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  • Fr. John Jennings

Our Sacred Stories - Vatican II: A Church of Vision & Hope

Vision is an amazing thing. In some ways it is a bit like dreaming. Always it is about hope. In Mark’s Gospel, there is a story of a new vision that is part of God’s dream expressed by Jesus (Mark 10:35-45). Mark relates how two of the disciples came to Jesus asking him to give them places of honour when he comes in glory. This would be a reasonable expectation in the culture of the time – followers of the leader would be honoured when the kingdom was established.

Jesus offers a new and different vision: “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In every era, our church, our Christian community has been called to this vision. In every age it is a vision that demands looking at ourselves and who we are, in the light of the world of our time. Such visioning offers a dynamic, living view of church. We might call it a prophetic view.

This prophetic view was what was expressed nearly 60 years ago when Pope John XXIII called the whole church to come together in a general or ecumenical council. This was the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). It has often been stated that it takes a century for the full implementation of an ecumenical council. As much as Vatican II took place some 60 years ago, its implementation is still taking place.

Recently, Pope Francis noted in conversation with the Jesuit community in Slovakia that there are times when we seem to be moving backwards. (The New Freeman, October 1, 2021 “Church Suffers Temptation To Go Backward, Pope Tells Jesuits”). He notes that we often long for the security of the past, what we are used to. We fear the new issues and questions of the present and the future. Faced by such issues, we often find it easier to repeat the “tried and true” responses of the previous era.

For Pope Francis, this reluctance to move forward flies in the face of what the Spirit called forth in our church at Vatican II. The council called for a church that was ready to read the signs of the times, that is a dynamic church ready to address the issues of the day. Pope Francis has strong words for resistance to this dynamism: “This is the evil of this moment: namely to seek the path in rigidity and clericalism, which are two perversions.”

Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962. The council that was beginning would offer a new pastoral vision of our church, one that was marked by dynamism and an openness to the world, a church with confidence to move forward. Pope John had a vision full of hope for our church, in words attributed to him: “It is time to throw open the windows of the church so that we can see out and people can see in.” Such openness in our church means that we live not in fear and judgement of our world, but as servants in our world, reaching out with care and compassion to heal and love as Jesus does. Then the blessing of the Incarnation truly can move us and our world.

October 11 was Thanksgiving Day in Canada this year. We undoubtedly celebrated it in some quiet restriction due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, we have much to be thankful for. Not the least of our gratitude should be directed to Pope John and the council he opened on October 11, 59 years ago.

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