Archive for the Vatican II Category

Thomas Aquinas: Patron Saint of (so-called) Heretics

Posted in Theologians That Rock, Uncategorized, Vatican II with tags , , , , , on January 28, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

stthomas2Today is usually a pretty big deal for students of theology. When I was doing some philosophy studies as a Franciscan postulant, the seminary where my classes were held was closed on this feast day. Thomas Aquinas, who today is remembered for his genius, theological acumen, and universal orthodoxy, wasn’t always received with such illustrious acclaim. Those familiar with the contentious debates about the place of theology among other arts and sciences during the early years of the nascent University of Paris will know well that Thomas was essentially “silenced” and viewed as a suspect theologian within three years of his life.

The angelic doctor died in 1274 and by 1277 the Parisian Condemnations, round two, which focused mainly on Aristotelian postulates and other increasingly influential ideas, focused on twenty of the angelic doctor’s doctrines and indirectly targeted a number of Thomas’s other ideas, essentially condemning his method in the process (the correlative engagement of the theological tradition with the metaphysical and epistemological work of Aristotle and his arabic commentators). In fact, for a time even the Dominican Order forbade his work from being read — my, how times have changed! It was thanks to a number of later Dominicans and other theologians seeking to highlight the genuine and important insights of Thomas that eventually led to his acceptance and canonization.

While this is simply a quick snapshot of the complicated beginnings of Thomistic theology — there are plenty of books and articles about these matters if you’d like to learn more — I mention it with good reason today.

I’m frequently amazed by the ironic embrace of Thomas Aquinas by some theologians and other Christians who see him as the bastion of orthodoxy and the intellectual center of the authentic vita evangelica. I actually don’t dispute this, for I believe he was both an intellectual giant, rightly deserving the title “Doctor of the Church” alongside Bonaventure and Augustine, and a holy individual. However, quickly do many of these same people forget the troubled past of this man from Aquino County in modern-day Italy. Similarly, many of those who hail Thomas as the icon of methodological orthopraxis and theological orthodoxy conveniently forget to recall his term served, largely posthumously, as a heretic.

Thomas engaged the “modern” philosophy and sciences of his day, arguing by means of his theological method that such insight — “pagan” though it was — was nevertheless a bearer of truth that could helpfully inform the Christian theological enterprise.

How many people today are viewed, judged, and written off as “heretical” or “unorthodox” theologians because of their own contemporary following in the footprints of Thomas Aquinas?

There are the big names, particularly those pre-conciliar theologians who were suspect or condemned and then called upon for guidance during Vatican II. But there are also many others, including women and men today, who are similarly dismissed or viewed with askance glances of doubt and suspicion.

Last fall I was talking with a gentleman who, interestingly enough, was a former student of René Girard. An intelligent and faithful man, our conversation stumbled into so-called “postmodern philosophy,” particularly the contemporary continental schools of thought tied to thinkers like Foucault and Derrida. When I expressed my appreciation for their insights, noting too that I was less amiable to certain aspects of each thinker’s work, and that I believed each had something to contribute to Christian theology, he was taken aback. These men were “atheists,” “nonbelievers,” “hostile to religion,” etc. etc., which was simply a modern way to talk about how Aristotle and the Muslim Aristotelians Thomas Aquinas drew insights were viewed by many in the thirteenth century!

The Second Vatican Council affirmed that truth is found in many places, traditions, cultures, and faiths. And that we should be open to these insights, particularly as they are beneficial in our quest to know the living God through the Spirit that continues to move in our world and intellectual history.

On this feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, may we remember that so-called heresy not pertaining to direct refutation of creedal dogmas is generally in the eyes of the beholder. Don’t rule out the possibility that we can indeed learn from others and remember that theology is not simply a repetition of catechetics or the reinvention of the wheel-of-faith. The practice of theology, as demonstrated by Thomas, is a faithful journey into understanding better who God is and who we are.

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Latest America Magazine Column: Against Clericalism

Posted in America Magazine, Uncategorized, Vatican II with tags , , on October 14, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

priestIt has been really interesting to see the immediate and personal response from a whole spectrum of people to my latest America magazine column: “Lead Us Not Into Clericalism.” There have been a handful of comments on the America website itself, but there have also been a huge number of responses online — especially in the world of Facebook (take Fr. James Martin SJ’s public Facebook page for example). Additionally several blogs over at Patheos (Deacon’s Bench and Fr. Michael Duffy) have offered responses or tracked some of the comments. Here is the column, for those who haven’t seen it yet. Another interesting thing to note is that this has only been published online for three days, the print issue still doesn’t come out for more than a week.

Next month I turn 30. While that might seem like an old age to me as I approach the milestone, most people are quick to remind me of how young a friar and priest I still am. That statement of fact is often, but not always, accompanied by some well-meaning remark by a parishioner after Mass or an audience member after a talk suggesting that I’m not like other “young priests” they know.

What generally follows that sort of comment is an expression of concern about the perceived unapproachable or pretentious character of so many of the newly ordained. They appear to be more concerned about titles, clerical attire, fancy vestments, distance between themselves and their parishioners, and they focus more on what makes them distinctive than on their vocation to wash the feet of others (Jn 13:14–17), to lead with humility and to show the compassionate face of God to all.

What concerns people, in other words, is clericalism.

What I hear in these moments is not so much a compliment or praise for me as the worry people have for the future of ministry. As St. Francis cautioned his brothers, I realize that anything good that comes from my encounters in ministry is God’s work, and the only things I can truly take “credit” for are my weaknesses and sinfulness (Admonition V). And, trust me, there are plenty of both in my own life. At the heart of this encounter is the intuitive recognition that we are all sinners, yet we all have equal dignity as the baptized, and that those ordained to the ministerial priesthood should serve their sisters and brothers on our journey of faith.

While I know many good and humble religious and diocesan priests, I’ve encountered far too many clergy who, for whatever reason, feel they are above, better or more special than others. Pope Francis also recognizes this and spoke critically about it in the impromptu interview he gave during his return trip from World Youth Day.

Catholic News Service reported the pope’s words: “I think this is a time for mercy,” particularly a time when the church must go out of its way to be merciful, given the “not-so-beautiful witness of some priests” and “the problem of clericalism, for example, which have left so many wounds, so many wounded. The church, which is mother, must go and heal those wounds.”

Pope Francis names this the culture of clericalism, which maims and distorts the body of Christ, wounding those who seek God’s mercy but instead encounter human self-centeredness.

In an interview published in America (9/30), Pope Francis suggested ministers could help heal these wounds with mercy. He said: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.”

St. Francis of Assisi is often remembered for having had a special reverence for priests, a characteristic that appears frequently in his writings. But he also had a particular vision for how the brothers in his community, ordained or not, would live in the world. His instruction seems as timely as ever in light of the persistence of clericalism.

In his Earlier Rule St. Francis says, “Let no one be called ‘prior,’ but let everyone in general be called a lesser brother.” He also wrote in Admonition XIX:

Blessed is the servant who does not consider himself any better when he is praised and exalted by people than when he is considered worthless, simple, and looked down upon, for what a person is before God, that he is and no more. Woe to that religious who has been placed in a high position by others and [who] does not want to come down by his own will. Blessed is that servant who is not placed in a high position by his own will and always desired to be under the feet of others.

All members of the clergy, not just Franciscans, should be challenged by these words.

Eight months into Pope Francis’ pontificate, I sense that he is challenging the whole church, but especially its ordained members, to a similar way of living. His call for humbler and more generous priests is a call to work against a culture of clericalism. It is a call for priests and bishops, young and old, to remember that their baptism is what matters most.

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books, including the forthcoming The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering.

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Liberation Theology, Pope Francis, and Good News for the Church

Posted in Pope Francis, Social Justice, Vatican II with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

479_Muller-3-01This is something you don’t see everyday: Good news coming from the sitting Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). According to a Religion News Service report this is exactly what we’re getting these days!

