Archive for second vatican council

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.

Photo: File

Suggested Changes from European Abbot about Bishop Appointments

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 15, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

german_bishops325Following on the heels of yesterday’s post here about the implications of, challenges to, and resistances concerning the vision of the Church presented by the Second Vatican Council, a news story published today (“Swiss Abbot Urges Change in How Bishops are Selected“) seems to offer some additional material for consideration. Here is the piece, which appeared in the National Catholic Reporter.

Swiss abbot urges change in how bishops are selected

by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt

A leading Swiss abbot is calling for a change in how bishops are selected, saying that the nomination process should include greater local input, and he wants bishops and theologians to join him in pressing for the change.

“We are faced with serious systemic problems in our church. For me, as a canon lawyer, solving these systemic problems has absolute priority, as our other problems can only be solved if the structures are consistent and the procedures transparent,” Benedictine Abbot Peter von Sury of Mariastein said in an interview with the Swiss Catholic press agency Kipa/Apic last month.Von Sury, 62, was elected abbot of the Mariastein Abbey, considered Switzerland’s second-most important monastery, in 2008.Von Sury said that during the first millennium, three authorities were decisive in nominating a new bishop to a diocese, namely the local faithful, the local clergy and the neighboring bishops, which today would be the equivalent of the local bishops’ conference.

“That is a procedure that makes sense,” he said. But from the 11th century onward, bishops have steadily relinquished more and more power to Rome.

Dioceses are now considered papal administrative units and treated as such, von Sury said.

Nowadays, in the appointment of a bishop, church-political motives often outweigh the well-being of the diocese concerned, he said. “And that is exactly what is wrong and what bishops and theologians must doggedly resist.”

Excluding the local church from episcopal nominations is particularly tragic because it furthers indifference, he said. Bishops appointed in the present system have no interest in calling it into question and so the church has become a closed system, von Sury said. A closed system is not capable of accepting criticism or correction from outside.

“Perhaps it will have to break down one day or disintegrate before something happens. Or it will run out of money and then it will automatically come to a standstill,” he said.

From a theological point of view, bishops, as successors of the apostles, are of particular importance in the church.

The Second Vatican Council introduced the bishops’ synod at which bishops from all over the world came together in Rome to discuss matters of concern to the universal church, he said, but as long as the pope alone determines the agenda, the synod remains a “one-way road.”

“This is where the bishops must put up a fight and stand up and defend themselves. It is in point of fact a matter of power,” he emphasized. It is most important for a number of bishops or bishops’ conferences to put items on the agenda of the bishops’ synods so that important questions are not simply shelved, he said. Both mandatory priestly celibacy and women’s ordination had been discussed but were shelved at the 1972 synod, he said.

Asked why episcopal nominations are so important, he replied: “The bishop has a pivotal position in the church. He is a ‘pontifex,’ that is, a bridge-builder, and must have a personality that integrates. Unfortunately, we have again and again experienced the opposite, as, for instance, at the moment in the diocese of Chur. There the bishop is obviously not a bridge-builder, but someone who sows discord, and that is disastrous.

“In my opinion, a bishop who sows discord is morally obliged to step down. The same applies to an abbot or a parish priest. If they sow discord, they destroy a part of the church. It is not a case of blame. There are simply situations when people sow discord — perhaps even without meaning to do so, and then they must step down.”

“Church institutions, including the papacy, should have an opposite number as it were. In economics or politics we speak of checks and balances,” von Sury said. Parishes have parish councils, dioceses have priests’ councils, which the bishops are supposed to listen to. “But for the bishops’ conference level and the world church level there is nothing similar. This is a great mistake,” he said.

According to canon law, the faithful have the right and sometimes even the duty to make their position plain to their bishop, he said. That is a good declaration of intent but because there are no implementary regulations, that particular canon “is of no use whatsoever,” von Sury said.

Another abbot, Martin Werlen of Einsiedeln Abbey, attracted widespread attention late last year when he made a fiery appeal for church reform (NCR, Dec. 21-Jan. 3), that was welcomed by the future president of the Swiss bishops’ conference.

Among the reforms that Werlen, himself a member of the Swiss bishops’ conference, advocated was for local churches to have more say in episcopal nominations.

Meanwhile, members of the Swiss Parish Initiative, which was founded in September 2012 and is modeled on the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, is calling for far-reaching church reforms, such as intercommunion. The group and its supporters were to rally in front of the cathedral in Chur Jan. 13.

Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur has said that he will sanction members of the initiative in his diocese. The other members of the Swiss bishops’ conference have called for dialogue with the initiative’s 460 members.

