An Encouraging Word — Vatican II and the nature of change

Do not let fidelity leave you. Proverbs 3:3

Pope John XXIII was elected Oct. 28, 1958. I remember it well. I was 14 years old and I was a high school freshman at St. Thomas Seminary in Louisville. We got to watch the announcement of his election on TV and the almost delirious delight, not only from Catholics, but what seemed like the whole world.

Pope John XXIII’s Vatican Council II began in October of 1962. I remember it well. I was 18 years old and I was a college freshman at Saint Thomas Seminary in Louisville. Again, we got to watch the opening of the council on TV and the excitement and hope that seemed to overcome most of the church.

I miss those days of joy and hope, the sense that the Holy Spirit is alive and well, that “all things are possible with God.” I am deeply committed to the church, regardless, but compared to those days, the church today seems to have a tedious, plodding and leaden feel about it.

Auxiliary Bishop-elect of Malta Charles J. Scicluna, who worked for years in the Vatican, said this recently: “We have a product which is extraordinary and we have to get our act together to bring it to as many people as possible. The way we communicate things at times is a total disaster and we have to be humble and say, ‘We need to do better.’ We need to start using language that people understand. … We need to tell people we are not here to impose, but that we are here to propose.”

There are some who believe that Vatican II was a mistake — that it caused the church to become unglued and drift into chaos. I disagree. I believe the words of Cardinal Godfrey Daniels of Belgium, who said,
“Post-conciliar problems cannot be put right with pre-conciliar measures.”

The “mistakes” we made were to confuse “making changes” with “changing” and adopting a naïve belief that the change we desired would come easily. We should have known that real change would be painful and would take many, many years.

All real change, personal or communal, is marked by setting out in excitement, testings and discouragement, temptations to return to the old ways, calls to fidelity and finally a movement into a totally new way of being. We see this outlined in the Exodus story from Scripture and lived out in our church today.

At Vatican II, we were like the people of God leaving Egypt for the promised land. We were giddy with excitement, but unprepared for the desert that lay ahead.

In their discomfort, idealizing what was left behind, some long for the fleshpots of Egypt and want to go back. Others, worshipping the golden calves of modern culture, have dropped out altogether. Still others, struggling to remain faithful, keep on going while believing that we will “get there” someday,  in spite of this rambling path we seem to be on.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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