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January 4, 2014

Fiftieth anniversaries in 2014 of Vatican II Constitution on the Church and Decree on Ecumenism -
Council led to new style of conversing in the church and with others

In this edition:
1. Viewing Vatican II: 2014 perspective.
2. Pope Francis on the council.
3. New way of speaking together.
4. Dialogue, but with whom?
5. Constitution on the Church, Quotes:
a) Universal call to holiness.
b) Dignity of laity.
c) Diversity of roles.
6. Ecumenism, dialogue and respect.
7. 2014 synod: collegial, pastoral, consultative.

1. Vatican II: A 2014 Perspective

Happy New Year!

The new year is just getting under way as I write this. It presents, it seems to me, an opportune moment to briefly examine the impact of the Second Vatican Council on the lives of Catholics in our times and their ways of relating to each other, as well as to others.

After all, the 50th anniversaries of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church and its decrees on ecumenism and on the Eastern Catholic churches will be observed in November 2014, just as the 50th anniversary of the council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was observed in December 2013.

If there was a time when Catholics thought of themselves as spectators of the church's life and activities, that time is pretty much gone. Today it virtually is taken for granted that every Catholic ought to be a full participant in life of the church - in the sacraments, for example, or in carrying out the new evangelization and serving the world's wounded people.

This way of thinking has roots in the Constitution on the Church, just as the way Catholics now interact with other Christians has roots in the Decree on Ecumenism. And the Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches fostered an understanding that diversity in the church can be a source of riches.

And there are more anniversaries to come. There is the anniversary in December 2015 of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which prompted the entire church to seek out whatever is positive in the world around it and not merely to take notice of what is negative. The constitution famously began by stating:

"The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too 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 50th anniversary of the Constitution on Divine Revelation also arrives in 2015, in November. The document affirmed that the church is rooted in Scripture and tradition together, and it encouraged the use of modern methods of scholarship in the study of the Bible.

Many in our times barely remember a time when such methods of biblical study were discouraged or doubted. In fact, the council document on revelation was hugely influential. How many parishes are there today in which adult-education and retreat groups do not reflect on Scripture and its meaning, pray with it and consider it essential for the life of faith?

Human dignity, such a dominant theme in theology, preaching and official church teaching at this time, became a repeated point of emphasis in the council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, for example.

With the heavy accent now placed on the bond forged in the human family by a shared human dignity, some might wonder if this is a contemporary theological insight. It surely was Vatican II's insight too, however.

The church "is ordered and governed with a wonderful diversity," but the "chosen people of God is one" - one in faith and baptism, and one because they share "a common dignity as members from their regeneration in Christ," says the Constitution on the Church. It adds, "There is, therefore, in Christ and in the church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex."

Recognition of the "dignity of the human person" is a building block, so to speak, in "the relationship between the church and the world, and provides the basis for dialogue between them," the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World suggested.

In fact, the ways the church and its people "dialogue" with each other today and try to converse respectfully with people of all kinds everywhere help to demonstrate the council's impact. The 21st century relationships of clergy, religious and the laity in the church owe a significant debt to Vatican II. The promotion of interreligious understanding and even dialogue with atheists owes the council a debt too.

A unique style of conversation in and by the church was fostered by the council. Jesuit Father John O'Malley spoke about that in a speech discussed later in this edition of the jknirp.com online newsletter. The council paved the way to a new manner of speaking together in the church and of entering respectfully into dialogue with others who are truly different from us.

In Father O'Malley's mind, understanding the council's use of the term "dialogue" is vital to understanding the council's continuing impact. But before turning to that, allow me to take a look at something Pope Francis recently said about the council.

2. Pope Francis on the Council

Pope Francis turned attention to Vatican II's Constitution on the Church, one of the documents whose 50th anniversary will be observed next November, when he was asked last summer by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro what it means to "think with the church."

Father Spadaro's interview is the one published in September by leading Jesuit publications around the world.

Pope Francis responded to Father Spadaro's question by saying: "The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (No. 12)."

Here I might note, for example, that the part of the constitution mentioned by the pope states that that the Holy Spirit "distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the church."

Pope Francis said to Father Spadaro that "belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships."

The pope in this interview viewed the church as "the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows." Therefore, he said that "thinking with the church" is his "way of being a part of this people."

In his response, Pope Francis said that "when the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit."

In one question, Father Spadaro asked what Vatican Council II accomplished. Pope Francis responded that "Vatican II was a rereading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture." He said:

"Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a rereading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation. Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear: The dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today -- which was typical of Vatican II -- is absolutely irreversible."

3. New Way of Speaking Together

The Second Vatican Council "was a major language event in the history of the church. It represents a language reversal, from monologue to dialogue," Jesuit Father John O'Malley said in an October 2012 speech at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington. His speech analyzed the importance of dialogue as viewed by the council. Father O'Malley is a Georgetown University theologian.

If "this new style of discourse" is "to be something more than a ploy or a tactic," it requires a new style of being -- a conversion -- which then results in a new style of relationships to just about everybody and everything," Father O'Malley commented.

"Dialogue," he said, "is a synonym for 'conversation.' Its first purpose is simply to understand the other -- to know where he or she is 'coming from, to use the vulgar expression." He explained that "dialogue consists in speaking and listening. And, after listening, letting what one has heard sink in."

Moreover, "while dialogue implies that each of the partners begins the conversation holding certain positions and even convictions, it also seems to imply a willingness to be affected by the conversation -- to learn from the other, to be enriched by the other and in some measure to rethink one's positions or convictions," said Father O'Malley.

The word "dialogue" made a late entry into the documents of Vatican II, however. Father O'Malley told his audience that "only after the publication of Pope Paul VI's first encyclical 'Ecclesiam Suam' on Aug. 6, 1964, just before the third period of the council opened, did dialogue appear and immediately become one of the council's most characteristic categories, appearing in 10 of the 16 final documents, in some of which, such as 'The Church in the Modern World,' it is almost a leitmotif."

The encyclical "infused" the word "dialogue" into the council's vocabulary, said Father O'Malley. In the end, he added, "it would be difficult to find a word more characteristic of Vatican II."

The notion of "dialogue" is important for understanding Vatican II, but "it is simply one word that fits into and that helps create a new language for defining how the church is to operate," according to Father O'Malley. He said:

"As the council moved on, the number of such words continued to grow and would include friendship, brotherhood, sisterhood, partnership, reciprocity, respect, freedom, conscience, holiness and the innate dignity of every human person. With special prominence the list included and honored collegiality. . . . Taken together, the words suggest and promote reconciliation and mutuality. Dialogue is the preferred instrument for accomplishing those ends."

The theologian insisted that "these words and expressions are not casual asides" for Vatican II. "They recur with the insistence of a drumbeat." Such terms "are not new in Christian vocabulary but they are strikingly new for a council," he continued. "They bear a kinship with one another in that they express not top-down, vertical relationships but horizontal." (Father O'Malley's speech appeared in the Nov. 22, 2012, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

4. Dialogue, But With Whom?

Vatican Council II "wanted to promote dialogue especially in four specific areas," Father O'Malley said in his October 2012 address at Georgetown University.

First was "a dialogue with non-Western cultures."

Second, and "most famously," was the "dialogue with other Christian churches." It was a dialogue to be pursued "with the recognition that the old practice of belittling and denigrating them produced no good fruit."

Third was "the dialogue with non-Christian religions, especially dialogue with Jews and Muslims." Father O'Malley said that the council's "Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" provided the church "with a new mission, with a new role in the world -- a mission of mediation in a divided world."

Fourth was "the dialogue with 'the modern world' as proposed in" the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Father O'Malley pointed out that in this document "the relationship between the church and the world is described precisely as 'a dialogue.'" The document held that "while the church teaches the world, it also learns from the world. That is a statement of dialogue."

At that point in his speech, however, Father O'Malley asked: What about dialogue within the church? Was this too promoted by the council?

He responded that, on the one hand, "dialogue" in that regard "does not appear a single time," but "its synonym 'colloquy' ('colloquium') appears often and is usually and correctly translated into English as dialogue."

He noted that in the council's "decree on bishops, for instance, the bishop is told to 'initiate and promote dialogue (colloquium) with his people' (No. 13). Later he is told to 'engage in dialogue with his priests, both individually and collectively' (No 28)."

Furthermore, in the council's "decree on the training of priests," the council said that "seminarians are to be trained" in ways that equip them "to 'dialogue with the people of these times' (No. 15). The same idea appears in the decree on the life and ministry of priests (No. 18)."

Vatican Council II, "therefore, did not limit dialogue to those outside the church but saw it as a style of discourse appropriate to the church's internal functioning. Episcopal collegiality is dialogue at the highest level functioning within the church," said Father O'Malley.

He added this "word of caution," however: "The council never intended to diminish in the least degree the authority of the pope and the bishops. The buck stops with them, as the council insisted almost obsessively."

In addition, the theologian said, "the council never intended to compromise the church's first and most essential ministry, the proclamation of the Gospel. It could not possibly have done that without utter betrayal of the transcendent message of which it is the herald."

He observed that "dialogue cannot replace proclamation. It can, however, the council seems to say, coexist with it, to the advantage of proclamation."

Still, said Father O'Malley, "dialogue is an essential and distinctive characteristic of the council. It is a characteristic absolutely unique to Vatican II and the surface manifestation of a deep, corporate shift in mind-set."

To take dialogue "seriously is to undergo a kind of conversion, for it entails a shift from one style of behavior to another and from even one set of values to another," he concluded.