[Christa Pongratz-Lippitt is Austrian correspondent for the London-based weekly Catholic magazine The Tablet.]

Photo: File

The Contribution of Women Theologians

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 9, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

January2013coverIn the current issue of U.S. Catholic Magazine (January 2013) there is a cover story titled, “What Women Theologians Have Done for the Church,” by Heather Grennan Gray. It’s an excellent piece that leads an issue focused on women and the church. In light of the recent ecclesiastical critiques of the work of certain women theologians — one thinks most recently of two distinguished professors and women religious, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ and Margaret Farley, RSM — Gray’s article succinctly highlights the shifts from before through after the era of the Second Vatican Council that have created the conditions for greater theological education and participation of the laity in general and women more specifically. There are a number of excellent theologians, liturgists, and pastoral staff members interviewed in this essay. One of the main commentators quoted in the piece is a professor of mine at Boston College, Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, a religious sister and theologian. There are also a few quotes from another familiar person who is a current doctoral student at Boston College, let’s just say that if you’re reading this blog, you already know who he is. Here’s the opening of the article, click the link to read the rest of it online.

Kathy Barkdull started her career in parish ministry the same way many others have: The director of religious education at her parish tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she would teach a class. With a willing spirit and not much more, she agreed. Twenty-five years later, Barkdull is pastoral associate at Holy Spirit Catholic Community in Pocatello, Idaho, and oversees evangelization and discipleship programs, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and other ministries at the 1,200-household parish.

Over the years Barkdull received training through the diocesan certification program, workshops, and seminars, and eventually graduated from the Ministry Extension program at Loyola University in New Orleans. But Barkdull began to understand her work in a new light after she attended a conference of the National Association of Lay Ministers (NALM) in 2004 and heard Zeni Fox, a professor of pastoral theology at Seton Hall University, talk about the theology of lay ministry. Something clicked.

“Finding ways to call lay ministers forth, to support one another, to feel connected—that has really become my passion,” says Barkdull, who left the conference with the idea to start a lay ministry council in the Diocese of Boise, a territory of 84,000 square miles that is home to just 40 priests. At their first gathering in 2004 more than 300 came to listen to Fox give the keynote speech. “This focus has really energized and encouraged me,” Barkdull says.

In a very real way Barkdull’s work as a professional parish minister and lay ministry advocate has been shaped not just by Fox but by a host of Catholic women who have studied, taught, and contributed to theology. The fact that women have only been admitted to graduate-level theology programs at Catholic institutions for the past 70 years means the addition of women to the ranks of church scholars is a relatively recent change.

In the intervening decades, however, Catholic women theologians have helped form both lay and ordained church leaders’ understanding of liturgy, scripture, ethics, pastoral ministry, spirituality, faith formation, theology, and the church itself. This means that regular Catholics, too, have been influenced by women theologians—whether they know it or not.

To Continue reading the article: Click Here

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

‘Catholic’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

Posted in Huffington Post, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 21, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The following article first appeared in The Huffington Post on Saturday, October 20, 2012.

If you were to ask a stranger on the street or the co-worker at the water cooler what first comes to mind when they hear the word Catholic, chances are good that you might get a response like “the Vatican,” “the Pope” or “the Mass.” If you were to press further, you might even get a response that comes from the colloquial use of the term according to the English dictionary: a synonym for “universal.” On the surface, both answers would be generally correct.

However, the origin of the word and its usage in Christianity for millennia suggests something quite different from what we might initially think. And what it really means has profound implications for what it means to be a Christian in the world and how we should conceive of being “church.”

In 1990 the now-late Jesuit scholar of English literature and philosophy, Walter Ong, S.J., wrote an essay for America magazine that responded to the perennial question for educators in Catholic institutions of higher education: How does such a school incorporate this nebulous concept “catholic identity” into its mission in a tangible way?

Ong’s contribution was to look at the meaning of the word catholic itself to get a better handle on the task at hand. What he revealed bears broader ramifications than simply helping Catholic colleges and universities develop their mission.

His insight should radically challenge our understanding of what it means to be a Christian (especially aCatholic Christian) in the world.

The centerpiece of his research is the etymology or origin of the word “catholic.” While we do commonly use it to mean “universal,” Ong points out that the Latin or Roman Church (as distinct from the Orthodox or Eastern Church) had a word for universal in Latin – universalis. Ong asked:

If “universal” is the adequate meaning of “catholic,” why did the Latin church, which in its vernacular language had the word universalis, not use this word but rather borrowed from Greek the term katholikos instead, speaking of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church (to put it into English) instead of the “one, holy, universal and apostolic church”?

