It’s been 50 years since the Church was stirred, shaken in some quarters and subjected to a blast of refreshing air with the opening of the second Vatican Council.
The Church marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of this momentous council on October 11. Where previously the Church had mostly kept to itself, Pope John XXIII’s vision was in part to open the Church’s doors and windows and go out and engage with the world.
The council was the first to attract bishops from all over the world (numbering 2,800) as well as leaders of other religions. In its three years of meetings the bishops embraced the pope’s vision most graphically expressed in the opening sentences of Gaudium et Spes (the Church in the World or, literally, joy and hope).
‘The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the 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’ (Vatican Council II 1965, #1).
As Dominican Albino Barrera said in 2006, the council viewed the world as a family, believing in the fundamental goodness of people. (This familial idea is behind some scholars’ ‘kin-dom’ for ‘kingdom’ or ‘reign of God’ – see Veronica Lawson’s gospel reflection).
Rather than seeing the world in the secular terms of social contract, the post-Vatican II Church held that ‘we simply cannot walk away from our duties toward each other, nor … pick and choose whichever responsibilities we want to accept … The bonds that tie us together are anchored deeply in human nature…’
A community viewed as a family is ‘enlivened by charity’ whose ‘overriding concern is that of self-giving and the possibilities of working toward the fullness of the good of the other’.
The goal of a contractual community is to maintain public, juridic order but a familial community ‘seeks nothing less than the common good in which there is a union of hearts and minds in their quest to reach their shared end in God’ (Journal of Catholic Social Thought 3 (2):321-333).
More will be published before Pope Benedict’s review of the tenets of Vatican II, the Year of Faith, is over.
Mgr John Broadbent wrote a series on the Second Vatican Council for Wel-Com in 2010. See also Archbishop Gregory Aymond’s ‘10 ways in which Vatican II made a difference’.
In the Wellington and Palmerston North dioceses Vatican II’s principles are enlivened by social outreach and social justice programmes, particularly in the schools and parishes. Perhaps the greatest impact here is in the emphasis on the priesthood of all believers (1Peter 2:5-9) conferred on each person through baptism. As St Paul says, we are all called to play a role in the Church (1Cor 12:12).