Sunday, November 3, 2013

Vatican II: A Message for Our Time

I have been going through an identity crisis of sorts as a Catholic the last few months. I have no problems with Catholicism. My identity crisis involves what "camp" I belong in, which in and of itself is a problem because there shouldn't be separate "camps" in the Church. Unfortunately, "should be" and "is" are often not the same thing.

Since coming back into the Church over 7 years ago, I have identified strongly with "Traditionalists", i.e., those who love the Traditional Latin Mass and basically reject Vatican II, or at the very least the "Spirit of Vatican II", seeing the Council as the root of all the modern woes in the Church. When I started this blog just about 2 years ago, I was firmly in the "Traditionalist" camp. However, in writing the blog, I started carefully reading and analyzing Pope Benedict XVI's Wednesday audiences and other writings and sermons. Although Traditionalists loved Pope Benedict XVI for giving us Summorum Pontificum, he was still somewhat suspect because of his "Vatican II leanings." All of my Traditionalist heroes said this, so I assumed it was true and never questioned it.

However, when I started reading Benedict without anyone filtering his words, I was blown away. No one had told me how deep and profound he was. And yes, he was definitely a supporter of Vatican II. How could this be? How could someone be so spiritual and yet support Vatican II? This made no sense to my Traditionalist mind.

But there was no denying the great spirituality of Pope Benedict XVI, and I have also found this to be just as true with Pope Francis.  Traditionalists have had a problem with Pope Francis since the moment he appeared on the balcony in St. Peter's Square.  But when I read Pope Francis' words without the filter of any Traditionalist bias, I see a very spiritual and deeply holy man who truly loves Christ and His Church, as I've written on this blog.

So exactly why do Traditionalists have such an aversion to Vatican II and almost everything after it? I've asked a couple of "Trads", and I've been told more than once that the problem with the V2 documents is they contain "time bombs." This term comes from a book entitled, "Liturgical Time Bombs" written by the late Michael Davies, an English convert who strongly supported the Traditional Latin Mass and saw Vatican II as the great enemy of the Church.  The subtitle of this book is "The Destruction of Catholic Faith Through Changes in Catholic Worship."  Not surprisingly, his book is sold by Angelus Press, the publishing arm of the Society of St. Pius X. This is how they describe Mr. Davies' book:
In his latest work, Michael Davies expands on a famous saying of Archbishop Lefebvre, "There were time bombs in the Council." Davies explains, "These 'time bombs' were ambiguous passages inserted in the official documents by the liberal periti or experts - passages which would be interpreted in an untraditional, progressivist sense after the Council closed."
Davies shows how Father (later Archbishop) Annibale Bugnini - before being removed from his position by Pope Paul VI under suspicion of being a Freemason - was able to "reform" the Catholic Mass into the constantly evolving liturgy which continues to self-destruct to this day. Quoting Bishops and Cardinals, as well as liberal periti and Protestant observers, Davies points out the ambiguities or "time bombs" which were built into the Second Vatican Council's document on the liturgy and how they have been detonating ever since in liturgical abuses, both unauthorized and authorized.
Michael Davies concludes with statistics from Kenneth C. Jones's Index of Leading Catholic Indicators showing that the liturgical reforms have borne bitter fruit in a massive loss of Catholic Faith and practice in the Western World. He urges a return to the Traditional Latin Mass, which has always produced great fruit in vocations and sanctity.
Joseph Ratzinger and Yves Congar, periti Vatican II
This is a pretty heavy accusation. Mr. Davies says that the periti, or theological experts, inserted passages into the Vatican II documents that were specifically designed to destroy the Mass and, in effect, destroy the Church itself. Not coincidentally, young Father Joseph Ratzinger was one of those periti.

The major problem with this argument is that while the Bishops definitely relied on their experts, it was the Bishops who voted on and submitted the Vatican II documents to the Holy Father for approval. The responsibility for these documents lies with the hierarchy of the Church, not the periti. Since Catholics also believe that the Church is guided and protected by the Holy Spirit, I would submit that the Holy Spirit must have fallen down on the job as well. The periti not only pulled the wool over the eyes of the bishops and Pope, they even out maneuvered the Holy Spirit.

Another major criticism of Vatican II is very much along the same lines as the "time bombs" theory. This theory says that the documents were intentionally left vague and ambiguous. They could be read and interpreted to say almost anything you wanted them to say, and were often contradictory. This has led to confusion and chaos in the Church and caused the great crisis we see around us.

It seems to me that I've heard these same arguments used against another theological document. It's called the Bible. The Bible has been interpreted in more ways than anyone can count. Many accuse it of being vague and/or contradictory. Differing interpretations of the Bible have caused untold chaos and division in the world. Every argument used against the Vatican II documents has been used over the centuries against the written Word of God. In fact, these same arguments have also been used against Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God.

An unfair comparison you say? Ah yes, of course, the Vatican II documents were "pastoral", not "dogmatic", and therefore they are not binding on the Church, so we have every right to reject them. I find this argument to be cognitive dissonance at best and hypocrisy at worst. Traditional Catholics are always accusing their liberal counterparts of being Cafeteria Catholics, picking and choosing what they like and throwing the rest out. Yet, this is exactly what Traditionalists are doing when it comes to Vatican II. They don't like Vatican II, and so they have found a way to reject it. But to reject the Second Vatican Council is to reject the hierarchy, which is the Bishops and the Holy Father.  This is very dangerous because there can be no Catholic Church without them.

To reject the Council is to reject the following words from Blessed Pope Paul VI:
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, assembled in the Holy Spirit and under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we have declared Mother of the Church, and of St. Joseph, her glorious spouse, and of the Apostles SS. Peter and Paul, must be numbered without doubt among the greatest events of the Church.
Is it really possible for a Catholic to turn a deaf ear to the Pope when he calls something "among the greatest events of the Church"?  The Holy Father gave us the following reasons why the above statement is not hyperbole:
In fact it was (i) the largest in the number of Fathers who came to the seat of Peter from every part of the world, even from those places where the hierarchy has been very recently established. (ii) It was the richest because of the questions which for four sessions have been discussed carefully and profoundly. And (iii) last of all it was the most opportune, because, bearing in mind the necessities of the present day, above all it sought to meet the pastoral needs and, nourishing the flame of charity, it has made a great effort to reach not only the Christians still separated from communion with the Holy See, but also the whole human family.
All of the Holy Fathers since the Second Vatican Council have emphasized how important it is to the Church, and yet many in the Church condemn it as the most destructive event in Church history.  What is the truth?  Are we free to treat the Second Vatican Council as a sort of bishops' tea party that we can take or leave as we desire?  Are we free to condemn Vatican II?

I think it is very important to go back to the time of Vatican II in order to understand what the Church was trying to do. Venerable Fulton Sheen said that we live in a unique age in that this is the first time in history people have lost the sense of sin and no longer recognize right and wrong.  That is now more true than when Bishop Sheen made that statement some 40 years ago.  Also, in the early 1960's, the world was still feeling the effects of two major world wars with untold destruction and loss of life. Mankind had never before experienced suffering on such a large, worldwide scale. There were still many wars around the world, and the United States was about to enter into the most divisive war in its history outside of the Civil War. A large part of the world was imprisoned under Communism, a government based on the rejection of God.  When the Council convened in October 1962, we had just experienced the Cuban missile crisis where America and the Soviet Union came perilously close to nuclear war.  For the first time, we had the ability to literally wipe all life off the planet.

All previous Church councils had been called to address some issue in the Church and/or to define dogma.   The previous councils had been inward looking, dealing with the wounds of the Church.  The Second Vatican Council is unique.  Blessed (soon to be Saint) Pope John XXIII called the Council because he saw not a Church in crisis but a world in crisis with billions of souls at stake, both physically and spiritually. The world was more in need of the saving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ than it had ever been.

