There are three points on which I would like to reflect as we begin the Year of Faith on this fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Faith as a gift given, as a gift received, and its transmission through the words of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council as a compass for our times.
Faith as a Gift Given
---At the beginning of the Year of Faith, the natural question to ask is, What is Faith?
It is a gift. It is a gift from God. It is the knowledge of God, of his perduring love for us, made perfect in the revelation of Christ Jesus his Son.
It is not something we grasp for, it is received, handed on, preserved and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit who will remain with his Church until the end of time. Thus does Saint Paul commend the Corinthians "because you...maintain the traditions even as I have handed them on to you."
This tra-ditio, this deposit of Faith preserved, interpreted and handed on, comes to us from the Lord himself, “in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion...”
----He in turn “commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching...”
And “in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, "handing over" to them "the authority to teach in their own place."
This beautiful and succinct summary of the meaning of Faith is given to us by the Council Fathers in Dei verbum, no. 7, which concludes:
“This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as he is, face to face.”
So Faith is a gift given to us by God, just as truly in our own day as when the Lord walked with them by the Sea of Galilee. But a gift is not just given, it must also be received.
Faith as a Gift Received
“Faith,” the Catechism reminds us, “is a personal act - the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone.”
---The Faith, then, is passed on to us from the community of the Baptized, the Church. It is the Faith I first received when my parents and Godparents stood before the Baptismal Font. It is the Faith I learned when they taught me to pray.
---It is the Faith I professed at my Confirmation, I studied at Holy Cross and at the Greg and San Anselmo’s. It is the Faith which I promised to preach at my ordination and which I swore to uphold when I became your Rector.
And that is the path which you and I continue to walk today. My spiritual director, my formation advisor, my pastor, and my brothers each play a role in helping me to receive the gift of faith and to prepare to share this great good news with those will wait for me to pass it on to them in the decades to come
We can never forget, that all of this is a gratuitous gift, gratuitously given. We are not worthy of it, we don’t deserve it, we don’t earn it, we don’t achieve it. We are simply so loved by a God who knows us better that we will ever know ourselves, that he has chosen you and me, yes you and me, in his inscrutable wisdom to be his faithful sons.
The Year of Faith
---Last year, Pope Benedict XVI concluded a Congress on Evangelization with the announcement of a Year of Faith from today through the Feast of Christ the King next year.
In his Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, he has described this Year of Faith as “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.”
Or, in his own words:
---It will be a moment of grace and commitment to a more complete conversion to God. drinks in our faith in him and to proclaim him with joy to the people of our time. It’s precisely to give new impetus to the mission of the whole church to lead men out of the desert in which they often find themselves to the place of life. Of friendship with Christ, who gives us life in abundance.
The Second Vatican Council
---The Holy Father chose this day as the opening to the Year of Faith because it is the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
---After two world wars, and profound social and political transformations the world of the mid-twentieth century was changing in significant ways, and the Church needed a way to preach the Gospel in this strange new world. Which is why Popes Pius XI and Pius XII has commissioned preparatory studies for a Council, while it was Pope John XXIII who would announce, in his words, "a humble resolve of initiative,” the twenty-first Ecumenical Council, which came to be called Vatican II. It was opened by Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962, the Feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as the clouds parted and the sun shown down on the 2,400 Bishops entered Saint Peter's Basilica.
The eighty year old Pope John XXIII spoke of the reasons for the Council, reasons which would later comprise the opening words of the first Conciliar Constitution, Sacrosanctum concilium:
This sacred Council has several aims in view: it desires: to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church.
Of the words of Pope John XXIII on that day, Pope Paul VI would later say, "It seemed to the church and to the world a prophetic voice for our century, and which still echoes in our memories and in our consciences to trace to the Council the path taken.”
---Indeed, this sense of joy at the message of the Council was echoed in all quarters, including from Boston’s own Cardinal Richard Cushing, who on this day, fifty years ago, wrote to Blessed Pope John XXIII, asking whether he might resign the See of Boston to work the last decades of his life in the missions of South America. The Pope declined his offer. But here’s what Cardinal Cushing wrote of the Council’s decree on missionary activity several years later:
"For years, many of us thought of mission work in a narrow sense; the presence of the Christians giving their example of justice and charity, the Christian life, in the midst of pagan groups and thus converting them. As a matter of fact, the concept of missionary activity has been given a renewed dimension. The missionary activity of the Church is not only the bringing of Christ to people who do not know Him. But is also the strengthening of the Christian community where it is not fully developed, and the rebuilding of the Christian community where it has fallen into a state of disarray."
The Postconciliar Period
---But as filled with promise as they first years after the Council came to be, something happened on the road to the twenty-first century, not unlike what was written by a Bishop some ten years after the Council closed:
---To what shall I liken these years after the Council? It is like a naval battle kindled by old quarrels, fought by men who love war, who cultivate hatred for one another...
