Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Little Something Extra...First Sunday of Lent

A Lenten Prayer

The Book of Psalms is often called “God's Prayer Book.” Indeed, because they are inspired Scripture, the psalms teach us to pray to God in the very words of God.

Today's psalm helps us adopt the proper attitude for the Lenten season, an attitude of openness, prayerfulness, desire for God, repentance, and humility.

Throughout Lent, try to pray this psalm everyday, making it your own heartfelt song of love to God, meditating carefully on its message, and using it as inspiration for further prayer.

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me Your paths,
Guide me in Your truth and teach me,
for You are God my savior.

Lord, teach me this Lent. Speak to me through the Scriptures, the liturgy, the Church's teachings, and the writings of the saints. Touch my heart as I pray and meditate. Help me to find You in the events of my life and to understand what You are telling me through them. Open my mind and my heart to listen to the people around me, for they, too, often carry messages from You. I want to live in the truth, Lord, not in lies. Expose any lies that I'm living. Help me, Lord, to stay on the right path, the path that leads straight to You, and if I stray, lead me back to safety. I reach out to You as my Lord and Savior. Help me follow Your ways, not my own.

Remember that Your compassion, O LORD,
and Your love are from of old.
In Your kindness remember me,
because of Your goodness, O LORD.

Lord, I have sinned; in Your love, heal me. Do not abandon me in my misery and weakness, but look on me with love, draw me close to You, give me a repentant heart, and forgive me. Lord, You are merciful, kind, gentle, compassionate, and all good. I praise You for Who You are. Help me to become like You as You heal me and lift me up to You.

Good and upright is the LORD,
thus He shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
and He teaches the humble His way.

Make me humble, Lord. Squash my pride and self-reliance, for I can do nothing on my own. All that I have and all that I am comes from You. You guide those who are humble, those with open hearts, those who know that they must rely on You for everything good. Please give me the grace to open my heart to You, to follow the way You have chosen for me, and to grow in love, compassion, and understanding as I seek to imitate You. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Lumen Gentium - Part 1

The Catholic Church is a mystery in history. She is also probably the most misunderstood institution in the world, for many people examine only her history and neglect her mystery. On November 21, 1964, the Vatican II Fathers promulgated Lumen Gentium or the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church to present the truth of the Catholic Church, in all her splendor and complexity, to the modern world. Because this document is so long and so rich, I will summarize it in three parts.

Here's a sampling of the ideas and topics you'll find in the first three chapters of Lumen Gentium.

Chapter I: The Mystery of the Church

* The Church is a sacrament, a sign and instrument of unity with God and among men. The light of Christ shines visibly through the Church.

* God prepared for the Church in the Old Testament when He called the people of Israel to be His own. The Church was established by Jesus and made manifest in the Holy Spirit. She will reach her fulfillment at the end of time.

* The Church is the family of God and the Kingdom of Heaven “already present in mystery.” She originated from the blood and water that flowed from the side of Jesus as He hung dead on the cross.

* At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the infant Church. The Spirit sanctifies the Church so that her members may have access to God. The Spirit indwells the Church to guide her, unify her, bestow gifts upon her, direct her, and adorn her with His fruits. The Spirit, as the soul of the Church, leads the Church into the perfect unity with God that springs from the unity of the Trinity.

* Jesus founded the Church in His words, in His works, and in His very Person. The Church's mission is to proclaim the Kingdom of God to all people and establish the Kingdom throughout the world.

* There are numerous images and symbols of the Church that help make her known. These include a sheepfold, the gate to which is Christ; a cultivated field; the building of God; the temple; the new Jerusalem; our mother; the spotless bride of Christ; a pilgrim; and the Body of Christ.

* The Church communicates the life of Christ to those who have faith and are united to Christ through the sacraments. The members of the Church are also intimately united with each other.

* The Church is a body with “a diversity of members and functions” but only one Spirit, Who gives the Body unity.