Blessed Pope John XXIII in his opening statement
In his opening message to the council, which you can read here, Blessed John XXIII said the inspiration for the Second Vatican Council came to him suddenly and unexpectedly:
As regards the initiative for the great event which gathers us here, it will suffice to repeat as historical documentation our personal account of the first sudden bringing up in our heart and lips of the simple words, "Ecumenical Council." We uttered those words in the presence of the Sacred College of Cardinals on that memorable January 25, 1959, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, in the basilica dedicated to him. It was completely unexpected, like a flash of heavenly light, shedding sweetness in eyes and hearts. And at the same time it gave rise to a great fervor throughout the world in expectation of the holding of the Council.
It is interesting to note that the inspiration for the Council came on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. St. Paul was sent not to the Jews, his own people, but to the Gentiles. St. Paul was to preach the Gospel to a world that did not know God. St. Paul was called to open the Church to the world. Does this sound familiar? Just as St. Paul was confronted with a blinding flash of light, Pope John XXIII said the idea of the Council was "like a flash of heavenly light, shedding sweetness in eyes and hearts." The world of the 20th Century, standing on the brink of its own destruction, was in greater need of the message of the Catholic Church than at any time since the Apostle Paul. It was time for the Church to turn outwards towards a world in desperate need.

Pope John XXIII did not call the Council to change the Church, but to change the way in which the Church related to the world and, more specifically, to re-define her missionary role in the world so as to make the saving message of the Gospel more effective.  From Pope John XXIII:
Illuminated by the light of this Council, the Church -- we confidently trust -- will become greater in spiritual riches and gaining the strength of new energies therefrom, she will look to the future without fear. In fact, by bringing herself up to date where required, and by the wise organization of mutual co-operation, the Church will make men, families, and peoples really turn their minds to heavenly things.
The above statement is truly prescient in that the world of the early 1960's was about to embark on a quest for materialism, hedonism and exaltation of self never before seen in the history of mankind. Technology was about to explode and change the world in ways never imagined. There was now a more urgent need than ever before in history for the Church's message of spirituality to counter the world's descent into itself and away from God. Just as St. Paul was the great missionary to the Gentiles, so the Church as a whole must become the great missionary to those overcome by the false gospel of the exaltation of man.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Blessed Pope John XXIII knew the Church had to intensify her role in the world.  The question is, how do we go out into the world without becoming a part of it?  Reading the documents of Vatican II with this view in mind gives them an entirely different meaning than that seen by people like Michael Davies.

The Second Vatican Council, more than being a pastoral council, was a missionary council, appointing all Catholics to be missionaries where they lived.  The Council's purpose was to look at the world and give us guidelines on how to interact with a world that was rejecting God and headed to self destruction.

Cardinal Francis George
Cardinal Francis George gave a recent talk in Brighton, England which explains this very well. This is from The Pilot:
"The mission of the Church everywhere in every age is to introduce people and the entire world to Jesus Christ. We call the Church 'mother' and mothers introduce their children to other people," he said.
The cardinal cited the original purpose of the council as redefining the relationship between the Church and the world for the sake of a more effective mission in the world. He said he hoped to explore where episcopal and priestly authority fit into the mission.
He said that in calling the council, Pope John XXIII noted divisions -- nation against nation, race against race, and class against class -- as a context to be addressed in the modern world.

"He believed that the Church's internal unity was secure. There was no need to re-examine the deposit of faith, as councils usually did, but there was need to look at it and find new ways for the Church to exercise her mission more effectively, so that the world would find its own integral unity, not exactly the unity of the Church that we now call 'communion' since the council, but rather a solidarity -- the union of the human race," he said.
The cardinal said the unity of the Church and the unity of leaders in communion acted as a level to pursue peace in the world "Pacem In Terris" -- in the words of Pope John XXIII.
"The second Vatican Council is therefore a missionary council. It was called not directly to change the Church, so that she could catch up with a tortured world, but rather to change that world," he said.
"In this sense, Pope Paul VI returned at the very end of the council to Pope John XXIII's intention in calling it, and explained that the Church -- as the Good Samaritan of our age -- sees a wounded world, introduces it to Christ, and binds its wounds through dialogue and service," Cardinal George said.
He said the missionary intent of the council became muted in application afterward, but over time, the Church reestablished its spirituality as a kind of Good Samaritan to the world's injured traveler.
"The method is always dialogue, but the purpose is to heal the world's wounds, and through God's grace, bring the world to its own internal unity," the cardinal said.
A statement from one of Pope Francis' interviews echoes this same idea:
The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds. ... And you have to start from the ground up.
The reason so many Traditionalists and others have problems with Vatican II is because they do not understand its purpose. Vatican II is unique among all other councils ever called by the Church. Its purpose was not inward but outward. As Cardinal George said, the purpose of the Council wasn't to change the Church, it was to change the world by opening the Church to the world. If you don't understand or accept that, you will always misinterpret the documents.

