Advent … Adventus … coming …
The beginning of the ecclesiastical or church year and a season of great hope as the Church awaits the birth of the saviour Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Second Vatican Council whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this year as a focus of the Year of Faith was also a period of great hope.
Fr James Lyons said in an address on the Year of Faith in the cathedral parish forum last month that the council was a time of great energy in the church engendered with Pope John XXIII’s call to open the windows and engage with the world.
We [seminarians] followed the excitement of the debates through what were, by today’s standards, very primitive media, but we knew enough to appreciate the significance of opinions being voiced and we were in awe of the politics of conservative and liberal that strove for influence, with bishops from every nation taking this unprecedented opportunity to articulate their love of the Church, their concerns for the Church and their hope that the Church and the world might understand each other better.
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World Gaudium et Spes [joy and hope] was developed from this atmosphere, the only document of the 16 that was composed entirely during the council, rather than being drafted beforehand and then substantially changed.
Anyone taking seriously Pope Benedict’s call to revisit the documents would do well to start with this one. Its opening sentences capture the hopes of the nearly 3,000 bishops gathered for the council.
‘The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the men and women of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.’
The 1960s were a decade of turmoil and change. The United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a cold war. The Cuban missile crisis occurred in the fourth year of John’s papacy, 1962, when the US discovered the Soviet Union had been secretly installing missiles in Cuba, minutes away from the US.
Pope John sent a message to the Kremlin which was published in the Communist newspaper, Pravda.
I beg heads of state not to remain insensitive to the cry of humanity: peace, peace. Let them do all that is in their power to save peace; in this way they will avoid the horrors of a war, the appalling consequences of which no one could predict. Let them continue to negotiate…
Two days later Krushchev withdrew his warships.
It was against this backdrop that Pope John called for the Church to engage with the world. We could humbly learn from each other.
Advent is also a time of learning about the great gift God gave his people and how we can honour this gift by humbly recognising the joy of Christ in each other.