Francis, who has called for “a poor church for the poor,” will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology.

The meeting was announced on Sunday (Sept. 8) by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, during the launch of a book he co-authored with Gutierrez.

The current Prefect of the CDF, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, a prelate and theologian appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI, who himself had once occupied that position during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, actually wrote a book with Professor Gutiérrez back in 2004. It was during the book launch for the Italian translation that this news was released.

This is certainly a signal of a good shift in the theological and ecclesiastical worlds. For years the popular (mis)conception of “Liberation Theology,” which might more accurately be called “Liberation Theologies” for the multiplicity of perspectives and approaches that have arisen since Gutiérrez’s 1971 book A Theology of Liberation, has been largely negative due to the perception that Pope John Paul II and the CDF had “condemned” the field of study and reflection. Readers of the two CDF documents on liberation theology from the 1980s will appreciate the slight nuance that has often been overlooked, but still recognize the incredulity the anti-communist pontiff of the era maintained about the movement no less.

It is reasonable to suggest that the incredulity was, in part, the result of Pope John Paul II’s own personal history and experience of communism in Poland. Those who might have had a similar experience see the creative use of social theory and criticism alongside grounded scriptural analysis and theological reflection to be a process of promise, not necessarily a harbinger of “communist values” mixed with Christianity.

Now, with the election of Francis, the first pope from Latin America, liberation theology can no longer “remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years, at least in Europe,” according to the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

Though never a supporter of liberation theology himself, the Argentine pontiff has condemned the exploitation of the poor and called on Catholics to reach out to them.

As I wrote months ago in America magazine, shortly after Pope Francis’s election, in the piece, “Living La Vida Jusicia: Pope Francis and ‘Liberation Theology,‘” just because the then Cardinal in Argentina spoke out against certain iterations of “liberation theology” in accord with the CDF documents of the era, does not mean that he was against the theological and praxiological movement in practice. In other words, we should not “do as he says and not as he does,” but look to “what he does and not what he says” in terms of uncovering the deeply rooted appreciation for “liberation theology” expressed in deed.

In addition to the news about Pope Francis’s forthcoming meeting with Gustavo Gutiérrez, who is now a Dominican friar teaching at the University of Notre Dame, Archbishop Mueller also mentioned that the CDF had given the official “green light” to proceed with the canonization process for slain Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.

Some very good news indeed!

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The Church and ‘Historical Amnesia’

Posted in Vatican II with tags , , , , , on August 21, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

120213112905-moses-bishops-politics-story-top1This morning I woke up to find an article posted on the Commonweal magazine website titled, “Historical Amnesia: When Catholic Leaders Misread the Past,” by Nicholas Clifford, the emeritus historian from Middlebury College. In my opinion, it is a very interesting and well-written piece that creatively highlights a number of ways that church leaders have — and continue to — misread history. The key example he uses is the rather infamous “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign of the USCCB and an orchestration of Archbishop Lori of Baltimore. Rather than take the exercise in political-religious demonstration to task, Clifford examines the justification and rhetoric used in the promotion and campaigning that went along with the movement. In raising questions about the reading of history, Clifford highlights some of the really problematic tendencies present in various efforts of church leaders to make claims about particular teachings in a given era.

The whole conversation about the role of history, especially its reading (or misreading) by some church leaders, today is indeed timely. It strikes me as particularly relevant given that last night I gave and again this morning (10a in the community center at St. Francis church in Brant Beach, NJ) I will give a lecture titled, “Vatican II as History.” The subject matter of the talk was requested by the parochial staff on Long Beach Island that organized a summer lecture series about Vatican II. My contribution has been from the perspective of a young theologian who was born after the close of the Council and for whom, quite literally, Vatican II has been history.

