For some, it means a birthday or a wedding anniversary. For those of my generation, it marks Pearl Harbor, the day Winston Churchill said would live in infamy. Americans woke up to the challenges to democracy not only in Europe and Asia but at its very doorstep.
That is what it meant for me until 1965, the year of my ordination.
In the days before that December 7, I and my University of Fribourg (Switzerland) classmate Gerry Luttenberger, had the historic privilege of attending the Second Vatican Council. We were invited as “advisors” of a Vincentian Bishop. (A long story.)
We just missed by a few days being present when close to 3000 bishops voted almost unanimously to approve an epoch-changing document on the role of the Church in the modern world – Gaudium et Spes. They called for the Church to wake up to the new world in which we found ourselves.
In this, they followed in the footsteps of the very first Council in Jerusalem. The issue then, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, meant waking up to a vision of Christianity wider than an exclusively Jewish vision.
The Church in the Modern World
An aging St. John XXIII, supposedly a “caretaker” Pope, had shaken up the Church by calling all the bishops of the world to discuss the role of the church in a world that had significantly changed from the time of the First Vatican Council. It was part of a “new Pentecost” he called for.
Today, I see deep pockets of resistance to the decisions of the John XXIII and the 3000 bishops. I realize just how insightful one of my seminary profs was. He said it takes about 100 years to realize the full effects of an ecumenical council. He used St. Vincent as an example. Decades after the Council of Trent, Vincent was instrumental in finally implementing its call for the much-needed reform of the clergy and priestly formation. Vincent also raised the awareness of the church of his day to those on the peripheries.
Pope Francis continues the work of Vatican II
St. John XXIII’s successors, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, are each clearly on record, with varying emphases, as continuing the “new Pentecost” he called for.
Today, Pope Francis is simply broadening the conversation from 3000 bishops to engage peoples from the peripheries. It took the Second Vatican Council 4 years of sometimes quite heated discussion to come up with guidelines for its role in a changing world. It should not surprise us that Francis anticipates a multi-year process of encountering one another under the guidance of the same Holy Spirit that guided Vatican II.
In some ways, Pope Francis began the conversation with his major writings. He often reminds us of God’s dream that we all be one. God dreamed that we would wake up and grow up to love everyone and everything as God loves.
Pope Francis has written 3 powerful visionary documents unpacking this.
- “Evangelium Gaudium” highlights the joy and excitement of waking up to the truly “Good news” that we are God’s beloved, brothers and sisters.
- “Laudato Si’’’ reminds us that everything is connected.
- “Fratelli Tutti” teaches us that everyone is connected.”
In “Fratelli Tutti” he uses the image of the Good Samaritan to a dream how the structures of society must support living as a truly “neighborly” society. In # 127 he presents a world where we move beyond the original fault of self-centeredness to recognizing the worth of every human person.
What can you do “That all may be one”?
Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk.