Happy 50th anniversary, Second Vatican Council. What a 50 years it has been… and I’ve only been alive for half of them!
I am truly a daughter of Vatican II. My parents were born in the years that the council took place and the “spirit” had definitely sunk in by the time I experienced Catechesis. I’m embarrassed to admit many of the ways in which I absorbed the spirit of the council in my young adulthood. By the time I was 21, I was pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-contraception and what I thought… still Catholic. I had adopted the same pride which overcame many of those who had informed my faith; pride in the power to determine which Church teachings right, wrong, or negotiable.
Although I had been a “practicing” Catholic my whole life, attending Mass every Sunday, saying grace before meals and the like, I didn’t become familiar with the term “Vatican II” until about 3 years ago and only recently have I come to recognize the “spirit,” which both tainted and sprang up from this council, as the foundation which so poorly misshaped my young Catholicity.
Last year, I became close with a group of young people that were just like I once was – the poster children of Vatican II. Through a ‘catholic’ young adult service program, in which I lived in community with other 20-something cradle ‘catholics,’ my eyes were truly opened to what happened to the hearts of the faithful after we “threw open the windows of the Church.”
A particular moment in that year was especially poignant. We spent one of our weekly community nights at a place (which proved to be a hotbed of heresy) called the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. We listened to a speaker, Carmen Nanko-Fernández, who spoke about multiculturalism in the Church. One of my housemates asked “If God ‘celebrates diversity’ [as Carmen had spoken to], what about diversity in faith? Does He ‘celebrate’ a variety of religions?” You can guess her answer… “Heck yes, He does!” My relativist ‘catholic’ companions rejoiced in her response.
My hand flew up, defying my sheepish inability to defend the faith on most occasions, and I asked her, “So, as a Catholic, you don’t believe that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church holds the most authentic Truth about God that we can come to know as humble creatures?” Nope. She said choosing a religion was “like deciding whether to go to Loyola University or the Catholic Theological Union – one may be right for one person, while the other is best for someone else.” There was that “spirit” of tolerant, nonjudgmental openness that our open windows let in!
Throughout that year, I experienced countless battles with this Vatican II “spirit” that lingered in our program and community, from Buddhist prayers in the name of ecumenism to reflections on whether the Holy Spirit was a woman. This “pick and choose what teachings make sense to me” mentality, born out of this wonky, “anything goes” spirit, has truly become a new form of protestantism within the Catholic Church.
The mission of the Second Vatican Council was to renew and revitalize the Church by reforming structures that needed updating and to unify the Christian community. In his opening speech, Blessed Pope John XXIII iterated that the bishops’ first need was “to assert once again the Magisterium, which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time,” and that their principle duty was to defend and advance the truth. So what went wrong that turned Vatican II into a springboard for so much heterodoxy?
Many voices which shaped the council had different expectations and desires for how the Church would execute such renewal. Many were concerned about conserving several aspects of the Church under scrutiny, such as Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani who headed what is now the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. His microphone was shut off as he spoke on the third day of the council, which earned the laughter and cheers of other bishops. This lack of respect and dissent demonstrated by those whose responsibility it was to shepherd the laity undoubtedly influenced the way their Catholic flock would demonstrate similar dissent in the decades to come. Combined with reforms which brought more changes to the Church in a shorter period than seen in almost 500 years, a crisis was born.
A crisis which has led more Catholics to leave the Church than to join the faith. Where are the multitudes we anticipated? Mass attendance has dropped dramatically, thousands of churches have closed, and vocations have dwindled in America, among many other countries. As children of Vatican II, we have wandered as lost sheep without the guidance of those tasked with leading us in the faith. And so it is that persons like Carmen Nanko-Fernández have been misguided, and how impressionable youth who take her words to heart will continue being led astray.
Vatican II was a pastoral council, concerned with connecting the Church with the modern world. We must recognize the ways in which our bishops and priests, and how we too, have failed to accomplish this objective.
The “spirit” of Vatican II has failed to make the challenge of our faith clear. We “threw open the windows of the Church” to share Christ with the world, but instead we let the world into our faith – a world which screams for tolerance, rejects authority, and prioritizes self-pleasure. These secularized, culture-driven tragedies have done nothing and continue to do nothing except negotiate the Truth. They are pride in disguise; a refusal to be humble in receiving the gift God has offered in the Magisterium and in a Church which Christ promised would prevail against Hell.
First as sons and daughters of Christ, second as children of Vatican II, we must be brave in fulfilling the authentic mission of the council. On this anniversary year, we should challenge ourselves to vindicate the hopeful intentions of Blessed Pope John XXIII and go out into the world to live, share and spread the gospel of Christ.
“To live without faith, without a heritage to defend, without battling constantly for truth,
is not to live, but to ‘get along;’ we must never just ‘get along.'”
Blessed Pier Giorgio