Tuesday, October 11, 2011
What a Day! Pope John XXIII and Vatican II!
Angelo Roncalli, while he relished his peasant roots, was a man who loved history and the lessons history could teach us. He was also a Roman "outsider" (unlike his best friend and successor, Giovanni Battista Montini, who was quite the Vatican "insider"), who came into his own during lengthy tours as a papal legate to Bulgaria (1925-1935), Turkey and Greece (1935-1944) and France (1944-1953). He always maintained that it was his military service as a stretcher-bearer and chaplain during World War I that formed him into a pastor, and during World War II he did everything he could to facilitate the escape of as many as 100,000 Jews from Nazi-held areas. In 1953 he was appointed Patriarch of Venice and was made a Cardinal. He wrote that he loved the title of "Patriarch" -- the title he thought he would be buried with -- because it meant he was a "Father" to his people. Little did he know that he would soon become "papa" to the whole world, not just Venice. What his biography shows us is a man who was deeply immersed in the "real world" in a variety of difficult human situations, and a man who learned profoundly how the Church might help.
We read of church leaders who have decided that the richness of eating and drinking the Lord's Body and Blood, commanded by our Lord, is best accomplished through a resurgent sacramental minimalism by consuming under the species of bread alone; we wonder why our young people (and, let's be honest, some NOT so young people as well!) are leaving active participation in a Church they honestly believe has lost its moral compass and any connectedness whatsoever to the real problems which today's people face. Instead, they see institutional church leadership fussing about translations from a dead language into a living culture while whole peoples are victims of genocide, forced migrations, war and natural disasters. They know that individual Catholics and groups of Catholics are involved in trying to make things better, but the acknowledged leadership often seems completely out-of-touch and remote from those efforts.
It was this very detachment from the "real world" that Pope John and the Council attempted to address. In 1962, the world's bishops had vivid memories of two world wars, worldwide economic collapse, the rise of three totalitarian regimes, the emergence of the nuclear age and the cold war. During the Council itself, the world was brought to the brink of another worldwide war during the Bay of Pigs debacle and the President of the US himself was assassinated. The bishops of the world, led by John himself, wanted to try to find a NEW WAY OF THINKING so that the world might be transformed into a different kind of place, so that such tragedies could not happen again.
Many things have happened in the forty-nine years since the Council began, but I believe that we are still called to a new way of thinking. The old patterns of thought which some people seem intent on trying to "restore" to the Church and the world, did not keep the world from war, violence and destruction. Pope John's call to look forward with new, fresh approaches is more needed today than ever. What else matters if we cannot connect the real messiness of life with the promises of Christ?
Viva il Papa Giovanni!