(Peter Avvento offered a talk on Vatican II and it’s legacy on Monday night; this is a recap. Please see the Adult Faith Enrichment Schedule on the parish website for future offerings!)
Whether we like it or not, Vatican II has irreversibly penetrated our Catholic DNA. Now with the benefit of fifty years of hindsight, stops and starts, ups and downs, we may only now be ready to determine what that legacy is and what must be done to move forward to the completion of this vision of “aggiornamento.”
It is probably safe to say, now from this benefit of hindsight that we are experience that Vatican II should serve as a compass for the future of the Church and not as a final destination or port or terminal. After fifty years we can see it and come to appreciate it as an unprecedented event in the history of our faith. Why? How can we say this?
According to the famous Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner SJ, one of the key figures at the council, Vatican II represents a significant “horizon shift” in the history of the Church. It can be likened to the Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15) a gathering that represented the first “horizon shift” for this early Jewish movement that was beginning to preach to the Gentile world through the efforts of Paul. Must Gentiles become Jews in order to follow Jesus? The answer of “No” paved the way for the worldwide development of Christianity. For Vatican II a critical element in this “horizon shift” was the role attributed to the Holy Spirit – that divine dynamic that pushed, moved and guided the council. But, we contend, this divine dynamic did not end with the council. It continues today through the study, reception and implementation of the decrees and spirit of the council.
Because of all that we have said above we cannot and must not go back to a pre Vatican II period – although some pine for the certainty of the good old days, which, from this writer’s standpoint, were not that good! The future of our Church is an unfinished symphony, a portrait still being painted.
Does this mean a permanent revolution? No! It does not! But…..It does mean that we cannot and must not go back to an era that no longer holds meaning. It means that we must remain true to our calling to be “hearers of the Word” and constantly open to the Spirit who speaks to us in our own language – a language of compassion, concern, inclusiveness, forgiveness and mercy.
This is a time for joy. Despite all the upheavals in the world and issues within our own Church, this is not a time for timidity, not a time to return to the presumed safety of the Upper Room. It is a time for boldness, for discipleship and joyous optimism. Now is a time when we can all join with good and saintly Pope John XXIII who proclaimed with joy as he opened the council, “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia!” (“Mother Church rejoices!”). Mother Church indeed rejoices whenever we baptize and bless, whenever we feed the hungry, forgive and heal, comfort and console, join together and commit ourselves, bring peace to the poor, the needy, the depressed, the disabled and the marginalized. This is the legacy and challenge of Vatican II.