Blessed Pope John XXIII explained this in his opening message to the Council. Below are some excerpts:
In calling this vast assembly of bishops, the latest and humble successor to the Prince of the Apostles who is addressing you intended to assert once again the Magisterium (teaching authority), which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time, in order that this Magisterium, taking into account the errors, the requirements, and the opportunities of our time, might be presented in exceptional form to all men throughout the world.
. . . 
The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously. That doctrine embraces the whole of man, composed as he is of body and soul. And, since he is a pilgrim on this earth, it commands him to tend always toward heaven. 
This demonstrates how our mortal life is to be ordered in such a way as to fulfill our duties as citizens of earth and of heaven, and thus to attain the aim of life as established by God. That is, all men, whether taken singly or as united in society, today have the duty of tending ceaselessly during their lifetime toward the attainment of heavenly things and to use, for this purpose only, the earthly goods, the employment of which must not prejudice their eternal happiness.
Could there ever be a more timely message than this in our modern, materialistic world?  Because of the material wealth and advanced technology in our world, we are more separated from God than at any time in history.  In the above statement, Pope John XXIII is warning us that our first and foremost goal in life is the "attainment of heavenly things" and that all earthly things should be used for this purpose only.  Human beings have never had to counter the pull of materialism as strongly as we in our modern times do.  We must be constantly fighting against putting materialism above the Kingdom of God.

Pope John XXIII emphasized how important it is to maintain the doctrine of the Church while spreading the saving message of the Gospel to the world.  The Holy Father said that guarding the doctrine of the Church was understood:
Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure [of the sacred doctrine], as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the Church has followed for twenty centuries.
The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly been taught by the Fathers and by ancient and modern theologians, and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all.
For this a Council was not necessary
Pope John XXIII then explains how the method of promoting of the Gospel and the correction of error must change in our modern era, that the Mercy of God must be a central part of promoting the Gospel. Is it a coincidence that our Lord appeared to St. Faustina on the eve of World War II with the message of Divine Mercy? That message is the driving force of the Church today. It should be noted that St. Faustina's message was not accepted by the Church at the time of Vatican II.  In fact, Pope John XXIII himself forbade the circulation of the Divine Mercy images and writings based on a faulty translation of St. Faustina's diary.  Yet it was this same Pope John XXIII who made mercy towards the world a central point of his opening statement. Surely this is the work of the Holy Spirit:
At the outset of the Second Vatican Council, it is evident, as always, that the truth of the Lord will remain forever. We see, in fact, as one age succeeds another, that the opinions of men follow one another and exclude each other. And often errors vanish as quickly as they arise, like fog before the sun. The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity.
Nowadays however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations. Not, certainly, that there is a lack of fallacious teaching, opinions, and dangerous concepts to be guarded against and dissipated. But these are so obviously in contrast with the right norm of honesty, and have produced such lethal fruits that by now it would seem that men of themselves are inclined to condemn them, particularly those ways of life which despise God and His law, or place excessive confidence in technical progress and a well-being based exclusively on the comforts of life. They are ever more deeply convinced of the paramount dignity of the human person and of his perfection as well as of the duties which that implies. Even more important, experience has taught men that violence inflicted on others, the might of arms, and political domination, are of no help at all in finding a happy solution to the grave problems which afflict them.
The above statements perfectly describe our world today: "those ways of life which despise God and His law, or place excessive confidence in technical progress and a well-being based exclusively on the comforts of life" and "violence inflicted on others, the might of arms, and political domination". This truly is the world we face today.