* Christ is the Head of the body, which He forms in His likeness. The Church shares in Christ's suffering that she may be gloried with Him. Christ fills the Church, His bride, with divine gifts that she may attain fullness.

* The Church is both visible and invisible, human and divine, in imitation of the Incarnate Word of God. The visible, earthly structure of the Church serves her invisible, heavenly nature.

* The Catholic Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and the Church that Jesus founded subsists, or stands firm, in the Catholic Church, which is led by the pope and bishops, who are successors of Peter and the apostles.

* The Church experiences poverty, oppression, and trials in union with Christ. She reaches out with love to those who suffer. Because her members are sinners, she always walks “the path of penance and renewal” even those she herself is holy and pure.

Chapter II: The People of God

* God made a people for Himself. In the old covenant, that people was Israel; in the new covenant, it is the Church, which is made up of baptized believers and is the new People of God.

* The Church is a messianic people. She was established by Christ “as a communion of life, love, and truth.” She is a light to the world and Christ's instrument of salvation. The Church has entered into human history but also transcends all times and boundaries.

* The Holy Spirit continually renews the Church. She relies on God's grace in all her trials.

* The baptized share in the priesthood of Christ. They offer themselves and their spiritual sacrifices to God and bear witness to Christ.

* The sacraments strengthen the faithful, immerse them in God's grace, and help them on their path to sanctity.

* The people of God also share in the prophetic office of Christ, as they witness to Him by their lives of faith and love. Through the sensus fidei, the entire body of the faithful manifests “a universal consent in matters of faith and morals” under the guidance of the Spirit. The faithful are obliged to hear and obey the Word of God given through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and interpreted by the Magisterium.

* The Blessed Trinity is the source of all the gifts given to the Church and her members. These gifts must be used to renew and build up the Church.

* All people are called to belong to the Church, which is unified by the Holy Spirit.

* The Church is universal. Her members exist in unity even in their diversity of roles and duties. The faithful share in a community of “spiritual riches, apostolic workers and temporal resources,” and they must be good stewards of God's grace that with their common effort they may grow in holiness and contribute to the good of the whole Church.

* The Church is necessary for salvation.

* Those who are fully incorporated into the Catholic Church are joined to the Church's visible structure and share a common faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance. These “children of the Church” must remember that they live in an “exalted condition” in the fullness of the faith by the grace of God.

* Other Christians who are baptized but not in full communion with the Catholic Church are still joined to the Church in many ways. Elements of salvation may be found outside of the visible confines of the Church, but these elements are ordered to unity and designed to draw people into full communion with the Catholic Church.

* God wills that all people be saved, and His mercy works in mysterious ways to draw people to Himself.

* The Church is obliged to spread the Gospel everywhere and cooperate in God's plan to save the whole world.

Chapter III: The Church is Hierarchical

* Jesus Christ founded the Church and established a hierarchy to shepherd His people and guide them to salvation.

* The pope is the successor of Peter, and the bishops are successors of the apostles. The pope is the “lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of community.”

* The pope and bishops act in the Person and power of Christ to preach the Gospel, govern the Church, and sanctify and guide the faithful. The apostolic succession and divine mission of the hierarchy will last until the end of time that the Gospel may spread throughout the world.

* The bishops receive the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders. United with each other, they form a “unique apostolic college” with the pope as their head.

* As the Vicar of Christ, the pope serves as “pastor of the entire Church” and holds “full, supreme and universal power” over the Church. He is the “visible source and foundation of unity” for the bishops and the faithful, and guided by the Holy Spirit, he speaks infallibly when he “proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.”

* The body of bishops, especially when they are gathered into an ecumenical council under the leadership of the pope, may also speak infallibly about faith and morals.

* The faithful must submit to the pope and bishops in “matters of faith and morals” and obey them with “a ready and respectful allegiance of mind.”

* Bishops must care for the faithful entrusted to them with great love as they teach, govern, and sanctify.

