council will be to investigate and weigh matters which bear on pastoral activity, and to formulate practical conclusions regarding them” (Christus Dominus No 27).

It is interesting to note that the above quotation is from the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops. It is instructing Bishops on how to exercise their ministry. Unfortunately, some Bishops don’t seem to have sufficient leadership skills and perhaps even trust in others to make a Pastoral Council work effectively. Members and prospective members of Pastoral Councils were given little or no opportunity to understand and accept their role. Thus we hear that Pastoral Councils have been tried and failed or that they are an invitation to division and trouble or a waste of time and effort for both Bishops and members.

It is also unfortunate that some Bishops still work out of a law mentality. Since the decree does not say “must” but “it is highly desirable”, they see no obligation in the matter. Yet the whole climate of the Council was not of law but of spirit. The question is not one of obligation from an external law but obligation from an inner desire to follow the call of the Holy Spirit speaking through the highest Church authority.

The Council Fathers saw the wisdom of co-responsibility on all levels. Parish priests should consult, listen, take advice and set up structures that would facilitate these things. The concept of collegiality between Popes and Bishops was affirmed. Structures to facilitate this were developed. Yet how many authentic Pastoral Councils exist? Is real collegiality evident?

So while the 2nd Vatican Council was a glorious, liberating, exhilarating breath of fresh air, it has yet to achieve its objectives.

The great difference between the 2nd Vatican Council and others Councils of the Church was that it was not called to react to error or address an agenda coming from a perceived adversary. It was called to look at the needs of the Church and the World and to respond to these.

The outcome from reaction in defence is quite different from the results of a response in love and care. The reactions were determined by the agenda, set by perceived opponents and cast in theological and philosophical language and perceptions of the day. They should be seen and interpreted in that way.

Genuine truth, truth conducive to life and love, co-operation and growth in unity comes more from a gentle response than it does from a violent reaction. The 2nd Vatican Council was this gentle, yet profoundly forceful response in love. I pray and hope that its spirit will re-emerge

(John Heaps is a retired bishop, former auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Sydney.)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

23 Bishop Geoffrey Robinson – Pope John XXIII and Vatican II

Pope John XXIII and Vatican II

Geoffrey Robinson

When numbers of bishops come together, they are at ease with discussion of pastoral issues, but much less comfortable with discussion of profound theological issues. This is true whether we are speaking of a meeting of the Australian bishops in Conference or of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, and I believe it was true also of the Second Vatican Council.

 

The Council opened up perspectives, raised questions, indicated directions and made many beautiful and inspiring pastoral statements, but it frequently did not give the clear theological foundation on which to plan confidently for the Church of the future. All too often a tension between very different theological positions was part of the Council’s treatment of a topic. This was certainly true of the Council’s treatment of collegiality, conscience and marriage, among others. It is one of the major reasons why we must entitle this forum “Vatican II: Unfinished Business”.

 

It is important to understand that these tensions were present in the Council itself and in the documents it produced. Opposing groups within the Church can quote different statements to support their own positions. It is not surprising, therefore, that these tensions are still with us.

 

Despite this, I am an optimist about the final outcome of the Council. In large part my optimism comes from the least likely source imaginable, the crisis concerning sexual abuse of minors that has engulfed the Church.

 

It is my hope that, somewhere around the year 2100, an historian will be able to look back and say that serious change took place in the Catholic Church in the hundred years between 1960 and 2060. At first it was the Second Vatican Council that caused changes in most aspects of the Church’s life and had a quite profound effect on the way Catholic people lived their lives. Eventually, however, the changes of the Council seemed to come to a stop and go no further. It was then, in the twenty-first century, the historian will say, that the issue of sexual abuse forced further change. Serious change in an organisation as large and ancient as the Catholic Church requires an immense energy and it was the issue of sexual abuse alone that had that level of energy, for it was this issue that finally caused vast numbers of Catholic people around the world to rise up and say, “This is not good enough. There must be change.”

 

And so, our future historian might report, a further series of profound changes came over the Church in the first half of the twenty-first century. They were mainly in the two areas of sex and power. They did not come without fierce opposition, but the energy for change arising from sexual abuse was so great that eventually they did come.