But history is never dead nor static. Such is the case with the church, which remains — as the great Jesuit historian John O’Malley, SJ, has said of Vatican II — both the same church that existed before the Ecumenical Council yet one that now has a radically different self-understanding afterward. Or, as Clifford puts it, citing Pope Francis’s first encyclical, “times change and teachings change, so that (in the words of Lumen fidei in 2013) “everything in the patrimony of faith comes to be more deeply understood,” or, as we might say, historicized.” Theology and history are deeply intertwined so that we can say through a richer appreciation of our history we might aid the theological quest to seek better understanding of our faith.

As with the church’s history of promulgated teachings on “religious liberty” that are contradictory and, at times, confusing within the span of one century alone (not to mention going back over the course of some two millennia), the church’s history of doctrinal, moral, and social teaching in the final documents of the Second Vatican Council remains not only egregiously misread at times, but also not fully enacted and far-too-often ignored.

Case in point: Can one really square certain diocesan policies regarding the ministerial involvement of the laity in the liturgy with the teaching of Sacrosanctum Concilium, especially nos. 7 and 14? I do not know how one can without simply “forgetting” the conciliar texts (Clifford’s “historical amnesia”) or terribly misreading the Council.

I could go on, but won’t. Instead I’ll leave you with the closing quote Clifford offers and encourage you to read the whole essay for yourself.

“Like it or not, we are creatures of history, and must face up to the difficulties of our heritage—at least if we expect our pronouncements to be taken seriously.”

To read the whole piece visit Commonweal’s website.

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Preliminary Comments about DOMA Ruling

Posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized, Vatican II with tags , , , , , , on June 28, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

supreme_court_doma_prop_8_gay_marriage_ruling_june_26_2013_1I have been thinking and praying about what and when to say something about this week’s decisions from the US Supreme Court. On Tuesday, Civil Rights in this country were ostensibly thrown back fifty years into a very unsettling and precarious place in certain parts of the country with well-known and documented histories of racism and voter discrimination. On Wednesday, Civil Rights, this time for LGBT persons, were advanced in an important pair of decisions from the high court. It has been a crazy week for human rights indeed. I still don’t think I’m ready to say all that I want and need to say about these topics, sensitive as they are.

I do feel that I must say something and do so briefly, which is why I will simply say this: while the Tuesday decision might rightly be called “tragic” for its short-sightedness and lack of historical appreciation for the crimes and abuses against women and men of color in the south, the decisions on Wednesday were absolutely not tragic. That anyone would say that — and this quote has circulated widely in subsequent days — strikes me as quite appalling. Wednesday’s decisions, as best I can tell, affect no one for the worse. They do not threaten different-sex marriages. They do not ruin the foundations of our society. They do not do anything but provide another step to guarantee that all human beings have the right to be treated like other human beings in the United States. We’ve come as a society to recognize, oftentimes too slowly, the need for these legal protections with regard to sex, race, and now sexual orientation — all things inherent to a person and outside one’s control. There are theological and other important considerations that can be shared (for example, how many people up in arms actually know the history of the Sacrament of Marriage in the Western Church? You’d be interested to find out more about its development!), but I want to simply add that Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes reiterates the need the church has to recognize the legitimate role of governments to protect the rights of all people regardless of this inherent characteristics of their personhood:

If the citizens’ responsible cooperation is to produce the good results which may be expected in the normal course of political life, there must be a statute of positive law providing for a suitable division of the functions and bodies of authority and an efficient and independent system for the protection of rights. The rights of all persons, families and groups, and their practical application, must be recognized, respected and furthered, together with the duties binding on all citizen (no. 75).

All persons, families, and groups!

Enough for now. At this point, I wish to offer a reference to a very well considered piece that appeared online at NCR by Michael Sean Winters. Here is the beginning, I encourage you to read the whole post:

The Supreme Court’s twin decisions in the battle over same-sex marriage on Wednesday were momentous, to be sure. But Wednesday was not “tragic,” as the statement from the USCCB stated. Nor were the court’s decisions victories in what Harvey Milk’s nephew unfortunately termed the “defining civil right issue of our time,” a claim that was downright offensive coming within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s far more objectionable decision to gut the Voting Rights Act. Turns out, old-style civil rights remains the defining civil rights issue of our time.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The state’s power in defining marriage is of central relevance to this case.” Indeed. And there is the rub for me. I do not understand why some people, including some bishops, are all worked up about same-sex marriage when the fact that the state, not the church, has the power to define civil marriage is well-established in American legal culture, and it was so long before anyone ever talked about gay marriage.