* Priests cooperate with the bishops in preaching the Gospel, shepherding the faithful, and celebrating divine worship. Priests work to build up the Body of Christ and bear witness to the truth in love.

* Deacons serve the faithful and assist the bishops and priests by “works of charity and functions of administration.”

The full text of Lumen Gentium is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus Christ – God's “Yes”

Today's Second Reading from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 1, verses 18-22, tells us that Jesus is God's “Yes.” But what does this really mean?

Jesus is the “Yes” to God's promises.

What exactly has God promised?

In the Old Testament, God promised a Messiah, a Redeemer, a Savior who would deliver His people from their enemies, save them from their sins, and establish a new covenant by which the law would be written on their hearts. He promised to pour forth His Spirit onto the Israelite people and to lead them to a new Jerusalem of peace, prosperity, and abundance. Further, He promised to draw all the nations of the world into a relationship with Him and teach them how to worship Him properly. In other words, God promised to deepen and broaden His intimacy with all people and to give them a share in His divine life.

St. Augustine sums up God's wonderful promises:

“He promised eternal salvation, everlasting happiness with the angels, an immortal inheritance, endless glory, the joyful vision of His face, His holy dwelling in heaven, and after resurrection from the dead no further fear of dying. This is as it were His final promise, the goal of all our striving. When we reach it, we shall ask for nothing more. But as to the way in which we are to arrive at our final goal, He has revealed this also, by promise and prophecy. He has promised men divinity, mortals immortality, sinners justification, the poor a rising to glory.

“But, brethren, because God’s promises seemed impossible to men – equality with the angels in exchange for mortality, corruption, poverty, weakness, dust and ashes – God not only made a written contract with men, to win their belief but also established a mediator of His good faith, not a prince or angel or archangel, but His only Son. He wanted, through His Son, to show us and give us the way He would lead us to the goal He has promised.”

Spend some time reflecting on how Jesus has fulfilled all of God's promises.

Jesus is God's “Yes” to all our deepest human needs.

What do human beings really need the most? 1. Love; 2. Salvation, forgiveness, and acceptance; 3. A personal, intimate relationship with God; 4. Truth, beauty, and goodness

Meditate on how Jesus provides all of these and so much more.

Jesus is God's “Yes” to all your personal needs.

What do you need most in your life?

Think about the ways in which Jesus is God's “Yes” to your personal needs.

We must say “yes” back to God through Jesus Christ.

As today's reading explains, “...the Amen from us also goes through Him [Jesus] to God for glory.” “Amen” essentially means “yes” or “so be it.”

How are you saying yes to God? Are you saying no to God in any way? How might you change that no to a yes?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Inter Mirifica

In these days of information overload, image bombardment, and ever-present social media, Catholics and non-Catholics alike can quickly become overwhelmed, distracted, offended, and even exhausted by the massive amounts of data thrown at them everyday. In Inter Mirifica or Decree on the Means of Social Communication, the Vatican II Fathers offer important insights and instruction on the proper use of the “means of social communication,” including the press, movies, radio, and television. The principles of the document can easily extend to the Internet, smart phone applications, and other modern channels of communication.

Here's a sampling of the topics and ideas you'll find in Inter Mirifica.


* With God's help, human beings have created wonders in technology and many “new avenues of easy communication” that reach a global audience and affect “the whole of human society.”

* These means of social communication can benefit humankind greatly if they are used properly. They can enrich humanity and spread the Kingdom of God.

* These means of social communication can also be misused and cause great harm to humanity.

Chapter 1

* The Church has the right and responsibility to use the means of social communication to spread the Gospel.

* The Church also has the right and responsibility to educate people on the proper use of the means of social communication.

* Lay people in the Church have the special task of animating these media “with a Christian and human spirit.”

* In order to use media correctly, Catholics must know the absolute moral principles and “apply them faithfully in this domain.” Catholics must carefully consider the subject matter of the media and the circumstances and manner in which it is used.

