- Fr. John Jennings
Our Sacred Stories: Vatican II: The Legacy – Becoming the Church We Are Called to Be
Mark’s Gospel tells a wonderful story of the healing and conversion of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar (Mk.10:46-52). As much as it is one of the many Gospel stories of Jesus healing, this one is very much an account of a conversion. In this, it helps us to recognize our own conversion process. In so many ways, Bartimaeus is all of us, personally and as a church community of faith. Mark’s story relates how Bartimaeus was gradually becoming a disciple of Jesus. Vatican II revealed this vision of a church that is always becoming in a world that is ever-changing.
To capture the impact and the spirit unleashed by Vatican II is a bit like trying to swallow a horse. It is certainly too much for the 600 or so words of a reflection such as this. Perhaps, however, we can sense the Council’s vision and legacy in the opening words of its final declaration Gaudium et spes – The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World:
The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the [people] of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men [and women] who united in Christ and guide by the holy Spirit, press onwards towards the kingdom of the Father and are bearers of a message of salvation intended for all.... (Gaudium et Spes, 7 Dec 1965)
Vatican II presents us with a vision of church that is open to the world. No part of God’s creation and certainly no member of the human family is outside the concern, the care and the saving vision of the Vatican II church. We are called to show our love and compassion to all corners of the earth. We are all God’s children. No nation, no race, no religion, no culture is beyond God’s loving care.
Vatican II presents us with a vision of church as a community of faith. We are more than an institution. We are the People of God, drawn together by our shared faith. We are energized by the gift of God’s Spirit. We are called together to share this Spirit through service to the whole world.
Vatican II presents us with a vision of church that lives in a communal, collegial relationship. We are co-responsible for responding to our call from God and serving all creation. This vision of church is less hierarchical and more respectful of the common baptism which we all share. We discover that together as God’s People we serve as priests and prophets, bringing God’s Reign to fruition in our world.
Vatican II presents us with a vision of church that accepts God as the God of all for all, a creating, life-giving God who became incarnate in Jesus the Christ. In Jesus, God has reached out to share our humanity. In so doing God expresses the great love in which we are all held. As well, God has called us to share the same love for one another.
What Vatican II initiated was a process of conversion, not just for us as church, but for each of us personally and for all humanity. The vision it offered 59 years ago and continues to offer today is one of gradual conversion, a conversion filled with hope. Rather than being an institution or a series of structures, tenets and rituals, Vatican II call the whole church to become aware that we are a Spirit-filled community marked by love and expressive of relationships based on faith in the person of Jesus the Christ. This, in faith, hope and love, we continue to become.