A couple gets married in a Catholic church. The couple is heterosexual and they pledge themselves to each other forever. Both parts of the equation — the complementarity of the genders and the indissolubility of the marriage bond — are central to the sacrament. But as we all know, for many years now, even before no-fault divorce made it easy, Catholics married in the church were free to pursue civil divorce and throw the ” ’til death do us part” pledge overboard. Heterosexual opponents of homosexual marriage would be more convincing if they had not made such a hash of traditional marriage in the first place…

Read the rest here: “Marriage, the Church and the Supreme Court.”

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10 Ways to Misunderstand Vatican II

Posted in America Magazine, Uncategorized, Vatican II with tags , , , , , on January 29, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

MEETING DURING SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL FILE PHOTOThe current issue of America magazine includes an article by the eminent church historian John O’Malley, SJ, a professor at Georgetown University and author of many important books. O’Malley’s piece, simply titled “Misdirections,” is a commentary on ten ways he understands people to commonly misinterpret the Second Vatican Council, its mission, its documents, and its historical impact. It’s an important list given all the talk these days from various vantage points about the enduring legacy of the Council, which has recently marked the fiftieth anniversary of its beginning. O’Malley’s point is that far too often simplifications and post facto rationalizations have led to the misconstruing of the Council and its texts. He explains:

It is not easy to interpret any great event, so it is not surprising that today there is disagreement about how to interpret the Second Vatican Council. Here, I want to turn the issue around to indicate how not to interpret it. (Of course, astute readers will see that this is just a sneaky way of making positive points.) Some of these principles are, in fact, of direct concern only to historians or theologians. The issues that underlie them, however, should be of concern to all Catholics who cherish the heritage of the council. These 10 negative principles are simply a backhanded way of reminding ourselves of what is at stake in the controversies over the council’s interpretation.

The list of “ways not to interpret” Vatican II are as follows:

  1. Insist Vatican II was only a pastoral council.
  2. Insist it was an occurrence in the life of the church, not an event.
  3. Banish the expression “spirit of the council.”
  4. Study the documents individually, without considering them part of an integral corpus.
  5. Study the final 16 documents in the order of hierarchical authority, not in the chronological order in which they were approved in the council.
  6. Pay no attention to the documents’ literary form.
  7. Stick to the final 16 documents and pay no attention to the historical context, the history of the texts or the controversies concerning them during the council.
  8. Outlaw the use of any “unofficial” sources, such as the diaries or correspondence of participants.
  9. Interpret the documents as expressions of continuity with the Catholic tradition.
  10. Make your assessment of the council into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To read his explanation of each of these points, check out the full article: “Misdirections” over at America‘s website.

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The Church as (Un)equal Society

Posted in Uncategorized, Vatican II with tags , , , , , , on January 14, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

MEETING DURING SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL FILE PHOTOYesterday I had the privilege of giving a lecture on “Vatican II and the Laity” at a parish on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Those in attendance were wonderful, attentive, engaged, and lively in discussion afterward. One of the themes that came up in several different ways was the meaning of the shift from a pre-conciliar notion of the church as “unequal society” to the church as “the People of God” as presented in the constitutions and decrees of the Second Vatican Council. While the language of the conciliar texts, both theologically grounded and pastorally sensitive, was a vast improvement over the discursive approach to defining the church prior to the council, there was a specter of Pope Pius X’s “essentially unequal society” that continued to haunt the actual experience various people, especially women, had of the church today.