* The Church reaffirms people's right to information, which must contribute to the common good. The distribution and use of information must be governed by the moral law and concern for the “legitimate rights and dignity of man.”

* With regard to works of art, “all must accept the absolute primacy of the objective moral order.” Art has power to harmonize human activity and raise people's minds to God.

* Moral laws must be observed when moral evil is depicted.

* Public opinion must be formed according to “the demands of justice and charity.”

* People who are receivers of the means of social communication must select media in accord with the moral law. All people must properly form their consciences in order to “more readily resist less wholesome influences and profit more fully from the good.”

* Parents must teach their children the proper use of media and instill “moderation and discipline” in them.

* Those who create and transmit media must recognize the influence they have and work according to the moral law.

* Civil authorities are responsible for promoting and protecting the common good and social morality and must regulate media accordingly.

Chapter II

* Every member of the Church must strive to use the means of social communication to promote the Church's mission. Every member must also work against media that is morally harmful.

* Catholic newspapers ought to be founded and fostered so that the faithful may be better able to analyze current events from a Catholic viewpoint.

* Movies, radio and television programs, and theater productions should promote family values and moral entertainment.

* Priests, religious, and laypeople all need to be trained in the proper production and use of media.

* Catholics must support Catholic media that they may help spread and defend the truth and permeate society with Christian values.

* Proper authorities must be established to regulate Catholic media and oversee the formation for all Catholics in using media.


* The means of social communication must be used only for “the good of humanity.” They have great potential to “add savor to the earth and light to the world” if they are employed to glorify the Lord.

The full text of Inter Mirifica is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Details

Let's take a few minutes to revisit this week's Gospel (Mark 1:40-45) and notice a few interesting details.

The Leper

Because of his apparently-contagious skin disease, the leper was an outcast from the Jewish community. Today's First Reading from Leviticus 13 explains that anyone with leprosy was considered “unclean.” Like all lepers, the sick man in today's Gospel had to dwell apart from society, tear his garments, keep his head bare, and warn everyone he met of his outcast status by crying “Unclean!” He had no access to Jewish religious rites and probably felt abandoned by God in the midst of his physical and emotional suffering. Further, his fellows Jews tended to view leprosy as a punishment from God, and they probably figured that this man must have been some great sinner to have contracted this horrible disease.

The Leper's Risk

The leper knew that he was not supposed to approach Jesus. He was breaking Jewish law by coming anywhere close to Him. Yet he took the risk. Why? He must have have heard about Jesus and about the healing He had bestowed on so many sick people. He must have hoped that maybe, just maybe, Jesus could heal him, too. It was enough to take the chance, even if he was risking rejection and punishment. He knelt down before Jesus and begged Him, “If You wish, You can make me clean.”

Pay close attention to these words. The leper made a statement of fact. He didn't say, “Can You make me clean?” or “Perhaps You can make me clean.” He didn't even use the imperative request “Please make me clean!” He simply stated a fact: “Jesus, if You want to, You can make me clean.” The leper had faith that Jesus could could heal him, but he left the choice to Jesus. He simply placed himself before Him and surrendered himself to His will.

The Miracle

Jesus didn't reject the leper. He was moved with pity for him. The Greek word translated as “pity” here connotates compassion, a suffering with someone else. Jesus felt the leper's pain deeply. He understood his fear and suffering, and He reached out and touched him. This gesture revealed Jesus' great love for the man. H could have healed him without touching him, but He chose to share even more deeply in the leper's condition. In fact, touching the leper technically made Jesus unclean, too.

As Jesus touched the leper, He said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leper was made clean.

Jesus then gave the former leper some strict instructions. Don't tell anyone about this, He commanded, but go show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifice Moses prescribed. This would confirm the healing and readmit the man into his proper position in Jewish society.