5. Constitution on the Church: Three Quotes

Universal Call to Holiness: "In the church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness. . . . All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity. . . . The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one -- that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ." (From Vatican II's Constitution on the Church, Nos. 39-41)

Dignity of Laity: "Let the spiritual shepherds recognize and promote the dignity as well as the responsibility of the laity in the church. Let them willingly employ their prudent advice. Let them confidently assign duties to them in the service of the church, allowing them freedom and room for action. Further, let them encourage lay people so that they may undertake tasks on their own initiative. . . . A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders." (From Vatican II's Constitution on the Church, No. 37)

Diversity of Roles: "If therefore in the church everyone does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God. And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, pastors and dispensers of mysteries on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the body of Christ. For the distinction which the Lord made between sacred ministers and the rest of the people of God bears within it a certain union, since pastors and the other faithful are bound to each other by a mutual need." (From Vatican II's Constitution on the Church, No. 32)

6. Ecumenism, Dialogue and Respect

The November 2014 observance of the Decree on Ecumenism's 50th anniversary ought to highlight the changed manner of conversing within the church and with others that Jesuit Father John O'Malley discussed above. Many divided Christians before the council tended to accent all that divided them - whatever they found negative about each other, that is. Catholics after the council developed the habit of accenting what they shared with other Christians.

That did not mean that divided Christians overlooked their points of division. It did mean, though, that Christians came to realize that what they shared was genuinely important. As a result, Catholics today approach the members of other Christian churches in a new manner. Many will attest that the way they converse is much different than it might have been in 1950 or so.

Suspicion of each other need not rule the relations of divided Christians, who have discovered over the past 50 years that they have many riches worth sharing.

Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore discussed this in an address last August to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's churchwide assembly in Pittsburgh. "Today I bring with me a deep desire for unity and for more communication so that all might know and be encouraged by our basic agreements and the unity we already share," Bishop Madden said. He chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

A half century of ecumenical dialogue has produced, in addition to "the mutual exploration of theological topics important to both of our communities," something "perhaps in some ways even more important -- bonds of genuine friendship, admiration, esteem and respect," the bishop observed. He said:

"We have come to understand one another in 'new ways' and have learned not to view one another through the lens of what divides but through a far better one of what we share in common."

Analyzing the dynamics of dialogue in ecumenical relationships, Bishop Madden told the Lutheran assembly that what has been learned in the past half century "has allowed us to see more clearly that what we have in common vastly outweighs our differences. We share a common faith in the triune God, a common hope in his living grace in our lives and his promise of eternal life, and a common call to Christian charity giving us that blessed opportunity to manifest in the world God's immeasurable goodness."

This, the bishop added, "is not to say that our differences do not matter. They do. In ecumenical and interreligious dialogue we are never called to give up who we are. We do not come to the table to make our interlocutor more like ourselves as though winning a debate. This is not dialogue.

"Nor are we called to come to the table and only acknowledge what we have in common while ignoring our differences or trying to make them silently disappear. Were we to do this we would be untrue to ourselves."

Bishop Madden said that "in dialogue we encounter one another exactly as we are, and in this way are able to begin that blessed journey of mutual discovery leading to greater respect and love. To come to understand the other as they understand themselves, to set aside our prejudices, to value virtue wherever it finds its home, to recognize good in all its forms: This is the work and the fruit of dialogue. Yes, and to peacefully acknowledge our differences as well." (The bishop's speech appeared in the Sept. 5, 2013, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

7. 2014 Synod: Collegial, Pastoral, Consultative

Is the consultation with the world's Catholics in advance of the special assembly of the world Synod of Bishops next October in Rome a sign of the new way of conversing in the church described above by Jesuit Father John O'Malley?

The special synod's theme is "Pastoral Challenges for the Family in the Context of Evangelization." It made sense, the pope and top synod officials thought, to invite lay Catholics and others to contribute their insights on marriage and family to the synod's preparations.

Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., felt that this invitation amounted to "nothing less than a major historic development." The bishop said that "given the nature of the topic before the synod," Pope Francis asked "for a wider consultation this time, one which involves parishes, in order to be in touch with the lived experience of people, to first identify what those challenges are."

The goal in the first stage of the synod process was "to identify challenges related to living out the Gospel in marriages and family life," Bishop Cupich said. However, the goal was not "about voting on what policies the church should keep or change."

Bishop Cupich thought that the pope wanted Catholics "to provide the lived experience of people and the challenges they face. This is in keeping with his counsel to ordained leaders that they have to work so closely with those they shepherd that they 'know the smell of the sheep.'"

It is thought, too, that an effort will be made to assure that the upcoming special synod functions in a genuinely collegial manner. The Synod Secretariat's general secretary, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, indicated during a Nov. 5 Vatican press conference that there is a desire at this time to transform the synod "into a real and effective tool for communion, through which the collegiality hoped for by Vatican Council II is expressed and achieved."

Another official of the upcoming synod, Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Italy, said that "Pope Francis has shown many times and in various forms his intention to make greater use of episcopal collegiality."

That means, Archbishop Forte said, that the church needs "to listen to the problems and expectations of many families," while also "manifesting her closeness and credibly proposing God's mercy and the beauty of responding to his call."