---The disorder and confusion is beyond description...." in which "the ships driven to and fro by a raging tempest, while thick darkness falls from the clouds and blackens all the scene, so that watchwords are indistinguishable in confusion, and all distinction between friend and foe is lost."
---Under this situation, "inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate; the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration” between different parties. “Individual hatred is of more importance than the general and common warfare, for men by whom the immediate gratification of ambition is esteemed more highly than the rewards that await us in a time to come, prefer the glory of getting the better of their opponents to securing the common welfare of mankind."
---Oh, I’m sorry. You thought I meant that was written after the Second Vatican Council. Actually it was written ten years after the Council of Nicea by Saint Basil the Great, whose experience of the first ten years after the Council were like a great Naval battle with shots coming seemingly from every direction!
---Not unlike our own experience in these post-conciliar year just passed. At one extreme are those who saw the Council as disjunctive, a rejection of all the old bad stuff in favor of all the new good stuff.
The Challenges of our Time
THE COUNCIL AS REVOLUTION
---One representative of this group is a novelist, a visiting scholar at Suffolk University, and a columnist for the Boston Globe, James Carroll. About ten years older than me, he was ordained for the Paulists in 1969 and left the Priesthood in 1974 to marry and work a playwright for the Berkshire Theatre Company. In a recent column, he described his view of the Council as revolution:
---“The speech [of Pope John XXIII] was in Latin, and the revolution was still hidden from us. But that day changed everything...before [Vatican II] the vast majority of Catholic lay people, having been made to feel unworthy, rarely received communion at Mass. The Council changed that....
---What set us young Catholic apart from others of the 1960’s generation is that we had been conscripted into the era’s revolution not against authority, but by authority. Vatican II dared us to change, and we did. Somber piety gave way to raucous joy. Instead of mindless subservience, we took initiatives, reinventing the liturgy, throwing ourselves into anti-poverty work, and recognizing Jesus on the bread line.
To be honest, his view, through lacking in nuance, is not unknown among the members of my generation. You will detect shadows of it among many of your older brothers. It’s easy to make fun of, as patently naive. But it is the mission statement of the recently formed Associations of Catholics Priests in Ireland and Austria and even the United States. But just because so many of my confreres embrace it, does not make it true.
Michael Sean Winters comments on the weakness of the Mr. Carroll’s view:
For him, the Council casts aside centuries of foolish encrustations of the faith, allowing 20th Century Catholics like himself to look past the Church and discern the figure of Jesus Christ himself. And -- lo and behold --Jesus turns out to look a lot like an urbane, twentieth century, New York Times-reading, Bostonian liberal. Who knew?”
“Carroll’s understanding of the 1960’s is bizarre. All was good, all was liberating. It is the mirror image of the view of the 1960’s held by some conservative Catholics for him the 1960s wrecked everything. Both views are thoroughly nostalgic and, just so, uncritical.
“...the chief difficulty in Carroll’s essay is the sense that he believes the Second Vatican Council happened just for him.”
Winters’ commentary, albeit entertaining, opens the door on a reflection on what’s going on in the heart of such as James Carroll and Father X, who may well be your first Pastor. Which is why I suggest we take a couple of moments to seek a deeper understanding.
First, Father James Carroll had a lot going for him. He was passionate about his faith, about what he perceived the Church to be calling him to, and fundamentally, about the Lord Jesus. He was not, in those regards, unlike a lot of the men sitting before me tonight. He’s bright, a successful novelist, playwright and columnist. And he still goes to Church every week and receives the Sacraments.
But he is wrong. The Council, while inspired by the Holy Spirit and serving as the privileged compass for our times, did not invent everything good or replace everything that was bad. Rather, the Council must be read in organic continuity with previous Councils and Popes and will be read, someday, in organic continuity with the Councils which will follow.
Pope Benedict XVI addressed this point of view a few years back, in describing the "explosion" of the late 1960’s. In his words:
“...The explosion of the great cultural crisis of the West...a cultural revolution that wanted radical change, burst out. It was saying: in 2,000 years of Christianity, we have not created a better world. We must start again from zero in an entirely new way. Marxism seems to be the scientific recipe for creating a new world at last. And in this - we said - serious clash between the new and healthy modernity desired by the Council and the crisis of modernity, everything becomes difficult, just as it was after the First Council of Nicea.
“...This faction said: "This is the Council...the texts are still somewhat antiquated but this is the spirit behind the written words, this is the will of the Council, this is what we have to do.”
Among the post-conciliar Naval Battles, this revolutionary stance comprised one of the most significant fleets. They should not be demonized or dismissed. But their presence was and is very real.
THE COUNCIL AS UNNECESSARY
---Equally as troubling is another of fleet of ships unloading their weapons in the postconciliar years, a second group which entirely denies the importance or even the validity of the Second Vatican Council.