The Consequences

The now-clean man disobeyed Jesus and spread the word of his healing everywhere. Why? He was certainly not being malicious. He just couldn't keep this great event to himself. He let his feelings, his joy, take hold of him. He wanted to praise God for the wonderful thing that had happened to him. He just couldn't help it; he was so happy. His discretion seemed to have left him along with his leprosy, but we can't blame him too much. He had just been cured, and he wanted everyone to know about it. Further, he wanted everyone else who was sick to experience the same healing he had received.

The man's actions had consequences for Jesus, however. He could no longer go openly into cities and towns, for He was drawing huge crowds, crowds that would make civil officials nervous and suspicious of a possible political uprising. So He remained in deserted places, and the crowds came to Him, seeking healing and wholeness. And the deserted places became fruitful.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Sacrosanctum Concilium

As the first document of Vatican II, promulgated on December 4, 1963, Sacrosanctum Concilium, or The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, sets the stage for the entire council by listing (in its very first paragraph) the four goals of the council. The document then goes on to discuss the nature of the sacred liturgy; offer suggestions for liturgical reform; and describe the riches of the Eucharistic mystery, the other sacraments, the Divine Office, the liturgical year, sacred music, and sacred art.

Here's a sampling of the topics and ideas you'll find in each section of Sacrosanctum Concilium:


* The four goals of Vatican II are: 1. to increase the vigor of Christian life among the faithful; 2. to adapt to the needs of the modern world, at least in those institutions and traditions within the Church that are able to change; 3. to promote union among Christians; and 4. to call all people into the Church.

* The power of the liturgy enables the faithful to live the mystery of Christ, manifest the true nature of the Church, become temples of the Lord, and present Christ to the world.

* The Church is both human and divine, visible and invisible, active and contemplative.

Chapter 1: General Principles for the Restoration and Promotion of the Sacred Liturgy

* Jesus Christ is the source of the sacred liturgy.

* Jesus willed that His great work of salvation should continue through the sacraments, and since Jesus' Resurrection, the Church has celebrated the paschal mystery in sacred liturgy.

* Jesus is present in the sacrifice of the Mass in many ways and especially in the Eucharist.

* The liturgy is the public worship of the Church. It uses signs that are perceptible to human senses and is performed by the entire Mystical Body of Christ, both Head and members.

* The sacred liturgy allows us to experience the heavenly liturgy on earth.

* Faith and conversion are prerequisites to the celebration of the liturgy, which in turn helps Christians shine like lights in the world.

* The liturgy is the summit of the Church's activity and the fount of power and grace.

* The faithful must come to the liturgy with the proper dispositions. They must strive to be fully, actively, and consciously engaged in the liturgical celebration, participating both internally and externally in the sacred rites. The liturgy then pours over into their private prayer and into every aspect of their lives.

* Both clergy and laity must be instructed in the nature and practice of the liturgy.

* Some parts of the liturgy have been instituted by God and are unchangeable; others may and should change to meet the needs of modern world. Changes should not be made simply for the sake of change but for the good of the Church and in continuity with past and current practices.

* If the faithful are to participate fully, actively, and consciously in the liturgy, its texts and rites must be clear and understandable. The connection between words and rites must be easy to grasp. Latin should be retained, but the vernacular may be used in some parts of the liturgy.

* Scripture must take a central place in sacred liturgy.

* The liturgy is a communal event. Each member of the Church must perform his or her own role in the liturgy with reverence and decorum.

* God speaks to His people in the liturgy, instructing them, nourishing them, raising their minds to Him, and guiding them to proper worship.

* All reformations of the sacred liturgy must be carried out by the proper authorities, all of whom answer to the Apostolic See.

Chapter 2: The Most Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist

* The Eucharist perpetuates the sacrifice of the Cross. It is a sacred mystery in which the faithful are truly nourished by Jesus' Body and Blood.

* At every Mass, the lay faithful join the priest in offering the Divine Victim, and in doing so, they must offer themselves also that they might enter into a more perfect communion with God and each other.