Everyone could more or less trace the practical differences in the understanding of the laity’s relationship to the church by virtue of baptism and as the constitutive element of the church, which is the Body of Christ, prior to and after the council. Many of the folks at the lecture and who participated in the discussion are liturgical ministers, theologians and other educators, leaders in their local communities, and so on. These sorts of opportunities were essentially unavailable or outright prohibited according to the pre-conciliar understanding of who/what constitutes “the church,” as well as according to the pre-1983 Code of Canon Law (generally, the CIC of 1917).

Yet, many people felt that what Pope Pius X says in his 1906 text Vehementer Nos continues to prevail, if not “officially” then practically, in the ordinary experience of the laity.

[The Church is an] essentially unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of person, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful.  So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors (Pope Pius X, Vehementer Nos, no. 8).

One gentleman, while not explicitly coming to the defense of Pius X’s turn-of-the-last-century vision, suggested that in all organizations and facets of life there are necessarily those who “make the decisions” and those who, by and large, “follow.”

I suppose that is true and, as the Council documents aptly note, to talk about the church as the People of God and inclusive of all women and men by virtue of Baptism, is not to suggest that everybody should or ought to do the same thing. Just like not everybody should have the right to practice medicine or law, not everybody should have the right to every position of ministry or leadership.

But what is to be made of the seemingly accidental (in the Aristotelian sense of qualities verses substance or nature) distinctions that prohibit certain members of the People of God, the Body of Christ, from per se participation in certain forms of leadership or participation in ministry? This was a difficult discussion to have, but an honest and very good topic still in need of further discussion.

This is particularly the case when the Second Vatican Council documents discuss the “vocation of the laity,” attributing the vocational call (vocare) to Christ alone and that all the faithful have a “right and duty” to participate in the liturgy and in the life of the church.

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.  Such participation by the Christian people as a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (1 Peter 2:9), is their right and duty by reason of their Baptism (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 14).

I made clear in my presentation that one of the most overlooked dimensions of the Council’s teaching, especially concerning the liturgy, is that the assembly is participating, is — quite literally – concelebrating with the presider. So to suggest that everybody should necessarily be the presider or lector or some other particular ministry within the assembly doesn’t really hold if one believes in the teaching of the church that the community gathered also makes Christ present (see Sacrosanctum Concilium no. 7).

Yet, the real question, and a difficult one to be sure, that continues to loom over all these great discussions is the matter of discernment.

As other conciliar texts, like the “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity” (Apostolicam Actuositatem) and Gaudium et Spes make clear, the call or vocation of each member of the Body of Christ, which is the church, comes from Christ alone. How, then, do we understand who and how and for what Christ calls any individual person within the assembly of believers, from among the People of God?

Furthermore, how is it that we understand the shift from Pius X’s notion of “unequal society” to the renewed understanding of the church that we have today? What does it mean to talk about an “equal” society? Can we or should we talk this way? What does that look like?

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Merton to Pope John XXIII: A Prelude to the Church in the World

Posted in Thomas Merton, Uncategorized, Vatican II with tags , , , , on January 4, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Thomas Merton PaintingAbout two weeks after Pope John XXIII’s election to the papacy, Thomas Merton wrote to the pope to express his congratulations, share his reflections on the modern vocation of a monk, and to discuss his idea for a new apostolate that focused on dialogue and engagement with all types of people. There is much about this letter, originally written in French, that is striking, but as I read it recently in my research while working the latest book project I couldn’t help but think this particular section should be shared. Here Merton talks about how he sees his vocation as being a monk in the cloister, but not isolated within the cloister. He recognizes the value and importance of religious life for the broader world, especially in the modern age. Seven years before Gaudium et Spes is promulgated at the council called by this then-newly-elected pontiff, Merton outlines a real rich understanding of what it means to talk about the church in the world, if not “of” the world, exampled in his self-understanding of ministry from within the monastery.

As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, we would do well to recall both Merton’s insight and the mission of the Church expressed in the conciliar documents: the Church is “in” the world, not apart from it, not its enemy, not an institution of contradistinction. How desperately we need bishops, religious, diocesan priests, and others to exercise what Merton calls “an apostolate of friendship” with intellectuals — including non-believers, atheists, other religious practitioners, etc. — and all people. 