As with the revolutionists, we might be tempted to joke about such a view (Cf. Pope Michael, the sedevacantist of of the Vatican in Exile in Kansas) or even dismiss it out of hand, but we would do so at our own peril, for the proponents even of this position were once filled with the same passion for Jesus and for his Church which drove each of us to seek out a seminary and seek out God’s will for us.
While the seemingly endless negotiations of the Society of Saint Pius X with the Holy See provide hints of such a position, a solid articulation of the view can be found by listening to the very words of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, spoken two years before he led his followers out a side door of the Church by denying the Council and the Popes who sought to implement it.
Some people ask me what I think of the Pope. Not much, it’s a mystery, an improbable mystery. It’s a great tragedy for the church, because ultimately who’s with the pope is with the church, is with the unity of the church. To ask the question “how is it possible the Pope even if he’s truly Pope, successor of Saint Peter, he must in consequence have the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. He must be protected by the Holy Spirit and what he does, because he’s the Pope we have the promise of our Lord that he will be protected and upholding the faith. Therefore someone who does these kinds of things is not Pope. This Pope is doing things that are so contrary to the faith, against the Church, so disruptive to the face of the Church itself. It’s not possible it doesn’t fit, this destruction of the Church this destruction of the social reign of Christ the King, this destruction of the Catholic faith in every aspect every Catechism every university, every religious order, the seminaries everywhere you look it is the systematic destruction of the church. Which was aimed at by all of these reforms that the Vatican implemented, because Vatican II wasn’t I’ll say it… These reforms to be put into affect what had to be done was to implement the reforms of Vatican II in an equivocal way, this allowed them to start putting the reforms into practice and this was the goal, Vatican II was the springboard that permitted all this...
---So what do we make of all of this? Of the Revolutionaries and the radical traditionalists and the deafening cacophony of personalized interpretations of what Vatican II was all about?
Well, I could suggest a number of things, including that the further we travel to the fringe on either side, the more strident the rhetoric, the most self-anointed the prophets, and the more fascist the language. But let me conclude with just four recommendations for this Year of Faith.
Council as Compass
--Blessed Pope John Paul II has rightly indicated that the Council should serve for our genrations as a 'compass' by which we might orient ourselves in the vast ocean of the third millennium. Also in his spiritual testament he noted: “I am convinced that for a very long time the new generations will draw upon the riches that this council of the 20th century gave us.”
Pope Benedict XVI repeated this call for obedience to the Council:
---I too, as I start in the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, wish to affirm with force my decided will to pursue the commitment to enact Vatican Council II, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the millennia-old tradition of the Church.
Read in continuity with the past and equipping us with the God-given tools we need to the preach the Gospel to the present age, the Second Vatican Council, then, must serve as the touchstone of all we say and do in these years of grace.
---Blessed Pope John XXII described that opening day of the Council as the Church “extending the frontiers of Christian love, the most powerful means of eradicating the seeds of discord, the most effective means of promoting concord, peace with justice, and universal brotherhood.”
Secondly, then, we must strive for charity in all things. If I have not love, even for those who look like my enemies, I am nothing. So, as I implied in my last conference, the snide and the cynical are not worthy of you, even towards those whose theological insights or ecclesiological orientations are wrong.
As the Lord Jesus hung on the cross, he looked down at those who had stripped and nailed him up there, and amidst their jeers prayed, “Father forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”
And his prayer was not contaminated by pity or condescension, anger or a desire for revenge. It was pure, as your prayer and your love must be pure, even for those who you are convinced don’t understand.
---Again, Blessed Pope John XXIII on that opening day: “What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men's moral lives.”
That is why my third piece of advice is that whenever it gets stormy, there’s no place safer than the barque of Peter. It is certainly much safer than riding out the shipwreck of my own infallible ego!
When I die my brothers, the epitaph I most desire is Here lies a man of the Church. For on the day I was ordained, I placed my hands into the hands which had been imposed on me a few moments before and pledged to this successor of the Apostles obedience and respect.
Just ten days or so ago, I pledged to “hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; [to] faithfully hand it on and explain it, and [to] avoid any teachings contrary to it and to “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.”
Obedience to the Council, as interpreted by the Bishops in communion with the Holy Father, is foundational to fulfilling that promise.
---Finally, the very first words which Blessed Pope John XXIII used to open his opening address to convene the Second Vatican Council a half century ago today were purposefully chosen.
---Gaudet Mater ecclesia! Rejoice O Mother Church!
They are not unlike the words which begin our most solemn Paschal proclamation: Exultet!
For Christ, who through his Paschal death and rising, has revealed to us the face of God in all its brilliant splendor, continues to reign in his Church, to teach us the truth, and to place into our unworthy hands the Faith that he has died, he is risen, and he will come again.
God Bless You.
Monsignor James P. Moroney
11 October 2012