* The “treasures of the Bible” must be lavishly poured out at ever Mass, and the faithful must realize that the Liturgy of the World and the Liturgy of the Eucharist form a single, united act of worship.

Chapter 3: The Other Sacraments and the Sacramentals

* The sacraments sanctify human beings, build up the Church, offer worship to God, instruct and nourish the faithful, and confer grace.

* The sacraments sanctify nearly every event in the lives of the faithful as divine grace flows from the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

* The rites of the sacraments must be updated so that the faithful clearly understand their signs and effects.

Chapter 4: The Divine Office

* The Divine Office, or Liturgy of the Hours, is the public prayer of the whole Church, both Head and members. It offers praise to God, intercedes for the entire world, and sanctifies each day.

* Those who pray the Divine Office, whether they are clergy, religious, or laity, must do so with attention and devotion. They must seek to understand what they are praying and to allow the Divine Office to nourish their piety and personal prayer.

Chapter 5: The Liturgical Year

* The Church unfolds the entire mystery of Christ throughout the liturgical year in order to allow the faithful to receive the riches of Christ and to make present His saving work.

* The Church honors the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints by celebrating their feast days and acknowledging their merits, examples, intercession, and love.

* Sunday is “the original feast day” that commemorates Jesus' Resurrection. The faithful are bound to gather together on Sundays to listen to the Scriptures, take part in the Eucharistic celebration, and give thanks and praise to God.

* Lent is a time of special penance and fasting that helps the faithful repent of their sins and lift their minds to God.

Chapter 6: Sacred Music

* Sacred music is a “treasure of inestimable value” that gives glory to God and helps sanctify the faithful. It also enhances prayer and contributes to the solemnity of the sacred liturgy. This treasure must be “preserved and cultivated with great care.”

* The faithful should actively participate in sacred music during the liturgy. Gregorian chant retains “pride of place” in the liturgy, but other kinds of sacred music are allowed and encouraged.

Chapter 7: Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings

* Sacred art expresses the beauty of God in a way people can experience and understand. In doing so, it raise people's minds to God and gives Him praise and glory.

* Works of sacred art must be protected and cultivated so that they may be “worthy, becoming, and beautiful signs and symbols of things supernatural.”

The full text of Sacrosanctum Concilium is available online on the Vatican website.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Healing Power of God

Have you ever noticed how the Mass readings, especially the First Reading and the Gospel, fit together? They often emphasize similar themes or illustrate the same points. Today's readings are no exception; the First Reading, Psalm, and Gospel all explore the important themes of human suffering and God's healing touch. Let's take a closer look.

Today's First Reading, Job 7:1-4, 6-7, lays bare the depths of human pain and suffering. Everything in Job's life is going wrong. He has lost his family, his flocks, and even his good health. By the time we meet him in this reading, he is sitting in the ashes, covered head to foot in boils and absolutely miserable. Naturally, Job laments. Human life is all drudgery and slavery, he whines. People get no reward for their goodness and hard work. He complains of months of misery, sleepless nights, and days without hope or happiness. He even goes so far as to declare that he will never be happy again.

This is a pretty depressing reading, actually. We might even be a little glad when the lector proclaims, “The Word of the Lord.” But the tone changes as we begin the Psalm.

Psalm 147 is a song of praise. “Praise the Lord!” the psalmist exclaims. Why? God is good! He is gracious! He rebuilds Israel and gathers His people together. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. The powerful and wise God knows all the stars and calls each one by its name, which implies that He also knows each and every one of us and calls each of us by our name. He sustains the lowly and protects them from the wicked.

In other words, God is the answer to the human suffering that Job laments so emphatically. When we are broken and helpless, God comes to our aid and heals us. When we are miserable and hopeless, He lifts us up and fills us with His love. When we can't find meaning in the circumstances of our lives, we can always find meaning in Him. The Psalm becomes a faith-filled, hope-filled response to the First Reading. We may suffer, but we always have Someone to turn to in our pain, Someone Who will always help us.