 

Human development came to be put beside spiritual development and the two began to walk hand in hand. What was spiritually healthy and what was psychologically healthy began to shed light on each other. Sexuality was distinguished from sex, spirit and matter were reunited and joy in every aspect of God’s creation began to spread. The gifts of women came to be better appreciated. Power came to be seen as service, as Jesus had intended, and collaboration and empowerment became daily more common.

 

It is extremely unlikely that our historian will be able to report that everything became as perfect as this, but I hope that she will be able to report serious progress.

 

In bringing about these changes, I am not calling for a revolution or battles in the street in front of cathedrals. The issue of abuse is complex and sensitive, and it does not allow of instant and sweeping solutions. (Will you allow me to repeat that sentence: The issue of abuse is complex and sensitive, and it does not allow of instant and sweeping solutions.) The whole Church must work together. But the immense energy for change that sexual abuse has aroused must not be lost. It must grow stronger, and it must be harnessed and used effectively.

 

Permit me to give a few examples. I would like to see a massive request from the Catholic people of the whole world to the Pope, asking him to put in motion a serious study of any and all factors within the Church that might foster a climate of abuse or contribute to the covering up of abuse. I would like to see an insistence that obligatory celibacy, attitudes to sex and sexuality and all the ways in which power is understood and exercised within the Church at every level be part of this study. I would, however, want a truly serious and scientific study, far deeper than anything I have so far seen in newspapers or heard around a table.

 

As a second example, I would like to see a massive request/demand that the collegiality the Vatican Council spoke of be used to the full in responding to this crisis. If collegiality is not fully used in an issue so important, so down-to-earth and so crucial to the effectiveness of the Church, then the Vatican Council is truly unfinished business. It does not involve any dogmas of faith, so there is no reason not to respect the needs and values of each culture. This surely means the Vatican listening to the needs of each country and not imposing the “foreign” solutions they have imposed, e.g. establishing a statute of limitations of ten years for bringing forward an accusation of abuse or insisting that all cases must be heard by a tribunal consisting solely of priests and referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.

 

As a third example, I would like to see the 32 diocesan bishops and 150 leaders of religious institutes in Australia give up some of their independence for the sake of all of us acting as one on this issue. However, I realise that in the Catholic Church people treasure any independence they do have and are slow to surrender it. I also know that before the Council bishops rode roughshod over the rights of religious, especially women religious, so some religious can today be resistant to any suggestion that comes from a bishop. As I said, the issues can be complex and sensitive.

 

Nevertheless, my thesis is simple. The Second Vatican Council was the greatest event in the Church in my lifetime. It has inspired my life over the last forty years. But because its theology was frequently far from clear, it is unfinished business, and two of the areas that absolutely demand further work are sex and power. For these two issues the crisis of sexual abuse alone gives the enormous energy that is needed for further change to occur. We should respond to the crisis of abuse for its own sake and the sake of the victims, but we should also seek to use its energy creatively, sensitively and intelligently in order to take further the unfinished business of the Council.

 

In everything he did and in everything he said, Jesus Christ sang a song. Sometimes, when he cured a sick person, he sang softly and gently, a song full of love. Sometimes, when he told one of his beautiful stories, he sang a haunting panpipe melody that, once heard, is never forgotten. Sometimes, when he defended the rights of the poor, his voice grew strong and powerful, until finally, from the cross, he sang so powerfully that his voice filled the universe.

 

The disciples who heard him thought that this was the most beautiful song they had ever heard, and they began to sing it to others. They did not sing as well as Jesus had – their voices went flat, they forgot some of the words – but they sang to the best of their ability, and the people who heard them thought in their turn that this was the most beautiful song they had ever heard.

 

And so the song of Jesus gradually spread out from Jerusalem into other lands. Parents began to sing it to their children, and the song passed down through the generations and the centuries.

 

Sometimes, in the life of a great saint, the song was sung with exquisite beauty. Sometimes, however, it was sung very badly, for the song was so beautiful that there was power in possessing it, and people used the power of the song to march to war and to oppress and dominate others. Always, however, the song was greater than the singers and never lost its ancient beauty.