November 10, 1958

My Dear Holy Father,

[... ]

I want to tell Your Holiness, as simply as I can, what came to my mind while I saw saying Holy Mass yesterday. I hope that I can bring joy to the paternal heart of Your Holiness by sharing with you the aspirations of a contemplative monk who has always loved his vocation, especially the opportunity it offers for solitude and contemplation. Perhaps I have exaggerated this love in some of my books; but since my ordination nine years ago and through my experience as master of scholastics and then of novices, I have come to see more and more what abundant apostolic opportunities the contemplative life offers, without even going outside the monastic cloister.

It seems to me that, as a contemplative, I do not need to lock myself into solitude and lose all contact with the rest of the world; rather this poor world has a right to a place in my solitude. It is not enough for me to think of the apostolic value of prayer and penance; I also have to think in terms of a contemplative grasp of the political, intellectual, artistic and social movements in this world — by which I mean a sympathy for the honest aspirations of so many intellectuals everywhere in the world and the terrible problems they have to face. I have had the experience of seeing that this kind of understanding and friendly sympathy, on the part of a monk who really understands them, has produced striking effects among artists, writers, publishers, poets, etc., who have become my friends without my having to leave the cloister. I have even been in correspondence with the Russian writer who won the Nobel Prize in literature, Boris Pasternak. This was before the tragic change in his situation. We got to understand one another very well. In short, with the approval of my Superiors, I have exercised an apostolate — small and limited though it be — within a circle of intellectuals from other parts of the world; and it has been quite simply an apostolate of friendship.

[...]

M. Louis Merton
Novice Master

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Vatican II, Inculturation and What the Church Learns from the World

Posted in Vatican II with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Among the many important insights that arose from the Second Vatican Council, one of the more timely is the recognition that the church has not simply been a self-contained and distinct civilization or institution from the “rest of the world,” but has always been a part of the world. Additionally, the church has benefited and, even more strikingly, has needed the culture, philosophy, and traditions of the world in which it exists. This is a wonderfully insightful development given the state of the so-called church-world relationship prior to the ecumenical council. Whether theologically, or otherwise in theory, the church understood itself as apart from the world, it pragmatically acted as such. Here I mean the church in the literal sense as the Body of Christ, which is — as Vatican II put it, among other ways — the People of God. The baptized acted as if the church, its ministers, and so forth, were quite different from the quotidian experience of their lives and work. This was perpetuated by the attitudes and dispositions of the church’s leadership in those years.

And what is troubling, in my view, is that there is an undercurrent of similar attitudes percolating in our own day. There are women and men, especially within the ranks of the church’s leadership in certain sectors of our society, that feel as though the church should be “purer,” more isolated, and set apart from “the world.” As the great theologian Edward Schillebeeckx once said, the idea of a “pure church” is a heresy. Those who maintain such a view need to realize that the teaching of the church’s magisterium, here in the documents of Vatican II, especially Gaudium et Spes, confirm Schillebeeckx’s observation. The church and the world are inseparable and, further, the church needs the world, as we read here:

Just as it is important for the world to recognize the church as a social reality and agent in history, so the church also is aware of how much it has received from the history and development of the human race.

The experience of past centuries, the advances in the sciences and the treasures hidden in the various forms of human culture, which disclose human nature more completely and indicate new ways to the truth, are of benefit also to the church. From the beginning of its history it has leaned to express Christ’s message in the concepts and languages of various peoples, and it has also tried to throw light on it through the wisdom of the philosophers, aiming so far as was proper to suit the gospel to the grasp of everyone as well as to expectations of the wise. This adaptation in preaching the revealed word should remain the law of all evangelization. In this way, in every nation, the capacity to express Christ’s message in its own fashion is stimulated and at the same time a fruitful interchange is encouraged between the church and various cultures.

