You recently published two columns in Viewpoints by Ken Trainor [Seeking a better Catholic Church, June 22, and Orthodox + Non-Orthodox = One Catholic Church, Aug. 10].
In both, Ken summarizes and clearly presents the issues facing the Catholic Church today. While both the progressive and conservative points of view are presented, it is clear that being informed of the historical facts would serve us well in any discussion of these important issues. I continue to be puzzled by the misinformation and lack of understanding about an event of great significance in church history, the Second Vatican Council. Over 2,600 bishops from around the world participated, plus a large number of consultants, theologians, secretaries and observers.
This council was convened by Pope John XXIII on Oct. 11, 1962 and concluded under Pope Paul VI on Dec. 8, 1965. Twenty-one major councils have taken place in Church history spanning the centuries, the first being in the year 325, the most recent in our own lifetime. Councils of the Church are rare, life-changing events and are not to be easily dismissed or ignored.
Blessed Pope John XXIII was a lovable, portly man, who came from a family of 13 that worked as sharecroppers and lived in a small Italian country village in Lombardy. “I am calling an Ecumenical Council,” he said after being elected Pope, “so that the human sojourn here on earth would be less sad.”
What a saintly man! Saintly, because he was a man of compassion who understood the Church needed reform — reform from a defensive, excluding, judgmental Church, separate from people of other faiths and spiritual paths, to an inclusive, respectful, open, relational, compassionate, egalitarian and justice-making Church.
The title of one document alone from this Council speaks volumes about the spirit that was freed at that time, “The Church in the Modern World” — not separate from the world, or against it, but IN the modern world, a Church that notices the “signs of the times” and is in dialogue with the rest of the world.
Documents generated from this Council open the way to re-examine a freedom one finds in the Gospels, a liberating energy that raises up, rather than shatters, the human spirit. Here the seeds of reform, renewal and freedom were planted, to be nurtured and embraced, guided by the Spirit of God so undeniably present in that worldwide gathering of representatives of the family of faith, the Church’s spiritual shepherds.
This same Council also declared in another document that “the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in non-Christian religions,” calling its members to reconciliation and healing of the wounds caused by religious differences. This mandate has brought me to many teachers of other traditions such as His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. His simple statement goes beyond divisions, distinctions, and theologies when says, “My religion is kindness.”
Those days of joyful good news opened us to the freedom to be mature, responsible adults in the faith. One of the most radical of changes put forward by the Council in referring to all baptized persons as “the People of God.” Pope, Bishops, clergy, religious women and men and laity now own this dignifying and inclusive title. It makes these horizontal relationships as a collegial, collaborative, celebrating and justice-making Body of Christ.
Evidence of a systematic dismantling of the spirit and letter of this awesome event is troubling and dismaying. I have come to realize that whatever promotes respect, inclusiveness, forgiveness, freedom, compassion and love is good. Whatever disallows or prevents this is not good.
Thank you, Ken Trainor, for reminding us that “the Church is not a country club with select membership.” All are welcome to take part in nurturing the seeds of reform and renewal planted by that awe-inspiring group of courageous Church leaders nearly 50 years ago.
Teresa of Avila, the Carmelite mystic who lived in the 15th century said, “What are all these insane borders we protect? What are these different names of the same church we kneel in together? For it is true, we live together, and only at that shrine where all are welcome will God sing loud enough to be heard.”
Is God speaking (singing)?
Why not be polite and listen?
14th century Sufi poet
Brother Joseph Kilikevice, O.P., is the director of the Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality in Oak Park.