Yes! I figuratively rubbed shoulders with some 2000 bishops inside St. Peter’s! There are not many left who can say that. (How I and four other young Vincentians, all deceased, got invited is a story for another Mindwalk)

It was the day before they voted on “The Church in the Modern World.” That vote was 2,307 to 75. The Holy Spirit was working overtime!

In this Vincentian Mindwalk, I share my journey from the pre-Vatican II church to the church after Vatican II. I will also share how lately I discovered that Vincent was one of the forerunners of the Church Pope Francis is calling us to become.

My journey to becoming a Vatican II priest

I was ordained just six months before the Council ended. I was formed as a pre-Vatican II priest.

In December 1965, I lived in a church popularly associated with not eating meat on Friday. Mass was celebrated in Latin every Sunday. Catechesis stressed such perspectives.

 It was the church where the ordinary layperson was expected to “pray, pay and obey.” They were the days of “Father Knows Best”, not only in popular culture but especially in ecclesial culture.

Now I recognize I was blessed by a formation that unknowingly prepared me for a transition.

I still remember an exceptional seminary professor saying that Councils were convened in times of crisis. Their decisions did not end the crisis overnight. “It takes about 50 to 100 years for the Church to digest what the spirit was saying.” Inwardly, I was shocked. But he was right!

The church after Vatican II

Unfortunately, this era has been caricatured by many. For an excellent presentation of this, I highly recommend a recent article in Commonweal Magazine – That ’70’s Church. Cathleen Kaveny writes as one formed in the ’70s.

I am increasingly uneasy with the wholesale dismissal of the catechetical programs of my youth. The stock caricature of the period is unfair. The programs had far more content then they are given credit for.

The goal of post–Vatican II Catholic catechesis was not to foster obedience, but instead to cultivate responsible men and women who were shaped by the Catholic Christian vision, sensitive to our debt to the Jewish people, and independent enough to stand up to injustice, even if sanctioned by church or state.

I think history will show Vatican II  rediscovered the missionary nature of the church, the role of the laity and the universal call to holiness so typified by Pope Francis’ phrase ”the saints next door.” Many have said that the present role of the laity in our church is the most enduring gift of Vatican II.

Vincent as a forerunner of Vatican II and Pope Francis

For Vincent “the Church is above all else composed of those poor men and women who request assistance, all those individuals with whom he was able to identify himself when he was pastor in Clichy (a church near Paris)… When speaking about those poor and humble men and women, he stated: ‘they are our lords and masters … they represent Jesus Christ.’ In this way Vincent gave a new perspective to the theology of the mystical body.”

[Corpus Delgado “Contribution of the Vincentian Charism to the Mission of the church”].

Actually, as radical as this reversal sounds, it was really nothing more than restoring the vision of Jesus as laid out in Matthew 25. ”Whatever you did for the least…”

No wonder members of the Vincentian Family listen to the words of Vatican II and Pope Francis.