To develop such an exchange, especially in a time characterized by rapid change and a growing variety in ways of thought, the church has particular need of those who live in the world, whether they are believers or not, and who are familiar with its various institutions and disciplines and understand them intimately. It is for God’s people as a whole, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and especially for pastors and theologians, to listen to the various voices of our day, discerning them and interpreting them, and to evaluate them in the light of the divine word, so that the revealed truth can be increasingly appropriated, better understood and more suitably expressed (Gaudium et Spes no. 44).

Hopefully, in returning to the documents of the Second Vatican Council as we mark the half-century that has passed since this great moment in the history of the church and world we can renew our vision of what it means to live the Gospel in our own day.

There is a clear call here for the validation of various cultures, philosophies, and ways of thinking. There is value in the thought and practices of people throughout the world, no matter how different those ways of being-in-the-world might appear alongside the Euro-normative traditions we generally associate with Catholicism since the middle ages. What can we do to live this truth out in our own lives, communities, and universal church?

Photo: Stock

Vatican II and the Equal Rights of All People

Posted in Vatican II with tags , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

As we continue to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, I plan to make occasional posts related to the documents, history, and reception of the Council. There is a lot of talk among Christian women and men about the Council — people talking about its apparent merits and problems, the “spirit” and challenges, and so on — but there is very little discussion of what the Council actually said. The truth is, as one seminary professor said to me a few years ago, very few people, including very few priests and other ministers in the church, have actually read the texts themselves or have only half-heartedly read portions of the texts for coursework and the like. My interest is to stir up discussion about what we believe, what the church has actually said as an Ecumenical Council (the highest teaching authority in the church), and what these teachings might mean for us today.

Today I’m struck by one of the most important texts, Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World). There is a striking passage in section no. 29 that deals with the question of the equal rights of all people.

Since all men and women possessed of a rational soul and created in the image of God have the same nature and the same origin, and since they have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality which they all share needs to be increasingly recognized (no. 29).

What the Church teaches is that by virtue of being a human person, all people have inherent rights from the creator. The problem isn’t the “granting” of these rights by a particular government or group of people, but the uncovering or recognizing the truth that is always already present in the fabric of creation.

Furthermore, the next two paragraphs of this section really deliver home the meaning of this uncovering or recognition of the equality of all.

Not everyone is identical in physical capacity and in mental and moral resources. But every type of discrimination affecting the fundamental rights of the person, whether social or cultural, on grounds of sex, race, color, class, language or religion, should be overcome and done away with, as contrary to the purpose of God. It is matter for deep regret that these basic personal rights are still not universally recognized and respected, as when women are denied the choice of a husband or a state of life, or opportunities for education and culture equal to those of men.

Moreover, although there are just differences among individuals, the equal dignity of persons demands access to more human and equal conditions of life. And the excessive economic and social inequalities among members or peoples of the same human family are a scandal and are at variance with social justice, equity, the dignity of the human person and, not least, social and international peace (no. 29).

As the church notes nearly fifty-years ago and as we still experience it today, people do not have access to the basic rights and needs that ground fundamental human flourishing. This is a social sin in which all who don’t work, in whatever capacity she or he is able, to overcome this are in some way complicit.

Healthcare, equal and living wages, the right to vote, the right to love whomever one loves, and the like are contained and expressed above as included among those rights that — as Gaudium et Spes makes explicit in a later section – all human institutions (e.g., governments and the church) are to work to guarantee for all people, regardless of any person’s mental, moral, physical, or social capacity or utility.

The church does not ignore the practical differences of each person, but instead affirms the reality that aptitude does in fact vary from person to person. Nevertheless, one does not earn something like access to healthcare or the right to make as much money doing the same work as someone of another sex. These are the intrinsic rights that the Creator has bestowed and that other human beings have unjustly curbed or outrightly taken away from other women and men.

Fifty years after the call of the Second Vatican Council, we can look back and reflect on how we’ve responded to this challenge and the needs of the modern world as seen by the church. We have a long way to go. What can you do to make a difference?

Photo: Stock
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