Great question!

Ong explains that it has a theological and practical significance. The origin of “universal” in Latin likely comes from the two root-words unum (meaning “one”) and vertere (meaning “turn”). The image it evokes is something like an architect’s compass, which is used to make a circle around “one” central point.

Universal does bear a certain sense of inclusivity, for it gathers everything and everyone that is within the boundary of that line drawn around the circle. Yet, by virtue of the boundary or circle, it necessarily impliesexclusion for whatever and whoever falls outside of the “universal” line.

By contrast, katholikos comes from two Greek words: kata or kath (meaning “through” or “throughout”) and holos (meaning “whole”). This notion of “throughout-the-whole” carries no notion of boundary or lines drawn that demarcate those who are “in” and those who are “out.”

The point, Ong suggests, is that the life, ministry and preaching of Jesus of Nazareth also supports this notion of katholikos – “Catholic” — rather than a more exclusive notion of the church as “universal.” He points to Jesus’s very short parable of “the yeast” found in Matthew 13:33 (and Luke 13:21), in which Jesus likens the Kingdom or Reign of God to a woman who makes bread.

The Kingdom of God is said to be like the yeast that is added to flour and is found “throughout-the-whole” of the dough, building it up, not destroying or separating the flour, but becoming one-with, part-of, and mutually benefiting from and contributing to the life of bread.

Ong is quick to point out how non-colonial yeast is. In its own organic way, it inculturates and accepts the ingredients in which it finds itself. One can even take starter dough from one type of bread and add it to an entirely different type of flour and the yeast appropriates the form of its surrounding, and does not turn the new ingredients into a replica of itself.

Yeast, in its true catholicity and insofar as yeast can in its own way, does not seek conformity in this regard, but works with and celebrates the diversity of flour and ingredients it encounters.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how these two conceptualizations of “catholic” can inform and shape our understanding of what it means to be a Christian in the world.

The “universal” approach, one that draws lines and is inclusive only of those within a certain proximity to the “one point” around which the boundary is marked, is represented by those who are constantly concerned about who is in and who is out. Those who talk about the church as leaner, smaller, more “orthodox” are more likely to see boundaries between “the church” and “the world” as a good thing.

On the other hand, the “catholic” approach, one that recognizes the call for the enacting of the Reign of God “throughout-the-whole” of the world, sees the church as inclusive because it is to be found without separation from, but instead exists as part of the world and society. Those who talk about the church as in the world and not apart from it, follow in the pathway of the Second Vatican Council’s document Gaudium et Spes, “The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the World.”

As we begin celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, this need to remember what the relationship of the church to the world is becomes especially important. There remains too much discriminatory and exclusive talk about the church in this “universal” key. Some church leaders have made it quite clear that they see “the world” (as if it were something apart from the church and the People of God that constitute the church) as a threat to Christianity. The implication is that we must re-inscribe the boundaries, literally encircle ourselves around a singular point, and exclude those who do not happen to fall, as it were, “in line.”

In an odd linguistic turn, perhaps what’s needed more than ever is for Christians of all sorts, but especially Roman Catholics, to become more catholic.

We need to see ourselves and understand our Church (which is the Body of Christ) as living and moving “throughout-the-whole,” as mutually building each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and as welcoming all with open arms as Jesus did.

[Daniel P. Horan, OFM's Huffington Post contributor page]

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

The Perfect Book for Corpus Christi Sunday

Posted in Book Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

So this past weekend the Church celebrated Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) Sunday. The solemnity dates back to the Middle Ages when adoration of the Blessed Sacrament became widespread, but it’s presence today raises certain questions for the faithful. One such question might be the rather pedestrian, “isn’t every celebration of the Eucharist a celebration of Corpus Christi?” And the answer, to some degree, is yes. However, as I expressed in my homily over the weekend, like so many things we do routinely and often in our lives, the celebration of the Eucharist can become rote and we might miss a lot of what we should be noting. The “Body of Christ” is a perfect example of something that a lot of people miss, at least miss in its entirety.

Most folks, I’m willing to bet, arrived at Mass this Sunday, heard “Corpus Christi Sunday” and thought of the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine and Christ’s Sacramental presence in these elements. But that is only one mode or way that Christ is made present in the Celebration of the Eucharist each time we gather together.