 

Among the last places on earth that the song reached was a far-off land that would later be called Australia. At first the song was sung there very badly indeed, for the beauty of the song was drowned by the sound of the lash on the backs of the convicts and the cries of fear of the aboriginal people. But even in that world the song was greater than the singers and gradually, in little wooden homes and churches throughout a vast and dry land, the song was sung with love and affection.

 

At last the song came down to me, sung gently and lovingly by my parents. Like so many millions of people before me, I too was so captured by the song that I wanted to sing and dance it with my whole life.

 

A eat Council of the Church came, and I was inspired by the beauty of the song that seemed to be at the very heart of that Council. The overwhelming message I received was that here were two thousand bishops, divided by many issues but united in the song. We met with other churches and found, perhaps to our surprise, that they loved the song as much as we did. In the Scriptures and in the council I found the firm foundations on which I could live my life.

 

There was always a tension between the beauty of the song and the weakness and the pettiness that I found within myself and in so many others who shared this song with me, but the song sustained me throughout the years.

 

But then the darkness of evil within the Church gathered around me, and at times it was so deep that it seemed that the very song itself had been conquered. But in the depths of that darkness, when my clinging to the song was based on blind faith rather than on any warm feeling within me, I realised that the song is quite simply part of who I am and it is in the darkness that it is most important to me.

 

The song must not stop with us and we in our turn must sing it to others. In doing this we must remember that this song has two special characteristics.

 

The first is that we, too, will never sing the song as well as Jesus did – our voices lack strength and go flat, we misunderstand the words – but, if we sing this song to the best of our ability, people do not hear only our voices. Behind us and through us they hear a stronger and a surer voice, the voice of Jesus.

 

The second is that we always sing the song better if we can learn to sing it together – not one voice here, another there, each singing different words to different melodies, but all singing the one song in harmony. Then people will truly know that it is still the most beautiful song the world has ever known.

 

In the early Church, it was customary to take up a collection of money at the celebration of the Eucharist. That money was passed on to the poor and needy. The custom endures to the present day. At the celebration of the Eucharist at the National Forum, a collection was taken up and the proceeds were given to the Sisters of St Joseph for the work with the East Timorese. Representatives of the East Timorese community in Sydney were present to accept the gift. Sr Sue Connolly RSJ, of the Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies, wrote the following letter of thanks.

 

“The mass was great last night and we were very happy to be there. Thanks so much for the opportunity of presenting Timor’s great need to these good people. The amount given was $3,976.50 plus 40 American dollars! Truly, a perfect indication of the state of the heart of the people present at the Forum. I do hope that the whole experience was full of challenge, ideas and a commitment to the hard yards. Love from all of us here, especially Josephine and me.”

 

(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II

22 Archbishop Francesco Canalini – Looking Forward with Confidence

Looking Forward with Confidence

Francesco Canalini

With great timely initiative, at the beginning of the new year, the Holy Father John Paul II has given the universal Church the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, signed during the concluding celebration of the Great Jubilee 2000, on the feast of the Epiphany. The freshness, the optimism, the vision that come forth from the Papal Letter have been welcomed with appreciation almost everywhere; a sign of that in Australia is the prominent attention given to it by way of the favourable comments that appeared in many diocesan newspapers.

The strong pastoral impulse intended by the Pope is inspired by the Second Vatican Council, “the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century”. “With the passing of the years, the Council documents have lost nothing of their value or brilliance” (n.57). In the mind of the Supreme Pontiff, in fact, the celebration of the Great Jubilee 2000 was linked with the examination of the Church, thirty-five years after the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, to see “how far she had renewed herself, in order to be able to take up her evangelizing mission with fresh enthusiasm” (n.2). Recalling the words of Jesus to St. Peter: “Duc in altum” (Lk. 5:6 – “Go forth into the deep”) the Holy Father applies them to the actual moment of the life of the Church, inviting her “to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence” (n. 1).

Inspired by this basic thought, I would like to share a couple of reflections with you this morning, focusing in particular on references to the Second Vatican Council. I am led to that also by a personal reminiscence of forty years ago. A group of us, deacons of the Roman Seminary, previous to our priestly ordination, was received by Pope John XXIII, who as Cardinal and Patriarch of Venice, used to come to our Seminary during his visits to Rome. The Blessed Pontiff told us: “You are the priests of the Council. You have been formed in the school of the past with sound foundation, you are open to the new times that are coming”.

