On 11 October 2012 – our Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. It would be a great pity if such an anniversary were to pass us by without comment or reflection on why the Council was convened, and what it achieved.
The Second Vatican Council was a huge event in Catholic life. Many have referred to it over the decades as a tsunami. It certainly was, in the sense that it changed and altered Catholic life in a dramatic way.
Pope John XXIII (now Blessed John XXIII) the initiator of the Council, preferred to call the Council “a new Pentecost”. It was his dearest hope that the Council would be a new springtime in the life of the Church. The Council was presided over by two outstanding Church leaders- Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. John had been pope for less than ninety days when, even to the surprise of those closest to him, he called the Church into Council. The last General Council of the Church had been held in 1870. Pope John realised that the world of the sixties was indeed a very different world.
Let us dwell for a few moments on Pope John because he was by all accounts an extraordinary person. John XIII enjoyed a short pontificate, and his decision to call a Council was responsible for initiating a period of change in our Church that continues to this day.
Whatever author you read in regard to Pope John, he was obviously a man who trusted deeply in God. He was a charismatic man, a man of simplicity and humour and shrewd wisdom. His only wish was to draw people to God. He continually reached out to all – both those within the Church and beyond, with a message of peace, renewal and reconciliation. His vision was to bring the Church back to the gospel of Jesus Christ As one author puts it … “he was that rare phenomenon; a charistmatic Christian in a hierarchical position.” What he did, was what he was! John XXIII knew the inevitability of change & development. He was an historian by training, and history had taught him - as it can teach us - that nothing is unalterable. Pope John’s profound faith in God, his great love for the Church and for all humanity, together with his historical perspective, led him to change the course of the Catholic Church irreversibly. Good Pope John - as he was affectionately known and is still called - desired that his Council would have wide aspirations and that it would be pastoral. It would not be a Council that condemned. John saw himself essentially as a pastor, as a shepherd, who wanted to bring everyone with his embrace.
To be continued.......
Material compiled by Monsignor Paul Farmer of the Auckland Diocese