The Church teaches that there are three modes or ways that Christ is made present at the Eucharist, and therefore three ways we can come to recognize the Body of Christ each time we gather for Mass and beyond. These modes are (1) the People of God (the assembly and presider), (2) the Word of God, and (3) the Eucharistic Elements themselves. That third mode is the most recognized, but the other two are incredibly important and equally manifestations of Christ’s presence in the Church. Don’t believe me, check out the Second Vatican Council’s first document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, very early on in the text to be exact (no. 7).

Instead of rehearsing the importance and meaning of each of these modes of Christ’s presence, I want to take the opportunity to direct you to an excellent book that addresses this particular subject. Fr. Bruce Morrill, SJ’s new book, Encountering Christ in the Eucharist: The Paschal Mystery in People, Word and Sacrament (Paulist Press, 2012), is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read on this subject.

As the subtitle indicates, this short and accessible book (it weighs in at only 134 pages), takes the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the Eucharist and Christ’s presence as the starting point and structure of the text. Morrill skillfully presents the Church’s teaching in a way that is insightful, historical and practical, not just for Roman Catholics — although that is the theological and liturgical location from which he writes — but he also presents the teaching of the Eucharist in such a way as to hopefully reach an ecumenical audience.

Morrill is the Edward A. Mallow Professor of Catholic Studies at Vanderbilt University and a renowned scholar in the field of sacramental theology and liturgy. This is his seventh book he has published as author or editor. While always grounded in sound theological and scholarly sources,Encountering Christ in the Eucharist is well-written and approachable enough that it can be read by a wide audience, broadening the readership of Morrill’s work from the academy to a more popular audience as well. One of the book’s promotional blurbs, by Msgr. Kevin Irwin, former dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University, echoes this point well:

The author’s rare combination of writing with theological insight and pastoral experience makes this book highly accessible to a wide audience. It deserves to be used in the college classroom as well as in ongoing formation programs for adult Christians.

I couldn’t agree more. After reading this text my first thought was, “I would love to lead a reading or discussion group with with book!” Furthermore, to reiterate Irwin’s point, I have no doubt that I will be returning to this book as my academic career continues to unfold and I eventually return to the classroom. I only wish this was out during the 2010-2011 academic year when I was teaching theology at Siena College, I would have used it for sure.

In addition to more studious uses of the text — adult faith formation in parochial settings or classroom reading for university courses — this book is a great resource for liturgical ministers and preachers. This is precisely why I mention it within the context of Corpus Christi Sunday. Far too often presiders come to this solemnity in June and subject their congregations to some pietistical and superficial reflection on the Eucharist that does not inform, edify or challenge the congregation. Reading Morrill’s latest book will likely enliven the admiration for and excitement about what it is we celebrate when the assembly gathers together each Sunday at the Table of the Lord.

Of particular interest to these same ministers is Morrill’s final chapter, titled “Leadership for Christ’s Body: Liturgy and Ministry.” Here he outlines the immediate and implicit relevance of the Church’s teaching on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist for the work of the Church’s ministers and for the entire People of God.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough — get your copy today!

Photos: Paulist Press, Vanderbilt University

‘Year of Faith’ for Vatican II Anniversary Year

Posted in The Papal Watcher, Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 19, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Here is the text of the Pope’s October 16 Angelus message, announcing the theme “Year of Faith” for the upcoming year in honor of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Yesterday and today there was an important event here at the Vatican regarding the new evangelization, an event that concluded this morning with a Eucharistic celebration over which I presided in St. Peter’s Basilica. The initiative, organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, had the main objective of going deeper into the issues surrounding a renewed proclamation of the Gospel in nations with an ancient Christian tradition, and at the same time, it presented various testimonies and significant experiences. Numerous people from around the world have responded to this invitation, people committed to this mission, which Blessed John Paul II already clearly indicated to the Church as an urgent and gripping challenge.

[John Paul II] — in the footsteps of the Second Vatican Council, and those of Paul VI, the one who put the council’s implementation into motion — was, in fact, a tireless defender of the mission ad gentes, that is, to the peoples and territories where the Gospel has not yet put down roots, as well as a herald of the new evangelization.

These are aspects of the one mission of the Church, and it is therefore meaningful to consider them together in this month of October, marked by the celebration of World Mission Day, precisely next Sunday.

Just as I did a few minutes ago in the homily of the Mass, I happily take advantage of this opportunity to announce that I have decided to convoke a special “Year of Faith,” which will begin Oct. 11, 2012 — the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council — and will conclude Nov. 24, 2013, Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe.