I want to recall the start of the Council, rereading the opening speech of the Pope on October 11, 1962. John XXIII had, for sure, a new approach to world realities, inspired, firstly, by a sense of history (‘In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, …can see nothing but prevarication and ruin… They behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life’), and, secondly, by a deep sense of confidence in God (‘In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men’s own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of God’s superior and inscrutable designs’).

In the face of the “marvellous progress of the discoveries of human genius”, the Church makes its voice heard and admonishes men so that “they may raise their eyes to God”. And the Church, while always opposing errors, considers that she “meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching … raising the torch of religious truth”.

This positive approach to modern world realities could be possible – in the mind of the Pontiff – only if the sacred deposit of the Christian doctrine is guarded and taught efficaciously (“In order, however, that this doctrine may influence the numerous fields of human activity, with reference to individuals, to families, and to social life, it is necessary first of all that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers”). And speaking about the task of the Council, John XXIII is adamant: “to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion, which throughout twenty centuries, notwithstanding difficulties and contrasts, has become the common patrimony of men. It is a patrimony not well received by all, but always a rich treasure available to men of good will”.

To make even clearer his position, with the exclusion of any possible misunderstanding, the Pope emphasises that the task of the Council is not “a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine … For this a Council was not necessary… but … a renewed, serene and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness… The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another”. This papal affirmation was popularly translated into the image of bathing a baby: “Let us renew the dirty water, but not throw away the baby”.

Paul VI, in ordering the continuation of the work of the Council, articulated further these same concepts, which remained the guiding stars for the elaboration of the documents. With the passing of the years, the first concept, of a positive approach to modern world realities, became the leit-motiv of many comments and developments. Not the same consideration was always given to the second one, which was so strong and definitive in the mind of John XXIII.

Why? Factors from different sources were responsible; some coming from secular society, others from within the Church herself.

After the Second World War, the Church remained the credible entity that opposed Nazism and Fascism. When the time of reconstruction arrived, the secular forces realised the need to unite their energies with the Church, modernity and faith together, in order to achieve the restoration of society. In this atmosphere, the Second Vatican Council was convoked.

Once the post-war reconstruction ended, followed by an improved economic situation, and the Vatican Council was closed, the secular forces wanted to separate themselves from the Church and assert their own autonomous power, breaking apart from tradition and institution. The events that occurred in 1968 in the western world society were emblematic: they aimed at a new modern man, with full confidence in reason, in search of all its spaces of freedom, beyond what had been received from the past. This wind of generalised polarisation did not spare some spheres of the Church that, for different reasons, were interested in bringing about certain significant changes in the institution of the Church.

Pope Paul VI realised that this trend was a going astray from the aim of the Council and was harmful for the life of the Church. Taking the occasion of the 19th century of the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul (which with great probability took place in the year 67), the Holy Father proclaimed the “Year of Faith”, which he concluded with a solemn Profession of Faith during the celebration of 30th June 1968 in St. Peter’s Square. With extraordinary passion and interior strength so typical of Paul VI, the Pontiff reaffirmed the same Creed in a marvellous and well-known hymn to Christ in Manila, on 29 November 1970.

A new tension reappeared between modernism and institution, progress and tradition, freedom and truth. The analytic method, proceeding from daily experiences, became gradually more credible than the teaching method from principles of truth. Catholic “novatores” with a different attitude to life than the Magisterium elaborated and applied the theory of remaining inside the Church in order to bring about changes from within.

Some influential people organised a Congress, in 1978 in the United States, to promote the theme: Toward Vatican III, with the indication that Vatican II had to be considered as a point of departure for other shores. With time, these different approaches prolonged their effect on the mentality of the world community, including some Catholics.

In spite of these understandable post-conciliar differences and contrasts, the global vision of the recent past asks for an expression of deep gratitude to the Lord for so vivid, purifying and challenging years in the life of the resilient Church. Christianity, since its origins, has experienced a sound tension between past and future, old and new, tradition and progress.

