Archive for gaudium et spes

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?

Photo: Stock

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

Photo: File

O Come Emmanuel: Savior of All People?

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

christmas-mass-timesO Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

In recent years there has been a hot theological topic, made public and popular by discussions surrounding Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, that centers on what the meaning of salvation is and for whom it applies. Today’s O Antiphon, the last of the seven, directs our attention to the coming of Christ as God-with-us, Emmanuel. It is no surprise, perhaps, that the last of the antiphons focuses on the uniqueness and significance of the Incarnation and ties that reality — the truth of God-with-us — to Christ’s role as “savior of all people.” The technical term for what it means to talk about salvation for all is Apokatastasis, which is a fancy word for the belief that God desires and is capable of universal salvation. As one might imagine, as many saw with the melee that broke out around Bell’s reflection on this question, there is a natural tension present in such a claim. What about sin? What if I don’t want to be “saved?” What, then, is salvation all about?

Without getting into the complications of these questions, which have been the source of reflection dating back to St. Paul’s time (read his letters to the Thessalonians, for example, this is a persistent concern throughout) and seen considered from the Patristic area onward, I want to offer this consideration for us to ponder as the celebration of Christmas draws near: What does it mean to profess that Christ, emmanuel, is the “savior of all people?”

Take, for example, this passage from Gaudium et Spes, which seems to help us to understand better what this antiphon might mean in affirming that Christ is “savior of all people.”

While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass. For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is ‘the universal sacrament of salvation’ simultaneously manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God’s love. For God’s Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as perfect man He might save all men and sum up all things in Himself. The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings. He it is Whom the Father raised from the dead, lifted on high and stationed at His right hand, making Him judge of the living and the dead. Enlivened and united in His Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which fully accords with the counsel of God’s love: ‘To reestablish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth’ (Eph. 1:10). [no. 45]

Do we celebrate this sense of what God has done for us by entering our world as one like us? Or are we more prone to treat salvation as the reward for lifelong membership in an organization? Do we see the working of God’s Spirit in the world, bringing all people and all of creation (see Romans 8) back to God’s self in Christ? Or is Christ only the savior of those for whom it is easy, palatable, and comfortable for me to imagine or for whom I desire this telos?

This Christmas, may we come to see the world and the human family the way that God does: without borders, without discrimination, and with the hope of peace shared among all people, a peace that the world cannot give, but a peace that has been given to us by the coming of Christ, by Emmanuel.

Photo: Stock

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

Voting, ‘Gaudium et Spes’ and the Responsibility of Citizenship

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 5, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Here we are with just one day left before the 2012 presidential election. It is important that we all contribute to the life of our society and recall that the responsibility of citizenship requires that all vote tomorrow. In order to prepare ourselves for this civic duty, it seemed a good idea to look briefly at what the Church’s teaching holds concerning voting and government. Because most of us fall under the category of the citizen who will cast a vote for those who serve in elected office, let’s begin with this succinct and clear reminder of our task at hand:

All citizens, therefore, should be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good (no. 75).

It can be frustrating to dwell on the imperfections of both sides of the US two-party system, realizing that neither candidate in a given race is perfect and each bears some responsibility — to greater or lesser degrees — for positions that do not align precisely with what Roman Catholics strive to affirm.

Nevertheless, we are called to recall not just our right, but our duty to use our free vote to “further the common good,” which extends beyond our limited partisan priorities and personal financial or social gains. Furthering the common good necessarily takes into consideration those who are discriminated against and marginalized, especially the poor and powerless.

Concerning individual property and its relationship to the common good, the Church teaches:

By its very nature private property has a social quality which is based on the law of the common destination of earthly goods. If this social quality is overlooked, property often becomes an occasion of passionate desires for wealth and serious disturbances, so that a pretext is given to the attackers for calling the right itself into question (no. 71).

There is always a responsibility tied between what we traditionally identify as the realm of private property and that which is necessary to secure the common good, the basic needs and conditions for human flourishing for all people. Nobody has the right to have excessive wealth and property while others face poverty and other threats to life and human dignity.

Concerning the role of the government in facilitating the flourishing of humanity and the promotion of the common good, the Church teaches:

The complex circumstances of our day make it necessary for public authority to intervene more often in social, economic and cultural matters in order to bring about favorable conditions which will give more effective help to citizens and groups in their free pursuit of [humanity's] total well-being (no. 75).

Furthermore, there is a strong sense of what the Christian’s responsibility entails when it comes to the political life of one’s nation. The Church teaches that there are various public and civic vocations, including the legitimate exercise of public office, but that all members of a socio-economic community like the United States, for example, have a duty and responsibility to participate fully.

In a very succinct paragraph, the Second Vatican Council makes stark these concerns and presents a challenge to political parties (take note, Republicans and Democrats!!) as to what their respective roles are in the function of civil government.

All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community. It is for them to give an example by their sense of responsibility and their service of the common good. In this way they are to demonstrate concretely how authority can be compatible with freedom, personal initiative with the solidarity of the whole social organism, and the advantages of unity with fruitful diversity. They must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions with regard to temporal solutions, and respect citizens, who, even as a group, defend their points of view by honest methods. Political parties, for their part, must promote those things which in their judgement are required for the common good; it is never allowable to give their interests priority over the common good (no. 75).

In what follows in the rest of Gaudium et Spes concerning the urgent needs of our age, the Church affirms the need for international cooperation, the value and need to sustain international communities of governance such as the United Nations, the collective responsibility to avoid war and promote peace, among other important issues.

All of these things should help to inform the consciences of Christians that take up their duty to vote tomorrow. There is no single issue that is the ultimate determiner for a Catholic Christian to judge a candidate, instead there are a panoply of concerns, issues, goals, and responsibilities that must all converge to inform the political action of the citizenry.

There is no higher teaching in the Roman Catholic Church than that which is promulgated by an Ecumenical Council such as Vatican II. Gaudium et Spes, as it concerns politics, government, and voting must be taken with the utmost seriousness and regarded before any claims of individual ecclesiastical authorities. In the end, the most oft-occuring factor in the Church’s teaching on political action is: promotion of the common good.

Photo: Stock

Giving a Retreat this Weekend for New England Young Adults

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This weekend I am in Hingham, Mass., giving a retreat at the Benedictine Glastonbury Abbey. The retreat, geared for women and men in Boston in their twenties and thirties, is titled “Being Catholic in the 21st Century.” This is the third year in a row that I’ve been humbled by the invitation and honored to lead the 20s/30s Boston annual retreat. I’m especially excited to reconnect with folks I haven’t seen in while and to discuss, reflect, and pray about the retreat theme about which I asked to speak.

I don’t wont to spoil the surprise for those who are attending this retreat with the particular details of three sessions of the retreat, but I can share that during this week when we celebrate the opening of the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago, being a “Catholic” in today’s world needs to be understood as always flowing from our ecclesial identity expressed by the Council — particularly in terms of Gaudium et Spes, which directly addresses this question of what it means to live a life of faith in the ‘modern world.’

Much more to come on this weekend. Perhaps there will be internet access (and time) for me to update you along the way. In the meantime, Peace and all Good!

Photo: Glastonbury Abbey
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 718 other followers

%d bloggers like this: