It’s hard to believe, but we are closing in on the 50th anniversary of the election of Pope John XXIII, who convoked the Second Vatican Council, the 21st ecumenical council in the Church’s history.
Pope Benedict XVI candidly admits the difficulties that have hampered the implementation of Vatican II. For the Holy Father, the key to correctly implementing Vatican II lies in using the “proper hermeneutics.” In other words, we must look at Vatican II through the appropriate lens.
Pope Benedict has identified the problem as being a “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,” which would sever the Church in effect into two churches: the “pre-conciliar” Church and the “post-conciliar” Church. Following this model, the new, “post-conciliar” Church, claiming the mandate and so-called “spirit” of Vatican II, must revise Church teaching, practices, and structures to make them more compatible with the present age. This mindset, especially in the first twenty years after the Council, gained access to positions of authority, or at least power, in the Church.
Others, in reaction to the loss of faith and ecclesial disarray caused by the indiscriminate application of the above approach, have gone to the opposite extreme, clinging to the “pre-conciliar” Church, which doesn’t seem so bad compared to what’s gone on in their experience of the post-conciliar Church.
What the Pope is asking of us is to use a “hermeneutic of reform” in understanding Vatican II. This approach eschews both a “creative” as well as a “suspicious” approach to the Council. Instead, he calls us to embrace the necessary continuity of the Church and her traditional teaching, while at the same time recognizing the ongoing need for a renewal ordered to the salvation of the whole world.
We rejoice that the Holy Father has validated the experience of those of us who for many years have been “caught in the middle,” as he calls all of us to a greater love for and fidelity to the Church.
This tension of continuity/discontinuity is present in our own lives. After all, Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), and at the same time He continually makes “all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The Christian life is about living this paradox. The gift of faith, the faith of the Church that most of us received as baptized infants, reflects the continuity of our Christian vocation.
Yet at the same time, in our own personal journey of faith, the Lord continually makes all things new and calls us to a dynamic relationship with Him right here and now.
There’s a fairly recent movie entitled Codebreakers, on the Army’s football team set in the 1950s. While Army hasn’t fielded a decent football team in my lifetime, way back when they were a perennial powerhouse. In the 1940s they had two Heisman trophy winners at the same time: Glenn Davis was “Mr. Outside” and Doc Blanchard was “Mr. Inside,” as Davis had breakaway speed and Blanchard was a powerful runner between the tackles.
Every time I listen to an address by the Holy Father, I’m convinced more than ever that the Lord is asking each one of us, in a sense, to be “Mr. Inside.” Rather than allow ourselves to be disturbed by all the external, “outside” forces in our lives, we must be more attentive to the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, peacefully guiding us through any storms or difficulties that beset us.
As we look back on the many significant events going on around us–in the world, in the Church, and in our own personal lives–may we have the eyes to perceive God’s abiding fidelity, thereby strengthening our childlike trust in the Lord of history.