I have explained the motives, goals and guidelines of this year in an apostolic letter that will be published soon. The Servant of God Paul VI convoked a similar “Year of Faith” in 1967, on the occasion of the 19th centenary of the martyrdom of the Apostles Peter and Paul, during a period of great cultural changes. I believe that, now that a half century has passed since the opening of the Council, and linked to the happy memory of Blessed John XXIII, it would be opportune to remember the beauty and the centrality of the faith, the need to strengthen and deepen it, both at the personal and the community level, and to do this in a perspective that is not so much celebratory, but rather, missionary — precisely in the perspective of the mission ad gentes and the new evangelization.

Dear friends, in the liturgy of this Sunday, we read what St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” May this word from the Apostle of the Gentiles be the promise and the program for the missionaries of today — priests, religious and laity — committed to proclaim Christ to those who do not know him, or those who have reduced him to a mere historical figure. May the Virgin Mary help each Christian to be an effective witness of the Gospel.

 Photo: Pool

Thomas Merton to Bishops: “Obey the Gospel of Love!”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 23, 2010 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Since beginning my editorial work of transcription, annotating and editing a series of previously unpublished correspondence of Thomas Merton this year in earnest, I have become very attentive to the absolute profundity that emanates from Merton’s letters.

It is true, letter-writing has increasingly become a “lost art,” forced into partial extinction by the telephone, then the e-mail, then the instant message, then the Facebook/Twitter/Text-message.  The specter of true letter-writing format haunts me as I read emails from students and others that begin with no salutation and conclude without a signature.  Even in its most unadorned structure, the shadow of a real letter is hard to find in today’s everyday communication.

I am not immune from this decline.  In fact, I often think about how vacuous my own correspondence and communication has become.  Instead of pausing to reflect on the content and meaning behind my words, I far too often hastily send off email notes, Facebook messages and text messages (yes, even I txt now and then… and ‘txt’ is not a word, it has no vowel).

In light of this awareness, I am particular attracted to Thomas Merton’s abundant correspondence to myriad correspondents.  While some letters are the pre-digital revolution version of the run-of-the-mill, “business only” emails of today, many (very many) of his letters contain a richness and insight that is difficult to find these days. Such is the case with an open letter he wrote to the bishops of the Second Vatican Council, published in the magazine Worldview on the eve of the opening of the last session of the Council.  It was Schema XIII, on the Church in the Modern World (the seed that would blossom into Gaudium et Spes), that was top on the agenda and it was the particular import of this task that Merton wished to highlight.

The substance of the letter is full of material worthy of consideration today.  As the relationship between the church and the world (or, more accurately, as the church in the world) remains a topic of much debate, consternation and division, I think what Merton says to the bishops preparing to shape a statement to express that relationship remains something worth reflecting on today.

With that, I would like to share a few excerpts from this rather lengthy open letter.  One note about inclusive language: Thomas Merton is writing in the early 1960s and in a time when the culture had not yet fully grasped the importance of avoiding exclusive language.  Because Merton’s use of “man” and masculine pronouns to refer to “humanity” and “men and women” is so extensive that to rephrase the terms would cause serious interruption of the flow of the text, I have decided to leave the text alone.  I am sure Merton, were he writing today, would be keenly aware to be gender inclusive.  I have added some emphasis to particular passages.

Excerpts from Merton’s Open Letter to the American Hierarchy (September 1965)

“The task of the Council remains that of proclaiming the Gospel of love and hope to modern man in a language that he will understand, without alteration or distortion of the essential Gospel perspectives.  The message of love and of salvation is not bound to any particular time or culture, and its true perspectives look above history and beyond it.  Hence, in order to convine the world that Christianity is not necessarily identified only with a medieval or baroque Christendom, we do not need to assert that it is fully identified with technological society in its present confusion.  The Christian is called, as always, to a decision for Christ, not to a decision for this or that kind of society.  He is called to obey the Gospel of love, for all men, and not simply to devote himself to the interests of a nation, a party a class or a culture. The message of the Church to the modern world, therefore remains, as it has always been, an eschatological message…

We are not unfamiliar with a Christianity which in effect compromises with this ruthless spirit [i.e., the world's emphasis on power and force].  The compromise is quite simple, and consists in this: as to our interior motives, yes, we admit the primacy of love.  But in the conduct of political life we agree with the world: what counts is naked power!  Hence, one concludes upon a use of force that is guided by motives of “love.”

A love which was at best abstract to begin with soon vanishes altogether…

What matters is for the bishops and the Council to bear witness clearly and without any confusion to the Church’s belief in the power of love to save and transform not only individuals but society.  Do we or do we not believe that love has this power?”


The full text is available in the volume Witness To Freedom: Letters in Times of Crisis, edited by William H. Shannon.


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