Those forms of Christian life that achieve keeping together both poles of the tension are authentic. Other forms, that put such an emphasis on one pole, thus losing the balance, walk along an erroneous path.

There is no need to fear tradition, but not even progress, the newness that God continuously creates in each period of history. Newness, if it comes from God, brings always with it a going beyond of what already exists. Tradition, if it is authentic, receives and gives a solid base to new advances (cfr. Mt. 13: 52).

To keep the balance, anyway, implies always a certain dimension of the cross. It was true for priests and faithful who were asked to adapt themselves to the new directives coming out from the Second Vatican Council. It is true for priests and faithful today, as in any other period, when they are asked to be attuned to the directives of the Magisterium. But it is just there that you see Divine Providence in action and the possibility for the Church to leave behind some faded leaves of its tree and open up, facing new challenges, towards a new springtime.

This awareness and “sensus” of history allow us to live the present with enthusiasm, in particular after the wonderful experiences savoured during the past Jubilee Year in all dioceses and in the centre of catholicity.

The mindfulness of being sent by Christ (“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” – Jn. 20:2 1); the awareness that Jesus Christ is the “good news” of salvation made known to people yesterday today and for ever; the experience of the transforming encounter with the Lord; all this spurs us to evangelisation, to teach what we have come to know, but also – like the Samaritan woman with her fellow-citizens – enabling others to encounter Jesus personally: “come and see” (Jn. 4:29~42). As the core of her mission, the Church has the joyful duty to lead all people to encounter the living Christ: it means to accept the love by which he loves us first, to choose him, to adhere freely to his person and his plan, which consists in proclaiming and in bringing about the Kingdom of God (cf. Ecelesia in America, 1999, n. 68).

The particular challenge of evangelisation in our times is that God is not denied, but is always less known; the interest of people is somewhere else. In the last decades, in fact, the advancement of technology has favoured the formation of a post-modern culture that is fragmentary, transient and strongly sensational. Consequently, the respect for tradition, for authority, is diminished in the younger generations, which experience a kind of social relations marked by superficiality and provisionality. Even confronted with religious commitments they feel rather uncertain.

In these circumstances, the Church cannot evangelise the world by trying to imitate its way of doing, but rather by presenting a dramatic alternative to the secularised vision. The example of Mother Teresa of Calcutta comes to mind. Her personality of authentic faith captured the attention of so many people who were in search of something that was more spiritually enriching than what the contemporary culture could offer them.

It is no surprise, then, that the Holy Father, inviting us to start again afresh from Christ at the beginning of the new Millennium, points to holiness as the first task. In the contemporary world the Church can exercise her influence, realise her mission through holiness. She is called to embrace the cross of Christ, entrusting herself to the power of His resurrection. If the Church firmly adheres to the paschal mystery, she can courageously challenge the vanity of consumeristic culture, counter-attack the culture of non-belief. Thanks to her constant union with Christ, she can offer that communion with God that alone can satisfy the profound aspirations of the human heart.

“I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt.28: 20). Trusting in this promise of the Lord, the Church can look forward to meeting with confidence the challenges of today’s world and those that will come in the future.

I have read recently an aphorism: pessimists are right; but optimists succeed. Our optimism, in spite of all the problems we meet in everyday life and gloomy perspectives sometimes presented, is rooted in that promise of the Lord, who also assured us: “In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world” (Jn. 16:33).

During the preparatory phase of the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII asked the then Monsignor Pericle Felici, in charge of the preparation, how things were going. “Very well” – Mons. Felici answered – “the inputs are coming from all over the world, everything is organised by themes, and officials are working on the elaboration of the preparatory documents”. “If everything is going so smoothly, it is not good news”, observed John XXIII. “If there are no difficulties, it means that it is not something valuable”.

This is a good encouragement for all who dedicate themselves to continue in the faithful application of the Second Vatican Council, the documents of which “have lost nothing of their value or brilliance”.

(Archbishop Francesco Canalini is the Apostolic Nuncio. This paper was presented at the Australian Bishops Conference in May 2001)

Posted by Bob Birchall in Archives, Vatican II