The Gospel shows us God's consoling and healing power in action. When Jesus enters the house of Simon and Andrew, He finds Simon's mother-in-law sick with a fever. He doesn't hesitate. The instant He discovers her illness, He approaches her, grasps her hands, and helps her up. The fever leaves her immediately, and she responds with grateful service.

Word spreads quickly about this miraculous healing, and people line up on Simon's doorstep, bringing those who are sick and those possessed by evil spirits. Like Job, many of them probably feel helpless and hopeless. They are all seeking healing, wholeness, meaning, and an end to their misery.

And they find it. Jesus heals every one of them. He doesn't stop there. After a period of prayer, of deep intimacy between Jesus and His Father, Jesus moves on to nearby villages where He continues to heal all those who come to Him. His ministry spreads throughout the whole of Galilee.

In the Gospel, then, we get a close-up view of God's healing power, of His response to human suffering and misery. We receive much-needed reassurance that God loves us, cares for us, heals us, and brings us into an intimate relationship with Him.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Vatican II: The Holy Spirit's Gift to the Modern Church

The Holy Spirit often works in surprising ways. He certainly caught Catholic Church leaders off guard when, on January 25, 1959, He inspired Pope John XXIII to announce his intention to convene an ecumenical council. The Pope had been elected only three months before, but he was willing to allow the Spirit to use him to bestow great gifts on the modern Church.

Pope John officially summoned the council on Christmas Day, 1961, with the Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis. The Holy Father often said that the time had come to bring the Church “up-to-date” and to “open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air.” Now, this did not mean that the Council would, or could, change the Church's age-old teachings. The Council's task was, rather, to make those teachings more accessible and understandable to the modern world. The Pope also expected the Council to promote unity between all Christians; examine the Church's position in and responsibility toward the world; and help the Church better recognize and respond to the world's concerns and needs. He prayed that the Council would be a new Pentecost and that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church through a fruitful period of renewal.

Many bishops were less than enthusiastic about the Council. They figured they would just be restating, yet again, traditional theological formulas and issuing, yet again, warnings to the modern world. The Pope urged the bishops to move beyond this narrow view and take a more optimistic stance toward the Council. They ought to see it as an opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to work through them, he encouraged. They were in a unique position to restate the Church's doctrine in fresh, new words that would express the truth in a way that modern people would find meaningful and clear.

Ultimately, the bishops proved themselves up for the challenge. Over the course of four years, from 1962 through 1965, they produced sixteen remarkable documents that do indeed present the depths and riches of the Catholic faith by using up-to-date, understandable language; including dozens, even hundreds, of references to the Scriptures, the saints, and previous councils; and drawing from both pastoral experience and the insights of theologians and scholars. The Holy Spirit was truly at work, guiding the bishops as they discussed, debated, researched, wrote, and finally bestowed a great gift upon the Church and the world, namely, the documents of Vatican II.

Sadly, most Catholics have refused to accept this gift, for they have not read and studied the documents of Vatican II. Moreover, since they have not taken the time to delve into the riches these documents have to offer, they are often mislead by popular but faulty interpretations.

All Catholics need the documents of Vatican II for themselves. The Holy Spirit is holding out an invitation: “Come! Read! Learn the truth about God, about the Church, about the world, about yourselves.” These documents are readily available on the Internet. They are not overly difficult to read, nor are they dry or boring. In fact, they offer plenty of opportunities for prayer and meditation along with vital facts that every Catholic needs to know.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting introductions to each of the Vatican II documents. Each introduction will provide an overview of the document, an outline of the topics and ideas found therein, and a few tantalizing quotations to whet the appetite and encourage further exploration.

The Holy Spirit often works in surprising ways. He speaks through the documents of Vatican II, which are His great gift to the modern Church. Catholics need to open their hearts and listen.

Sources: The Compact History of the Catholic Church by Alan Schreck and “Second Vatican Council” at Wikipedia (