When you understand the true purpose of Vatican II, that of mercy in reaching out to a world firmly set on the destructive path of materialism and rejection of God, then statements such as the following will make a lot more sense:
If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge? 
I thought the following was a wonderful analysis of Pope Francis' statement which comes right out of Vatican II.   This is from, of all places, the Huffington Post:
"'Who am I to judge' may end up being the most-quoted five words spoken by a modern pope," said John Thavis, author of the best-selling book The Vatican Diaries and who covered the Vatican for 30 years for the U.S.-based Catholic News Service.
"Pope Francis has realized the simple truth, that when the Church preaches on pelvic and political issues like birth control, abortion and same-sex marriage, many people stop listening. So instead of repeating the rules and revving up the 'culture of death' rhetoric, he's focusing on another essential side of Christianity, mercy and compassion. And of course, that's much more inviting," Thavis said.
When a medic goes out on a battlefield to treat the wounded, he is not there to judge the wounded.  He is there to treat them and possibly save their lives.  That is the world we live in today.  It is a totally secular, humanistic world turned away from God.  The world has become a battlefield littered with the spiritually wounded and dying.  Is it our job as a the Mystical Body of Christ to stand and point fingers at them, telling them what terrible sinners they are, or is it our job to bind their wounds and compassionately lead them to the great Physician, Jesus Christ?  When we see them making steps to turn away from our godless world to the True God, such as a homosexual who "seeks God and has good will", shouldn't we do all we can to encourage them, which is exactly what Pope Francis is demonstrating.

Traditionalists blame this great Council for the woes of the Church and the crisis we see around us. But in a homily on April 16, Pope Francis said the problems in the Church stem from our resistance to the Holy Spirit, and that is exemplified by our resistance to Vatican II, which he says has not been fully implemented.  From Vatican Radio:
Pope Francis’ homily at the mass was centered on the theme of the Holy Spirit and our resistance to it. It took its inspiration from the first reading of the day which was the story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen who described his accusers as stubborn people who were always resisting the Holy Spirit. 
Put frankly, the Pope continued, “the Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the Church forward.” He said that we wish “to calm down the Holy Spirit, we want to tame it and this is wrong.” Pope Francis said “that’s because the Holy Spirit is the strength of God, it’s what gives us the strength to go forward” but many find this upsetting and prefer the comfort of the familiar. 
Nowadays, he went on, “everybody seems happy about the presence of the Holy Spirit but it’s not really the case and there is still that temptation to resist it.” The Pope said one example of this resistance was the Second Vatican council which he called “a beautiful work of the Holy Spirit.” But 50 years later, “have we done everything the Holy Spirit was asking us to do during the Council,” he asked. The answer is “No,” said Pope Francis. “We celebrate this anniversary, we put up a monument but we don’t want it to upset us. We don’t want to change and what’s more there are those who wish to turn the clock back.” This, he went on, “is called stubbornness and wanting to tame the Holy Spirit.”
The Pope said the same thing happens in our personal life. “The Spirit pushes us to take a more evangelical path but we resist this.” He concluded his homily by urging those present not to resist the pull of the Holy Spirit. “Submit to the Holy Spirit,” he said, “which comes from within us and makes go forward along the path of holiness.” 
The Second Vatican Council, it seems to me, has in many ways fulfilled the statement of the righteous Simeon to the Blessed Mother when she presented Jesus to the temple:
"Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed--and a sword will pierce even your own soul-- to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."
Truly, the thoughts from many hearts have been revealed in their reaction to the Second Vatican Council.  Liberals have co-opted the Council as a means to change the Church, not the world, and justify their disobedience to God.  They have looked at the Council as the Church saying we can do our own thing and become like the world when it comes to worship and obedience.  Traditionalists have also seen the Council as trying to change the Church, not the world, but they have perceived the Council as the great destroyer of the Traditions of the Church, and have seen resistance to the Council and all who support it as the only legitimate reaction.  Both of these groups have displayed stubbornness and resistance to the Holy Spirit as stated by Pope Francis.

One can only wonder, if Vatican II had been truly embraced by the the members of the Church instead of becoming a source of division, if the people in the Church had taken the missionary aim of Vatican II to heart instead of using it to promote their own agendas, how different might our world be today.  In the meantime, while Catholics fight among themselves, resisting, as Pope Francis said, the work of the Holy Spirit, our world continues to die, spiritually and physically.  

Pope Francis is doing all he can to bring the true message of Vatican II, the message of mercy and compassion, to the Church and to the world.  We need to listen to him and stop fighting him.  We need to hear his words without the filter of our own prejudices.  We need to leave our egos at the door. We need to empty ourselves of ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. As Pope Francis said, "The Spirit pushes us to take a more evangelical path but we resist this. . . .Submit to the Holy Spirit which comes from within us and makes go forward along the path of holiness."  

The world awaits the Church.

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